First off, I would like to explain cause marketing. Cause marketing “refers to a commercial activity in which companies and nonprofit organizations form alliances to market an image, product or service for mutual benefit” (Verrghese 2013). Susan G. Komen’s Foundation for the Cure is supposedly a form of cause marketing, as the foundation works with big organizations to raise funds for breast cancer research, however over the years it has developed into something different, something contradictory, something ugly and questionable.
Pinkwashing is a term describing ”the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the struggle to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease” (Lubitow & Davis 2011). An example of pinkwashing is the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure raising funds in order to contribute to finding a cure for breast cancer working together with organizations such as KFC (Bellesouth 2012). Sales of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to contribute to finding a cure for breast cancer? Really? Unhealthy food such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) which possibly contributes to the disease should not be allowed to help raise funds for breast cancer research, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation should not partner up with KFC vice versa, because its simply unethical! The message being conveyed is pretty much like, hey have some of this, and if you get breast cancer someday, no worries cause we’ve contributed to finding a cure!
Take a look at this video to further understand what I mean:
According to Lubitow and Davis (2011), pinkwashing is a form of social injustice directed at women in the United States because the practice:
a) Provides a vehicle for corporations to control the public experience of breast cancer
Due to corporations being a huge part of the funding for breast cancer research through foundations such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure, they have the power to control exactly what the money goes into. For example, if their focus is finding a cure, then other parts of cancer research which could help, such as what can be done to prevent breast cancer, would be neglected.
b) Increases profits while potentially contributing to the rising rate of the disease
As I mentioned above, the KFC example is a good one because unhealthy food could possibly be a contributor of the disease. However, because it is a well known organization which can bring in a lot of funding, the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure agreed to work with them in the “Buckets for the Cure” campaign (Bellesouth 2012), where pink coloured buckets of fried chicken was the product sold to raise funds.
c) Obscures an environmental health discourse that recognizes the environmental causes of breast cancer
Instead of finding the causes of breast cancer in order to prevent women from getting the disease in the first place, “pinkwashing frames the scientific effort related to breast cancer in terms of pharmaceutical interventions or treatments that will, one day, cure women with the disease” (Lubitow & Davis 2011). Finding the cause is important too because cancer is not just a hereditary disease.
d) Co-opts or redirects women’s experiences of the disease by narrowly defining what is possible
Pinkwashing has formed a single perception for women to believe in, which is that “Someone you love has breast cancer? Then buy pink, and walk with others who are in the same boat, fighting cancer together. What else can you do?” (Lubitow & Davis 2011). This does not open up the minds of women to other possibilities, such as the fact that they can in fact do something! They can help donate to research efforts that try finding the causes of cancer as well, and not to pinkwashers who have little care to the prevention of cancer. They can look after their own well-being and be sure not to be exposed too much or carcinogens. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
Besides all that, Susan G. Komen’s Foundation is not only unethical for those reasons but also unethical because it fails to uphold proper transparency between the foundation and their publics. Transparency is important in cause marketing because “in order to meet consumers’ transparency needs labelling of the donation amount is needed” (Langen, Grebitus & Hartmann 2010). I’m sure you are wondering why I say the foundation is not transparent even though they are not secretive of where they donate and how much money they gain from fundraising. Well, I say this because the foundation “has cut by nearly half the proportion of fund-raising dollars it spends on grants to scientists working to understand the causes and develop effective new treatments for the disease” without being transparent on why they did so (Begley & Roberts 2011). From this we can clearly see that the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure is considered unethical cause marketing and that is exactly why it is known as pinkwashing.
Begley, S & Roberts, J 2012, ‘Insight: Komen charity under microscope for funding, science, Reuters, 8 February, accessed 10/4/2006, Reuters.
Bellesouth 2006, Bellesouth Blogs Weblog, weblog, accessed 10/4/2013, http://bellesouthblogs.com/boycottkomen/#comments
Breastcanceraction 2011, Raise A Stink! About Pinkwashing, accessed 10/4/2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=25eQp0mZ-qA
Langen, N, Grebitus, C & Hartmann, M 2010, ‘Is there Need for more Transparency and Efficiency in Cause-related Marketing?’, International Journal on Food System Dynamics, vol.4, pp366‐381.
Lubitow, A & Davis, M 2011, ‘Pastel Injustice: The Corporate Use of Pinkwashing for Profit’, Environmental
Justice, vol.4, no.2, pp139-144.
Verrghese, AK 2013, ‘Partnerships and Cause Related Marketing: Building brands for the future’, accessed 10/4/2013, http://www.brandchannel.com/papers_review.asp?sp_id=583