The business of pink

The color of October is no longer pumpkin orange or raven black. Instead, we're awash in pink.

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.

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