If You Put a Pink Ribbon on a Pig, It’s Still a Pig

pigbowEvery October (and much of the rest of the year now), consumers are bombarded by pink ribbons in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness. Women march for days to honor each other and eagerly put their dollars to use. Husbands and sons proudly wear pink.  I even read the sweetest story about a little boy that asked for a pink cast when he broke his arm because he wanted to support breast cancer.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a man, woman, or child in this country that is not aware of breast cancer.

We’ve painted the town pink, but what have we accomplished in the last twenty years? Less than you’d think. How much of the$6 BILLION or so dollars spent last year in the name of breast cancer is actually helping us find a cure? The numbers are shockingly low.  How to women who have suffered through breast cancer feel about this? Angry. I watched the documentary Pink Ribbon, Inc. recently. It was a bleak reminder that breast cancer is not pretty in pink. I found it to also be a tragic and embarrassing commentary on the state of our society’s ignorance about what it takes to actually make good things happen rather than making ourselves feel good.

How Close Are We to a Cure?

No Victory

In 1991, 119 women died of breast cancer every day. 20 years and billions of dollars later, that number is 110.

Advanced stage diagnoses among women ages 25-39  has nearly doubled since 1976.

No Progress

Each year, 70,000 women are diagnosed late stage, after the cancer has spread to other organs.

Only 1 in 5 of these women will survive, a grim number that hasn’t changed since 1976.

No Cure

1/3 of all women considered cured by their doctor suffer recurrences.

The likelihood of diagnosis has risen 1% per year steadily for decades and we still don’t know the cause.

What Do the Sufferers Think?

"I HATE Pink"

The $20 Save the Ta-Tas T-shirt you bought doesn’t help pay the mounting medical bills that insurance doesn’t cover or the loss of income from missed work.

They want life support. They have families to care for, jobs to go to, and bills to pay. 

"I am NOT a Survivor"

To be a survivor implies you fought a battle that could be lost/won by fighting hard enough and that discredits the women who die as having not tried hard enough.

They don’t want to be told to fight or that you know they can “beat it”.

"Cancer is Ugly"

You can’t put a pink ribbon on a pig and call it pretty.

Cancer is ugly no matter how many smiling women you see in pink tu-tus parading their support of awareness.

They want you to know there is still no cure.

Where Does All the Money Go?

Breast cancer is big business for both nonprofits organizations and for profit corporations. Want to know where $6 BILLION consumers dollars is going annually? There’s not enough space on the internet to tell you everything you don’t want to hear, but let’s start with two you are probably familiar with.

Susan G. Koman for the Cure, is the largest of 1,400 IRS recognized tax-exempt charities devoted to breast cancer. In the last five years, they have grossed over $1 BILLION.  Yet they have a paltry 2-Star rating by Charity Navigator. Why? There is a long list, but let’s start with this: Only 20% of their fundraising goes to research for the cure. Only 10% goes to fund treatments for the cure. Their Founder (not the CEO) makes over half a million dollars a year. The saddest part, is that they aren’t the worst offender. While there are many legit breast cancer charities with 4-star ratings, there are dozens that are total scams. Read about this scam where consumers were bilked of $187M over a period of over 20 years.

While SGK at least started out of a genuine desire to support the disease that killed the founder’s sister, the NFL’s decision to support breast cancer is purely a marketing gimmick.  They were surprised to find they have a larger female audience than they thought and needed to earn brownie points to counter all the bad publicity their players generate, often related to violence against women.  So lets look at the numbers: pink-washed NFL products are sold at 100% markup. 25% goes to NFL royalties and 90% of that royalty goes to the American Cancer Society.  The other 10% goes to pay for the awareness campaign.  So if you bought $100 worth of merchandise, $11.25 made it to the ACS.  The remainder goes to the manufacturer (37.5%) and the rest goes to the NFL (50%). So lets take that one step further: 70% of the ACS’ income goes to ALL cancer research and cancer programs, not just breast cancer. Read more at Business Insider. The NFL is taking advantage of consumers’ good hearts. Before you argue the benefit of their awareness campaign with me, find one person who has never heard of breast cancer. The NFL’s awareness campaign is cause marketing garbage. It discredits genuine cause marketing that has real impact and – worse – it literally takes money away from research to find a cure and assistance to those suffering. It’s worse than stealing candy from babies. Not cool, NFL. Not cool.

I wish I could say they are the only ones but with everything from drill bits to baby diapers being painted pink, the list is long. The organization Think Before You Pink combats “pink-washing” – this is brands that create a false sense of goodwill among consumers while doing more to increase profits than to promote a cure and brands that promote the cause while selling products with known carcinogens. Some of the names you’ll see?  Avon, Yoplait, and KFC.  Surprised? Me, too.

How You Can Help the Cause.

Be a Lamp

Volunteer to teach women in under-served communities  how to do self-exams and where to find low-cost/free mammography services.

Be a Lifeboat

Instead of  racing for a cure, race to help someone who is suffering. Take their kid to soccer practice, drive them to treatment, make sure the lawn is mowed, be a shoulder to cry on.

Be a Ladder

Support reputable charities that fund significant research for a cure and provide financial assistance to patients. Find one at Charity Navigator or Guide Star

Great Reads & Resources

Pink Ribbon, Inc Documentary

The Business of Breast Cancer – great article from Marie Claire Magazine

CharityNavigator.com – get the real numbers behind the charities you want to support. Know your money is getting to the people you want to help!

GuideStar.org – another great resource for researching charities of all sizes. Don’t get scammed!

Quick glance at Charity Navigators list of breast cancer charities with rankings

Should you buy that charity affiliated product?

Business Insider Expose on the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign

Tiffani Hollis
Tiffani Hollis
Founder, Creative Hero, Philanthropist, Artist, Poet, Seeker of Wisdom
I want instigate a social change from an attitude of indifference to making a difference, from apathy to empathy. Brands have the power of influence. By becoming champions for a good cause, brands can create both epic growth and social change.