The business of pink
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.
The color of October is no longer pumpkin orange or raven black. Instead, we're awash in pink.
WAYS TO GO PINK
Here's a list of some “pink” items you can buy this year
- Kitchen Aid stand mixers
- Pink M&M's
- Medline Breast Cancer Awareness 4-Wheeled Walker
- Edward Marc pink salted caramel apples
- Pink Ribbon cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes
- Caswell Massey Pink Ribbon Guest Soaps
- Harry and David Pink Pear Gift Tote
- Kohl's Breast Cancer Awareness Umbrella
- Ford Warriors pink scarf
- Sonia Kashuk pink makeup brushes
- Pink Asics running shoes
- Pink Ugg Slippers
- Pink Wilson tennis balls
- Pink Gaiam Yoga Mat from Gaiam
- Pink Estee Lauder lipstick
- Ocean Kayak Pink Venus Kayak
- Wilson Pink mini football
- Wilson Pink golf clubs
- Stardust Memorials pink keepsake urn for ashes
Not just any pink, mind you, but a very specific, fleshy, bubblegum pink that has come to define the breast cancer awareness movement. It's hard to miss, because it's everywhere.
Much as a stoplight shade of red became affiliated with AIDS awareness and lemon yellow with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong campaign, pink is instantly recognizable as a symbol of unity against a disease that affects an estimated one in eight women. So pervasive is the color that the rallying cry of “Think Pink” has become the mantra of breast cancer awareness month.
But what does pink really say to us?
“Pink is representative of youth, sweetness, health and vitality,” said Barbara Dormire, a certified color consultant in Santa Rosa.
Color theorists describe the hue as “calming” and representative of “love and romance.” Baker-Miller Pink, which is similar in hue to the soft pink of breast cancer awareness, was developed for use in jail cells and is often called “Drunk Tank Pink” for its ability to calm angry or aggressive prisoners. The color of pink, according to color psychology, targets a female audience. Think Barbie pink, the lingerie company Victoria's Secret's “Pink” line or Mary Kay Cosmetics. “Breast cancer pink” itself has become one of the most recognizable “brands” in the world.
“Great social movements are often tied to specific colors,” said Chris Denny, who heads creative strategy at The Engine Is Red, a Santa Rosa advertising agency. “In the case of breast cancer awareness, I think that pink has been claimed by women. It's no longer just a gender statement, but something that can empower women,” Denny said.
But pink has also become the color of money for many marketers. It's estimated that “pink products” raise $6 billion per year, according to the Better Business Bureau. Described as “pink-washing,” corporate do-gooders sell everything from pink kitchen stand mixers and tennis balls to cupcakes, makeup brushes and slippers.
Many products are aimed at women (lipstick, purses, slippers, yoga mats), but even the National Football League has gotten into the game, selling pink football pads, helmets and team jerseys. Food companies including Kentucky Fried Chicken, Tic Tac and M&M's have been supporters in the past. Do a Google search of “breast cancer awareness products” and you'll be assaulted with tchotckes of all kinds.
Most legitimate companies mean well, donating anywhere from 1 percent to 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of “pink” products going to various breast cancer organizations. Ford Motor Company claims to have raised more than $3 million from its Warriors in Pink apparel and plans to commit $115 million to “charities that offer a wide range of support.” KitchenAid claims to have raised more than $8 million and many other companies proudly tout their contributions of several hundred to several million dollars.
But detractors charge that some of these products, most notably yogurt with rBST, fast food and makeup with possible cancer-causing ingredients, are doing a more of a disservice than real good by putting breast cancer awareness pink on their packaging. And with no official tracking of monies raised by the sale of pink products, it's hard to know how much good they're really doing.
Breast Cancer Action, based in San Francisco, has a “toolkit” that outlines questions to ask before buying pink products, enabling you to “Think Before You Pink.” The movie “Pink Ribbons, Inc,” released last year, also looks at link between corporate profits and pink products. There are also an increasing number of “me too” marketers whose sole interest is in making money from the misplaced beneficence of “pink” buyers.
“While a certain color may have been adopted by great organizations that are trying to do good and raise money and awareness, you'll always have some hangers-on who will co-opt the color for more dubious reasons,” Denny said.
The feminine color also has some charged emotions for women who find the prissy, pastel color demeaning.
“Pink per se is not bad. It is bad to the extent that it contributes to a constellation of gender cues that can trigger defensive responses,” said Stefano Puntoni, who wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review called, “The Color Pink is Bad for Fighting Breast Cancer.” The fashion industry has chucked the color pink for its campaign against breast cancer, using a stark black-and-white motif.
So what's a breast cancer awareness supporter to do? Make an informed decision about where your good-intentioned money will go. If you like those pink M&M's, pink yoga mats, pink makeup brushes or a pair of pink running shoes, then by all means buy them. Reputable companies like Ford, Kohl's, Target, KitchenAid and many others do donate a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer foundations, and you can feel good about that.
If you want to make sure your money is going directly to foundations that help serve the breast cancer community more directly, investigate organizations like Breast Cancer Action, the American Cancer Society, the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, or Breast Cancer Fund and donate directly.
Because while there's nothing wrong with “thinking pink” in October (or all year long), it's best to know where your green is actually going.
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