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.
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 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!’
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.
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
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 5p
Stokes Sauces Mayonnaise, £3.15, donation 10p
Lucozade Pink Lemonade Tickled Pink Limited Edition, 31.99, donation 10p
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