Pink promotions: Is breast cancer awareness month generating research dollars or profit?

October is national breast cancer awareness month in the U.S. The wave of pink things once again spurs the question, is this actually helpful?

Is The NFL Profiting Off Of Breast Cancer?

It is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the NFL is doing its part to support the cause as the league has become saturated in pink (click here for numerous examples). However, off the field, it is a different story.

Many of the items seen on the field can also be purchased in the NFL’s online shop. But while the items on the field will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society, it is less clear how much of the sales of pink gear in the NFL Shop go towards research.

When we contacted the NFL’s online shop for clarification, we were told 5% of the sales are being donated to the American Cancer Society. If the pink products have a typical 100% mark-up at retail, that means the NFL is keeping 90% of the profit from the sale of Breast Cancer Awareness gear.

And then consider that only 70.8% of money the ACS receives goes towards research and cancer programs. So, for every $100 in sales of pink gear, only $3.54 is going towards research while the NFL is keeping approximately $45 (based on 100% mark-up)

Then the NFL wanted to clairfy:

While they did not dispute the numbers above, a representative said the NFL does not profit from the sale of pink merchandise. Any money that is not donated to ACS is used to cover the costs of their breast cancer awareness program, A Crucial Catch. Also, the NFL says they have donated “more than $3 million” or approximately $1 million per year as a result of the program that began in 2009.

My skepticism is with the “breast cancer awareness” part. Frankly, I’m sick of pink and I’m not clear how pink helps AT ALL towards the cure. How much more “aware” or educated does it make me to see people in pink with pink ribbons and pink products? None. None more educated.

Jezebel take a hard line

Surely the NFL is helping keep people aware and alert and vigilant that at any moment, breast cancer could be lurking around a corner in a dark alley waiting with a hot pink switchblade to steal your purse and boobs. The thing about awareness is that it’s all but impossible to quantify — and everyone knows about breast cancer. […] The “awareness” that comes from the NFL’s sales of pink branded items doesn’t justify the extent to which the league is taking advantage of consumers’ good intentions to pad their wallets. Even if no NFL player ever touched another pink thing again, Americans would go right on being aware of the disease. Unless the Buffalo Jills or New Orleans Saintsations cheerleaders are holding up signs that show women how to give themselves breast self-exams or tickets come with 5 page printouts of places low income women can obtain breast health screening for low or no cost, the type of awareness the NFL is providing is useless, vague garbage.

But the author does not have facts that show that there isn’t actually an increase in research dollars as a result. I would guess there certainly is but what’s the flip side? PR and profit for businesses? Is it lopsided?

If research dollars are needed, are they getting that from all this promotion? One can’t help but wonder if producing these speciality products for the cause are exploitive of the public emotion over this disease. In a piece from last year, where I showed my distaste for the avalanche of pink products I was being encouraged to purchase, it was surprising to note that apparently no one was keeping tabs on the money that was actually being generated from research. Are they now?

Here is a piece from another angle: ‘Pinktober’ ignores breast cancer patients who can’t be cured, some say

“Some women hate October,” says Wells, 45, a mother of three from Costa Mesa who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2007 and learned two years later that it had metastasized, spreading to her lungs.

They call it “Pinktober” and that’s not a term of endearment.

Instead, it refers to the barrage of pink-themed promotions, events and activities during October — everything from pink stickers on football players’ helmets to pink lights illuminating the White House — that seem to highlight the bright side of battling breast cancer, all without acknowledging the women living in its darkest shadow.

“The message has really been skewed,” says Knackmuhs, 61, of Wyckoff, N.J., who was diagnosed with Stage IV disease in 2009. “It’s so associated with selling products and shopping and dubious product endorsement.”

Is there something more to this story? Let us know what you know.

Pink ribbons. ON EVERYTHING! Breyer horse special edition for 2012

  18 comments for “Pink promotions: Is breast cancer awareness month generating research dollars or profit?

  1. October 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Ugh. I was just talking about this with some friends last week. Breast Cancer Action has created a “Think Before You Pink” toolkit to help people make better decisions about how to actually take action against breast cancer instead of just buying pink crap to feel good about yourself.
    http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/?page_id=1800

    I love their slogan: Actions speak louder than PINK!

    Here is a great essay about pinkwash from the perspective of a journalist and breast cancer patient: http://archive.bcaction.org/PDF/Harpers.pdf

    I haven’t seen this Think before you Pink documentary yet, but it looks good:
    http://www.sundancechannel.com/sunfiltered/2012/06/think-before-you-pink-warns-new-breast-cancer-doc/

  2. LovleAnjel
    October 12, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    I’ve also heard of the foundations involved being called “the pink mafia” for the tactics they use to get companies and organizations to partner with them in producing and promoting Cancer Pink products.

