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Breast cancer is clearly big news and big business in the United States. The nonprofit sector raises an estimated $2.5 to $3.25 billion for breast cancer in a given fiscal year. Between federal funding and the top five private foundations, the U.S. spends at least $1 billion annually on breast cancer research alone. No one knows how much is spent on all of those pink ribbon products and fundraising activities that are off the formal grid. What is clear, however, is that pink ribbon culture, publicity, and consumption are going global.

Numerous world landmarks have been lighted in pink in the name of breast cancer awareness –the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Ontario; the River Danube’s historical Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary; the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia; the Le Royal Hotel in Amman, Jordan; the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City; the ancient Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza, in Mexico’s southern state of Yucatan; and even the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Berlin landmark Brandenburger Gate is illuminated in pink on October 11, 2011 on the eve of the Festival of Lights. Photos & captions: AFP, Reuters

Following the pinking of the historical Brandenburger Gate in Berlin, Germany  as part of the annual “Festival of Lights on October 11th 2011, the Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin held a pink ribbon gala featuring various events, advertisements, and products along with the largest pink ribbon in Germany (Oct. 18).

Pink Ribbon Germany (i.e., Deutschland) is a campaign aimed at awareness and early detection. It features events, promotional materials, ambassadors, a magazine, corporate partnerships, the usual fare. The giant pink ribbon at the center of Pink Ribbon day was part of a full campaign strategy.

In addition to the typical run hard rock cafe t-shirts, pink balloons, and awareness fanfare, Pink Ribbon Germany has made breast cancer the new Haute couture. The high style and fashion lends itself to upscale advertising and product placement.

It was the cosmetics corporation Estee Lauder that was responsible for pinking the Brandenburger gate. Evelyn Lauder of the Estée Lauder Companies was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 and started the the Evelyn Lauder Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which ties pink ribbon product sales to corporate giving. The foundation has generated more than $250 million since its founding. With revenues of $8.8 billion for the cosmetics company in 2011 alone, it is quite likely that the Lauder companies also make a pretty penny by associating with such a highly feminized Cause.

The conventional wisdom in pink ribbon culture is to spread the message of the pink ribbon around the globe. As breast cancer incidence rates continue to rise steadily in developing and developed countries, public health programs struggle to determine how best to deal with the growing cancer burden. Given that known risk factors only account for a small percentage of total breast cancer cases, the World Health Organization recognizes that focusing only on modifiable health behaviors is a limitation. Similarly, the WHO acknowledges that the widespread mammography screening of populations is not likely to reduce overall mortality. Yet the pink mainstream remains committed to a version of awareness that centers on population screening and pink ribbon community building. Corporate tie-ins virtually guarantee lucrative pink ribbon profits as companies partner with breast cancer charities.

Pink Ribbon Day, Germany. Source:

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