Why I’m over “Breast Cancer Awareness” marketing

tng-badge10 Back in the day – in this case the early ‘90s – I had many friends with HIV and/or AIDS. One of whom, a true gentleman named John Kelley, wore on his jacket a Star Trek badge (right) and a red ribbon which many people were wearing then to show they knew AIDS existed. When asked about this heraldry he would respond, “Because Star Fleet cares about AIDS.” (RIP, dear John.) Which is pretty much where I’m at with all the pink that washes over marketing each October.

Let me make one thing very clear: Like everyone else, I know many people who have had breast (and other types of) cancer. One of those is Mother CollateralDamage. So it will not surprise you to learn that I, like everyone else, don’t like cancer. Now plenty of companies have done a lot to help fund research into preventing breast cancer and to them I say, “You may stop reading now.” The other day the family was driving by the HQ of New Balance sneakers and we noticed a large pink ribbon affixed to the building. Mrs. CollateralDamage: “They’ve earned it.”

But the problem is that many companies are now just slapping pink on the product or advertising and claiming they support “Breast Cancer Awareness.” As a commenter on a wonderful NYT column about Pink Ribbon Fatigue put it, “Buying stuff with pink ribbons will send some money to research and/or outreach, but it hard to tell how much that yoplait helps. Posting ‘awareness’ status updates on facebook does absolutely nothing – I have yet to meet a person that wasn’t aware of breast cancer’s existence."

pink-your-drink1-250x255 My current favorite bizarro pink item is the Chambord special breast cancer edition liquor bottles. They were brought to my attention via this wonderful blog post at Change.Org by Brie Cadman entitled “Pink Ribbon Hypocrisy: Boozing It Up For Breast Cancer.” Ms. Cadman is understandably irate over companies that contribute to the causes of breast cancer then trying to earn good will via the Big Pink:

The biggest offenders are fast food and alcohol companies. According to the National Cancer Institute, both obesity and alcohol are associated with an increased breast cancer risk. Yet that hasn’t stopped these companies from claiming their goods help support or even prevent the disease. First off is KFC, the company that seems to know no bounds when it comes to using women to sell their products. The last time we checked in with the fried-chicken-slinging folks, they were using college women’s bums to promote their own buns. But they’re also capitalizing on breast cancer by selling pink buckets and donating $0.50 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

While I don’t agree with all Ms. Cadman’s arguments, I think they are part of a much needed dash of reality. Consumers need to be a lot more diligent about what a company means when it says it is “supporting” a charity.

Some parts of this all this pinkosity I enjoy: Like the sight of professional baseball players having to make the Freudian subtext obvious by playing with pink bats. I just wonder how much good this actually does. I would be more impressed if more emphasis was put on helping an actual person cope with cancer treatment. Bring them a meal, if they want one. Hang out after the chemo when they have no energy and feel like crap and don’t want to be alone and are afraid they’re of being a burden to family and friends. Take them to a movie. Be available for middle of the night phone calls. Run errands, etc., etc., etc. Let’s move “cancer awareness” from the generic, wholesale level to a more personal, retail experience. It’s easy to support “people” with cancer, it is much harder to support an actual person.

And remember, Star Fleet cares about people with breast cancer.

Or, to quote DeathStarPR: “Earth, we can help you #beatcancer. Side effects may include loss of: sunsets, life on Earth, Earth itself. Because we care.#deathstarcares

Star Trek lets you boldly smell like you’ve never smelled before

trek_redshirt_tFor me combining the words “Star Trek” and “scent” summons up something rolling off an obese Trekkie (Trekker?) who has only a slight familiarity with soap. (Full disclosure, for some of my life I fulfilled two of these three criteria, today it’s only one.) However the folks at Genki Wear are hoping for a different reaction to the soon-to-be released Star Trek Perfume  – A trio of scents from the final frontier.

Those three scents are not named Spock, Kirk and Picard but Tiberius Cologne (“difficult to define and impossible to refuse”), the allegedly sensual Ponn Farr — the name for the Vulcan seven year itch (a perfume designed to “drive him wild”) and — my favorite — Red Shirt.

For those of you who aren’t Trekkies, red shirts were the cannon fodder on every away team. Their only purpose was to die and add a (very) slight bit of pathos to all the bathos. This iteration of marketers are trying to give the scent a bit of 007-ish elan with the tag line “Because tomorrow may never come.” This definitely sounds better than the much more accurate, “Because you really don’t matter.”

(BTW, anyone care to guess how it is that I am related — by marriage — to perhaps THE MOST IMPORTANT UNHERALDED PERSON IN Star Trek history? Hmmm, anyone? Bueller? Twitter me for the answer.)

UPDATE: The great MijFromBuffalo alerts me to this piece of truth in branding from ThinkGeek:

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Caskets for someone who is a Trekkie to the death

“To boldly be buried as no one has been buried before…”

Eternal Image is a company that seems devoted to helping people get rid of excess cash when they die. When I last checked in, the maker of “brand-name funerary objects” had lines of urns and caskets with Major League Baseball logos and symbols from the Vatican Library. But, as the saying goes, that’s not all …

trek1For the millions of fans on our planet and beyond, our new line of Star Trek urns, caskets, monuments and vaults will be an important discovery indeed. After ten movies and five television series, phrases like “Live long and prosper,” “Resistance is futile” and “Space: the final frontier” have become part of our global vocabulary.

trekcasketThe urn, right, “will feature a bold design reminiscent of the 24th century styling of the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet.” The casket “as been inspired by the popular ‘Photon Torpedo’ design seen in STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Kahn.” (BTW, as someone who has wept through that particular movie more times than he would care to admit, I can tell you that it’s spelled Khan.)

If tacky Trekkie isn’t your way to go, then check out the equal-but-differently tacky line of Precious Moments™ funerary objects. Death, be not un-cute…

Best line from Eternal Image’s mission statement: “We combine the power of brand-names with 21st century materials and composites that won’t rot.” How much more can you ask from a company?

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