    Anytime you’re tempted to buy something that is Cancer Pink, donate the cost instead directly to a research institute. Then you know for sure the money went where you wanted it to go.

    • JWM
      October 12, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      Good advice here. Tomorrow I will be helping out with and riding in a bike ride that will be able to donate 100% of proceeds directly to cancer research at a university research facility here in my home town that is focusing on treatment resistent breast cancer. Now, if I could only convince my wife to stop smoking.

  3. Johnny Farnen
    October 12, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Pink Ribbons. Yellow Ribbons. “Awareness”. All garbage in my mind. How does branding an abstract like awareness really help at all? It doesn’t. Why do people feel the urge to advertise they are aware? Whether it is Breast Cancer, AIDS, or Supporting the Troops, how does awareness help out the actual victims in the long run?

    I am aware of a peer reviewed paper stating bigfoot exists. A week later a nearly identical peer reviewed paper made identical statements that dark matter exists. (Both made the same claims about their subject in that the conclusions are that both exist even though there is little or no concrete evidence…) This makes me “aware” of the fact that people can be aware without proof.I didn’t even get a rubber band bracelet or magnetic car ribbon out of the deal… (It also logically leads me to believe that Bigfoot is made of Dark Matter…but that is an entirely different tongue in cheek topic…)

    I use my previous examples to tie into this conversation as with a bit of digging on the web, one finds that once again, people will pay to be told they believe in a cause only to be able to affirm to themselves what they already believe, even though they do nothing to actually support those beliefs/causes.

    (Forgive me, I have difficulty expressing my thoughts in text, I hope a few readers are able to understand my seemingly random statements above.)

    Anyway, do as I am trying to do right now and try to find documentation that allows comparison of “pink” profits compared to actual “pink” research donations.

    Here is a gem of interesting info. We click this link and see what appears to be a valid BC site that is actually just an cleverly disguised lobbyist group.(Notice one of the first things you see is “DONATE!”

    http://bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/politics-of-breast-cancer/the-cancer-industry/#anchor4

    This next link goes to their most recent publicly available annual report(’09-’10), which is really just a long list of donors. The only “Dollars and cents” information shows they spent 971 thousand dollars that were used to lobby as follows:

    http://archive.bcaction.org/uploads/PDF/BCA%20annual%20report%202010.pdf

    • Monitored the implementation of
    ○SB 484, the California Safe Cosmetics Act.
    ○ SB 509 and AB 1879 which established
    California’s Green Chemistry Initiative.

    • Supported state and federal legislation that
    proposed capacity

    ○Banning bisphenol A (BPA) in food containers.
    ○ Overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act
    of 1976.
    ○ Authorizing the California State Board of
    Barbering and Cosmetology to collect
    language, gender, and ethnicity data from
    those applying for licenses.
    • Opposed registration of methyl iodide as a soil
    fumigant in the state of California.

    Notice not a penny went to research, treatments, or actual help in any form for breast cancer victims. They have an Anti-pink program stance, yet they themselves do nothing to actually support research, treatment, or prevention.What do barbering licenses have to do with breast cancer!?!? Green Chemistry Initiative!?!? Seriously…Many of their focuses seem a bit of a stretch to link to specifically breast cancer…

    This is just one of many that deliberately utilizes misconception to support a political agenda which barely, if at all, does anything to support their claimed activities.

    My advice, instead of hopping on the pink bandwagon,is why not cut a check directly towards an actual patient’s treatment bills to show your “awareness” rather than throwing money away on kitschy knick-knacks that do little to actually help anyone but politicians and corporate profiteers?

    • October 12, 2012 at 2:18 PM

      Let’s try to be more direct with comments, please. Thanks.

    • October 12, 2012 at 4:01 PM

      I think that awareness campaigns can help and are vital when a disease is prevalent or contagious and yet not spoken of. I remember red ribbons and ‘Silence = Death’ being an important part of getting the word out about HIV statistics and education. Likewise with breast cancer there was time when nobody would talk about it for fear of being indelicate. But then there’s that tipping point when it just becomes gratuitous and exploitative.

      I think it would be more appropriate to move on to awareness campaigns for other taboo ailments. For instance, we need to get everyone more comfortable talking about and scheduling colonoscopies and prostate exams. I know three people who are experiencing painful symptoms related to defecation but they are just too embarrassed to talk to their doctors about it. I wish there was a campaign telling them that they’re not alone, the problem isn’t as unique or terrible as they think it is, doctors do NOT get grossed out by this stuff, and to just get over it and drop trou.

  4. Xenolan
    October 12, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    According to statistics I read on MSN, breast cancer is the third leading cause of death by cancer in the U.S. Lung cancer is first, with almost three times the number. Colon cancer is second, but its numbers are comparable to breast cancer.

