How big business cashes in on breast cancer: Junk food, Barbie dolls and even power tools are jumping on this month’s pink ribbon bandwagon

By Linda Kelsey

PUBLISHED:16:40 EST, 14  October 2012| UPDATED:18:00 EST, 14 October 2012

Most people must be aware that we’re in the  middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Since the beginning of October, I’ve been  accosted by women (and men) wearing pink nylon wigs and brandishing collection  boxes, almost mown down by people in pink sportswear doing fundraising runs  round my local park and been exhorted to ‘shop without guilt’ for everything  from a pink Avon Breast Cancer Crusade emery board (£1.95) to a pink Coast dress  (£135), available online at Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

On Saturday, walking near my home, I came  across a trio of eight-year-olds selling home-made pink cupcakes at £1.50 each  just outside their front gate.

Increasing concerns are being raised about the methods used to encourage us to part with our money (posed by model)
Increasing concerns are being raised about the methods  used to encourage us to part with our money (posed by model)

I felt obliged to buy six of them even  though I promptly threw the lumps of pink goo in the bin.

Every year, the whole world seems to turn  pink in October.

Earlier this week, Elizabeth Hurley turned up  at the British Museum wearing a lacy pink confection and showing maximum  cleavage, accompanied by Shane Warne, who had a pink ribbon pinned to his lapel.

The great and good (well, journalists and  celebrities) had gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Estee Lauder’s  Breast Cancer Awareness campaign and to illuminate the museum with a pink glow,  guaranteeing headlines for the campaign and the billion-dollar business that has  grown up behind it.

Debenhams has commissioned its top designers — including Matthew Williamson, Jasper Conran and Julien Macdonald — to design  T-shirts in support of their Think Pink campaign, with 25 per cent of sales  going to three breast cancer charities including The Pink Ribbon Foundation.

Launched by a number of celebrities (Tess  Daly, Donna Air and Sadie Frost for starters) these T-shirts are certain to  raise lots of money for a great cause as well as generate loads of  publicity — and extra profit — for Debenhams.

Every day, 130 women in the UK are diagnosed  with breast cancer.

DID  YOU KNOW?

ONE  IN EIGHT WOMEN WILL BE DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER

And, as Breakthrough Breast Cancer  points out, that’s 4,000 mums, daughters, sisters and friends hearing the  dreadful news during Breast Cancer Awareness month alone.

While no one would deny the importance of  raising the millions of pounds needed to fund research and improve early  detection and survival rates, increasing concerns are being raised about the  methods used to encourage us to part with our money.

‘Buys that save lives’ says the slogan next  to a pair of pink stretch M&S jeggings or a pink Breast Cancer   Awareness USB flash drive on the Breakthrough website.

But will my purchase of a pair of pink  jeggings I don’t need — and will never wear — really help save lives?

Launched by a number of celebrities these T-shirts are certain to raise lots of money for a great cause as well as generate loads of publicity ¿ and extra profit ¿ for DebenhamsLaunched by a number of celebrities these T-shirts are certain to raise lots of money for a great cause as well as generate loads of publicity ¿ and extra profit ¿ for Debenhams

Launched by a number of celebrities  these T-shirts  are certain to raise lots of money for a great cause as well as generate loads  of publicity — and extra profit — for Debenhams

Wouldn’t my contribution to saving a life be  greater if I simply wrote out a cheque to a charity and popped it in the post?

Perhaps I shouldn’t carp on about Asda’s  Tickled Pink campaign, given that over the past 16 years, they’ve donated £29 million to cancer charities.

But when you consider that our unhealthy  Western diet and the rise in obesity is a prime cause of breast cancer, how can  it be a good thing to encourage us to buy pink-boxed Jaffa Cakes, which may be  low in fat, but are high in sugar?

And how about Stokes Real Mayonnaise with its  pink lid? Or Lucozade’s pink lemonade? Of course, there would be no real health  risk for most people in consuming such products occasionally, but this  association with fat and sugar-laden foods is an uncomfortable one.

As Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray — who  has suffered breast cancer — says: ‘I have no problem with big companies  contributing to cancer research, but disapprove of them selling us products,  including unhealthy junk foods, in the belief we’re making our contribution.

‘I also wonder how much of what we spend  actually goes to breast cancer research. It’s cynical marketing. Better to  contribute to your favourite cancer charity and buy anything but  pink!’

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast  cancer

The commercialisation of the fight against  breast cancer surely reached a nadir two years ago when KFC — whose jumbo  containers of fried chicken and chips might be regarded more as part of certain  health problems than as a solution — controversially started peddling garish  pink Buckets For The Cure in the U.S.

A Pink Ribbon Barbie, clad in a frothy pink  gown with pink ribbon, doesn’t fill me with glee either. As one cancer sufferer,  Jeanne Sather, posted on her blog (assertivecancerpatient.com): ‘As a woman  living with breast cancer (and minus one breast) who is forced to run a gauntlet  of pink products every October, my question is this: What does this beauty  queen, fairy princess, doll in a pink formal gown say about me and my experience  with breast cancer?

‘The answer is: Nothing. This doll does not  offer hope. This doll does not offer a positive image of a strong woman living  with cancer. And the doll is not a fundraising effort I can support.’

Breast Cancer Action, a campaigning and  fundraising group in the U.S., has been one of the main organisations to  highlight the sometimes dubious links between companies that raise funds for  breast cancer while producing products that may contribute to the disease.

In 2008, they took on the dairy industry,  focusing on Yoplait’s pink-lidded yoghurt, which was sold to raise money for  breast cancer, but was made with milk from cows stimulated with the hormone rBGH  that has been linked to breast cancer. As a result of their protest campaign  Yoplait is rBGH free.

But nothing sinks so low as a pink Smith & Wesson gun, a weapon that kills, being flogged to save lives. Unless you  think a porn site offering to make donations based on how many ‘boob searches’ are made on its website is even more despicable. I wish I’d made up both  examples, but I haven’t.

By turning the unarguably good cause of breast cancer awareness and research into a crass consumer spending spree, and linking shopping for everything from cake tins to porn to saving lives, we are in danger of turning the disease into little more than a commodity, one that fails to take account of real women’s experiences of breast cancer and leaves them feeling conflicted and guilty about their unwillingness to embrace all this pinkification of cancer.

OBESITY  IS A PRIME CAUSE OF CANCER- SO HOW CAN IT BE HELPFUL TO BUY JAFFA  CAKES?

A friend who underwent a mastectomy,  radiotherapy and chemotherapy seven years ago and now counsels other breast  cancer victims says: ‘Please don’t reveal my name for this article.

‘I volunteer for a cancer charity and they  are all dedicated, hard-working people. But the products sold through their  website are beginning to make me cringe.

‘All this pink nonsense turns breast cancer  awareness into something resembling a giant hen party. It’s gone too  far.’

The official name given to this type of  corporate philanthropy is ‘cause marketing’. A study of its effects by two  professors at the University of Michigan found that companies can raise prices  and make higher profits on the sale of products that benefit a cause.

These companies’ brand portfolios can  experience a ‘spillover’ increase in sales and profits, which more than  compensate for the money given to charity.

Other research has shown that 79  per cent of  consumers would seriously consider switching to a brand that supports a good  cause, providing the product meets their needs.

Elizabeth Hurley went pink when she turned up at the British Museum wearing a lacy dress revealing a lot of cleavage
Elizabeth Hurley went pink when she turned up at the  British Museum wearing a lacy dress revealing a lot of cleavage

Moreover, cause marketing actually reduces  direct charitable giving by consumers.

It’s interesting that some cancer campaigns  associated with men — such as testicular cancer — raise funds and awareness  through sponsored growing of moustaches, for example, rather than linking with  commercial partners to flog products aimed at men.

It’s probably for three reasons: first, all  these charities are in their infancy; men aren’t as sappy as women when it comes  to shopping; and the taboo around these topics is still there, so commercial  interests haven’t yet cottoned on.

