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Another October has come and gone, but are the #Pinkverts getting any better?

Another October has come and gone, but are the #Pinkverts getting any better?

I started the “Pinkverts” category on Osocio last year as a way to encourage discussion about the various issues raised by breast cancer cause marketing, such as “pinkwashing,” cynical exploitation of the cause for publicity or profit, and the trivialization or sexualization of the widespread and often fatal disease.


This campaign, by Fuck Cancer (via Mashable) is a good example of why we need to keep having this conversation.

“A lot of people are pissed off about the ‘pink’ thing,” Yael Cohen, CEO and founder of F Cancer, told Mashable. “They don’t feel it gives them strength when they’re going through everything. We wanted to give people a different way to interact with cancer this month — a way that was humorous, light and, above all, actionable.”

But is substituting sexual innuendo for “the pink thing” really progress? There have been some excellent campaigns that have used frank nudity for attention with respect and effective information delivery, such as Scotland’s recent campaign starring Elaine C. Smith. All too often, however, it just ends up sleazy.

The tone of these types of campaigns may be changing, however. Following the success of the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc., and the scandalous political fight between the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood in the United States, I am noticing more and more influential people speaking out against “Pinktober” exploitation. (On Twitter, they use the hashtag #pinknausea.)

With demand for change comes a response in the form of innovation. If marketers don’t want to use the clichés of pink ribbons, “titties” and cuteness to get attention, they will have to find new ways to personalize the issue and inspire action.


The change is slow, and incremental, but I’m seeing refreshing signs of it everywhere. This example was sent to us by Caribou Coffee of Minneapolis shows a step in the right direction. While still an overuse of pink, the campaign is authentic (former roastmaster Amy Erickson was killed by breast cancer) and significant, offering 10% of total sales revenue to a lesser-known charity that is really making a difference in people’s lives. Cancer Care offers “free, professional support for anyone affected by cancer”.

If I were to offer any professional advice to marketers who want to do better breast cancer marketing next year, it would be this:

1) Don’t sexualize the disease. Borrowing interest from our biological fascination with breasts does more than hurt the oversexualized image of women in media. As Jessica Luther wrote in Flyover Feminism:

Focusing on breasts and breasts alone obscures the reality and the faces of the people who are at the center of the fight against breast cancer. It reminds the survivors who either don’t have their breasts or have scars across the breasts they do have that they are now not as wholly feminine as they once were (and they never will be). They may have beaten the cancer but they lost their breasts, the things everyone seems to actually care about.

2) Don’t be cutebecause cancer isn’t.

3) Don’t just promote “awareness.” People know what breast cancer is. Be specific and helpful, whether encouraging donations or early detection.

4) If you want to donate to the cause as corporate social responsibility, donate to the cause specifically and significantly. Don’t simply tithe your customers and take credit for it. If you want to get them involved, sponsor a fundraiser — or match their donations.

5) Don’t try to put a pink spin on products that are actually associated with a higher risk of cancer. This is what “pinkwashing” is (as opposed to less harmful pink appropriation), and people will call you on it.

I want to believe that things are improving, that cause marketers are getting more sophisticated to meet the needs of a better-informed and -connected marketplace.

Let’s make it happen next year.

I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more