    So, why hasn’t the NFL ever engaged in an awareness campaign for lung or colon cancer? I think it would be naive to believe that the answer is anything other than the fact that in the United States, breasts are sexy. Lungs and colons are not. The reason why companies jump on the Pink Bandwagon has little to do with the fight against breast cancer, and everything to do with getting the word “breast” into their advertising.

    There are those who will say that the campaign is about focusing on a disease which affects women in far greater numbers than men. If that’s the case, why have we never seen a massive campaign to raise awareness for ovarian cancer? That kills a lot of women too! The answer is simple: Ovaries don’t sell product. Breasts do.

    There was a time once when people in general really weren’t as aware of breast cancer as they should have been, and when women needed to be informed of the importance of self-exams and regular screenings. That time has passed; the message has been delivered and received. It’s time to stop pretending that further Awareness does any good whatsoever – and it may be doing actual harm. As it is, people think that they can buy some pink-packaged stuff and they’ve done their part, rather than donating money directly to where it is needed.

    • Melissa
      October 13, 2012 at 2:54 AM

      I just saw an ad in Octobers issue of glamour magazine about ovarian cancer awareness. I tried to find it online but couldn’t. We will probably be seeing the teal ribbons more and more in the future.

  5. Lisa B.
    October 12, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    This is an interesting article on the Charitywatch.org website regarding different cancers.

    http://charitywatch.org/articles/cancer.html

  6. Peebs
    October 12, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Xenolan raises much the same points as I was going to.

    Another cancer that occurs in comparable numbers is Ca. of the Prostate.

    Given the average males reluctance to see a doctor for embarrassing symptoms, maybe some of the pink money raised should by syphoned off to raise awareness of that.

    • JWM
      October 12, 2012 at 4:19 PM

      That would need to be Blue money. Prostate awareness is blue ribbons :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awareness_ribbons along with child abuse awareness, human trafficking awareness, colon cancer awareness, and brittle bone disease awareness among others. More disease awarenesses needs than colors to go around

      • LovleAnjel
        October 12, 2012 at 5:22 PM

        Why isn’t colon cancer brown ribbons? That’s a much more obvious and unused choice.

  7. jon
    October 13, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    I wonder how many people feel they do not need top donate money to a ‘real’ breast cancer charity, thinking that all the money spent on pink crap goes to it already?

    The Chronic fatique Syndrome communitee was working on a ribbon program, but they never really got around to it seeing as how tired everyone got of the job (I can say that as my wife has it- talk about an illness needing some awareness!

  8. Lauren
    October 16, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    My mother recently died after a long cancer fight that started out as breast cancer, and nothing makes me madder than Pinktober. Yes, checkups and awareness are important, but I’m pretty sure everyone is AWARE of breast cancer. Save your money, and send it directly to a reputable charity where you know it’ll get where you intended.

  9. October 16, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Excellent story and useful comments. I think idoubtit’s numbers confirm what we all suspect very strongly: this is just a cynical marketing platform for the NFL. They try to defend themselves by saying they “donate” a million dollars a year!? That ought to infuriate us all, given that the league’s annual profits are one billion dollars!

    From the critic-of-marketing’s point of view, I’d say the benefits to the NFL include these two:

    1. The pinkwashing is a rather obvious attempt to deepen the real bedrock on which the NFL trades, which is powerful loyalty and emotion. Who doesn’t feel sad and worried about a friend or sister or mother because of BC? Now, thanks to the pinkwash, we football fanatics, in between the Bud Light ads suggesting that our loyalty to and play with the brand of beer we drink can help “our” team win, we get to rest easier with the knowledge that merely watching the NFL is a great way of supporting our friends, sisters, mothers — all on the suggestion that the NFL is somehow donating a serious share of its sales to the cause.

    2. Pink is also making the NFL look like a soft, caring organization, even as it locks out its employees and battles to combat the holocaust of brain injuries it imposes on its players, without any serious prevision for future care.

    • October 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      Let’s be clear here. Those numbers are in quotes, from the linked story. They are not mine.

  10. October 16, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    P.S. No doubt NFL marketers and owners see their puny million dollars as one of their better ROI moves. How much brand loyalty do they get for that 1/1000th of their profits? A lot more than a million dollars’ worth.

    It probably also buys them increased loyalty from the players, too. Nothing to sneeze at their, given the obvious dangers of that job.

  11. October 19, 2012 at 6:57 PM

    NY Attorney General Calls On Breast Cancer Charities To Be Transparent About Where The Money Is Going
    http://consumerist.com/2012/10/18/ny-attorney-general-calls-on-breast-cancer-charities-to-be-transparent-about-where-the-money-is-going/

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