Pink ribbon rubber duckies may be cute. How about pink buckets of grease laden, fried chicken or a pink pistol?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it seems that year after year there are more and more pink items created for us to buy so that a few cents can be donated to breast cancer organizations. Approximately 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 40,000 women will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Can these items really help find a cure?

Consumers generate millions of dollars for breast cancer charities by buying products associated with corporate cause-marketing campaigns, and although these campaigns are bringing awareness to the disease, the money that is generated is not resulting in medical advancements and has even started a revolution against the saturated pink industry.

Pink Ribbons, IncThe book Pink Ribbons, Inc. by Samantha King and the Think Before You Pink campaign run by Breast Cancer Action are important responses to the growing concern about the number of pink ribbon products on the market.  And last year, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning to consumers about deceptive claims made on the packaging of pink ribbon products.

We can all get swept up into pink mania; what can be so bad about buying an item that we like, which gives a little back to a cause we care about? We even thought about culling a selection of items that give back to breast cancer for this blog post. But, as we came across a recent article in Marie Claire magazine entitled The Big Business of Breast Cancer, it got us thinking.

We encourage you to read the article in its entirety as it is both informative and shocking, but in the meantime, here are a few passages that caught our eye.

“Some $6 billion a year is committed to breast cancer research and awareness campaigns.”

“Though breast cancer researchers and advocates perpetually plead for more money, the disease is, in fact, awash in it.  Last year, the National Institutes of Health, allocated $763 million to the study of breast cancer, more than double what it committed to any other cancer.”

“… what many in the breast cancer community are loathe to admit… is that, in fact, we are really no closer to a cure today than we were two decades ago. In 1991, 119 women in the U.S. died of breast cancer every day. Today, that figure is 110 – a victory no one is bragging about. Breast cancer remains the leading cancer killer among women ages 20 to 59 – more than 1.4 million new cases are diagnosed annually worldwide.”

Pink products“A popular gripe among advocates is that too much (of funds raised) is spent on awareness campaigns… There’s a case to be made for that, of course, but there’s another explanation, one that exposes an ugly, even blasphemous truth of the movement: Breast cancer has made a lot of people very wealthy.” “The fact is that thousands of people earn a handsome living extending their proverbial pink tin cups.”

“The net result of all this profiteering? Pink has lost its punch.”

“No one really owns the rights to what has become the universal symbol of breast cancer (though Susan G. Komen for the Cure trademarked its own version), peddling the logo has become a massive racket, overrun by slick profiteers exploiting the public’s naive assumption that all pink purchases help the cause.  Often they don’t.”

A large part of the article goes on to discuss several breast cancer groups and their questionable practices.  It ends by providing a “Where Should You Give” list of well-regarded organizations that spend most of their funds on research and treatment.

For those of us who may not be able to resist the pink goodies, we have to be committed to shopping smart and finding out whether or not the item you are buying is really giving back. Here are a few questions provided by the Better Business Bureau to ask before you shop for the cause.

  • Which charity does this product support?  Do I support the charity’s mission and believe in its programs?
  • How is the charity receiving the contribution?  Will simply purchasing the product result in a contribution to the charity or will I need to do other “homework” to make sure the contribution is received?
  • How much of the purchase price is being donated to the charity?
  • Is there a limit on the amount of money the company will donate to the charity?  Has the company reached that goal?
  • Can I make a bigger impact by donating directly to the charity?

Just keep in mind… buyer beware.