Backlash Against “Pinkwashing” of Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns

Logo BOX - News-ViewsJournalist Meg Carter interviewed Breast Cancer Consortium founder Gayle Sulik  for this October 12, 2015 article in the BMJ on how big business is keen to jump on the breast cancer awareness bandwagon, and whether its messages around screening do more harm than good.

Here is an excerpt.

Each October, breast cancer awareness month provides an annual focus for pink ribbon themed campaigns—many of which are backed by commercial partners eager to be seen to support a worthy cause.

The pink ribbon began as a grassroots movement, with survivors wearing ribbons to show solidarity with each other. But it was quickly appropriated by commercial businesses such as Estée Lauder and breast cancer organizations, led by the U.S. based Susan G Komen, to show support ranging from financial donations to goodwill.

Commercial involvement in breast cancer campaigning has drawn criticism.

“Pink ribbon has come to be about selling products. To sell a product, a company needs to sell the disease. To sell the disease, they use upbeat messages about fighting, being positive, and staying strong,” says Breast Cancer Action executive director, Karuna Jaggar.

“The danger is that pink ribbon campaigning is overly simplistic and dominates public opinion, which only has a limited amount of attention bandwidth for health related campaign messages,” says Steve Martin, assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Gayle Sulik, medical sociologist at the University of Albany in New York state and author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, identifies a recent shift in campaign messages from telling women screening “will” to “may” save their life, and now to an acknowledgment that every woman is different so to get advice from their doctor.

However, she is critical of what she sees as some marketers’ efforts to “reclaim pink” from pink ribbon critics by choosing a harder sell rather than more considered, fact based campaigning. One example she cites is a current marketing campaign for a U.S. breast health screening and diagnostics supplier in which the word pink has been turned into a reassuring acronym: “P=Peace of Mind, I=Incredible Service, N=Not what you expect, K=Knowledge is power.”

“What we are now seeing is the pink ribbon movement taking the language of those opposed to pink ribbon culture to reframe the pinkwash debate to their own advantage,” says Sulik. “Just what it will take for campaigners to move beyond awareness and fundraising to more critical thinking, however, remains to be seen.”

Read More at BMJ »

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