Breasts are seen as sexy and eminently  saleable, while men’s bits aren’t.

It’s all a far cry from 20 years ago when  pink ribbons were a demonstration of solidarity with cancer sufferers with no  taint of commercialism.

Then, in 1992, the late Evelyn Lauder (who  died from ovarian cancer last year), an executive at her husband’s family firm  of Estee Lauder, created the pink ribbon campaign for breast  cancer awareness with her friend Alexandra Penney, then editor-in-chief of  Self magazine.

The campaign began on a small scale with  Lauder and her husband Leonard financing the little pink bows that  were given to women at department store make-up counters alongside a card  describing how to conduct breast self-examination.

Kylie Minogue and Sheryl Crow are both breast cancer survivors Kylie Minogue and Sheryl Crow are both breast cancer survivors

Kylie Minogue and Sheryl Crow are both breast cancer  survivors

Soon after they collected more than 200,000  pink ribbon petitions urging the White House to increase funding for research.

The campaign grew to raise millions of  dollars, launching the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and helping to  establish the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Centre at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer  Centre in New York.

‘There had been no publicity about breast  cancer,’ Lauder said, shortly before she died. ‘But a confluence of events — the  pink ribbon, the colour, the Press, partnering with Elizabeth Hurley, having  Estee Lauder as an advertiser in magazines and persuading so many of my health  and beauty editor friends to do stories about breast health — got people  talking.’

Certainly, breast cancer was a largely taboo  subject until awareness campaigns took off. It was under-funded in terms of  research and treatment, and women who had undergone mastectomies went to great  lengths to hide their suffering.

‘Every  year more than £5 million is  received from Breakthrough’s corporate partners  and this money plays an  instrumental role in helping fund groundbreaking  research and improve  service and treatments for women affected by breast  cancer’

Now, thanks to increased awareness and  celebrities — from Kylie to Jennifer Saunders — speaking openly about their  experiences of breast cancer, women can share their pain.

Of course, the charities involved argue that  all publicity and types of fundraising are worthwhile. A spokesman for  Breakthrough Breast Cancer says: ‘We very much value and depend on the support  that our corporate partners give to us.

The vital life-saving work that we do to stop  women dying from the disease is reliant to a large degree on the money raised  through companies such as Marks & Spencer, Avon, Ghd, Adidas and many others  who have supported us generously over the years.

‘Every year more than £5 million is received  from Breakthrough’s corporate partners and this money plays an instrumental role  in helping fund groundbreaking research and improve service and treatments for  women affected by breast cancer.’

Nevertheless, perhaps the time has come not  to ‘think pink’ but to ‘think before you pink’.

Instead of buying a ‘Cancer Can Kiss My  Tatas’ T-shirt, with little idea of how much of your money will be used to  profit cancer research, why not arrange an easy bank transfer that will do the  job your donation is intended for — and make so much more of a  difference.

DOES BUYING PINK ADD UP?

Jaffa Cake Bars Tickled Pink Limited Edition, £1, donation 5pStokes Sauces Mayonnaise, £3.15, donation 10p

Jaffa Cake Bars Tickled Pink Limited Edition, £1,  donation 5p

Stokes Sauces Mayonnaise, £3.15, donation 10p

Makita drill, £84.99, donation £5Lucozade Pink Lemonade Tickled Pink Limited Edition, 31.99, donation 10p
Makita drill, £84.99, donation £5

Lucozade Pink Lemonade Tickled Pink Limited Edition,  31.99, donation 10p

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Author: Ralph Turchiano

In short, I review clinical research on an almost daily basis. What I post tends to be articles that are relevant to the readers in addition to some curiosities that have intriguing potential. As a hobby, I truly enjoy the puzzle-solving play that statistics and programming as in the python language bring to the table. I just do not enjoy problem-solving, I love problem-solving and the childlike inspiration and exploration of that innocent exhilaration of discovering something new. Enjoy ;-)

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