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Pinkwashing: Stop Using Our Diseases to Sell Your Products

October 6, 2010

Could be, as the daughter of a woman who lost her life to breast cancer, I’m slightly more sensitive to matters of the boob than you are, but I feel moved to say something after the onslaught of pink emails I’ve received in the last few days. You probably know someone who’s had or died from breast cancer, and quite frankly, I find the “pinkwashing” offensive, as a marketer and a human.

I received a well-done (graphically-speaking) email from a brand I really enjoy and respect. I own several pairs of shoes and a bag or two from this designer and always open the emails they send me. I’m a good customer for them, one they probably don’t want to lose.

Yesterday’s email from them troubled me, and here’s why:

I’m sure they mean well, and maybe they really are going to give a percentage of proceeds to an organization that funds breast cancer research. But how much? When? What percentage of my purchase is being donated? By not disclosing this information, we’re led to believe that they’ve chosen the two pink products on their site to tout as breast cancer awareness products simply because they’re pink and because they’re easy to “Add to Cart” after you’ve already determined that you’re going to give them your credit card information to buy other, pricier items. And let’s say this business does donate a penny from each umbrella sold. Does this really count as a legitimate donation? How will we know the donation was made? We, the public, have no clue.

When you click “Shop Now,” you’re taken to the “New Arrivals” page. No further mention of breast cancer, donations, proceeds, or anything of the sort. In fact, you can’t even find these breast cancer research-supporting products on the landing page. I thought perhaps there’d be further mention of this social action campaign on the website, but no dice. Just as I suspected, another company jumping on the Breast Cancer Awareness Month bandwagon.

Bottom line: Please don’t use people’s diseases to sell your products. It’s tacky. Unless you’re legitimately making a contribution and being open and honest about how much you’re giving, where exactly it’s going, and when, you’re taking advantage of your customers’ goodwill. Don’t be that brand.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 4:13 pm


    Just yes.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      October 6, 2010 5:02 pm

      Thank you Jessica!

  2. October 6, 2010 4:19 pm

    Love the post. I too get extremely frustrated with the pink bandwagon every October. I especially get riled up over companies that promote products containing ingredients that are linked to breast cancer (or other cancers) just are donating money to promote breast cancer awareness. I mean really Estee Lauder – how can you ask others to pledge to stop breast cancer when your products continue to contain phthalates and parabens? I’m curious about the particular products the company you discuss was promoting – any chance that they were or had vinyl components?

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      October 6, 2010 5:05 pm

      I checked their site, no mention of what the products are made from (of course), but they’re rain boots and umbrellas… the likelihood is high. I was telling Jessica that I once ran the Race for the Cure and was handed a pink ribbon-labeled yogurt afterward that contained… aspartame.
      Thank you for your comment, I will definitely be checking out #ecowed tonight!

      • Melissa permalink
        October 6, 2010 5:16 pm

        You really hit the nail on the head. I have the same problems with a lot of (cause) charities. Somewhere along the line, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, I found myself giving to small individual charities that have helped people I know personally. It makes me feel better to give what I have in places where I know the company/school/camp philosophy.

  3. October 6, 2010 4:33 pm

    Thank you.

  4. Melanie S permalink
    October 6, 2010 5:44 pm

    I had never really thought about that in that way. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and I like to buy “pink” products to support the cause. Now that I’ve read your post, I am definitely going to pay close attention to this. Thanks for opening my eyes!

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      October 7, 2010 9:10 am

      Great! It’s so important that we, as consumers, are educated about what we’re buying and where our money is going. Thank you for reading!

  5. October 6, 2010 8:57 pm

    Nice post Esther. Fortunately, I think the industry is improving their practices. You might enjoy this post.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      October 7, 2010 9:08 am

      My thought is that it’s not the industry self-regulating, but the consumers who are getting smarter and no longer buying these kinds of shady tactics, forcing retailers to shape up. Of course, not all retailers are doing this, and a lot of companies are doing wonderful things for their communities without getting anything in return, but the ones who are in our faces are the worst perpetrators.

  6. October 6, 2010 9:22 pm

    So well said.

  7. October 6, 2010 9:23 pm


    Think before you pink.

    You might be interested in @whymommy’s post:

  8. October 6, 2010 10:54 pm

    I have always believed that it’s far more lucrative to LOOK for a cure than to FIND one. The cure for cancer is in each person….not a pill. As a 1 year survivor of breast cancer myself, I get nauseated at the sheer volume of pink out there…surely if the money spent on advertising, merchandise, and packaging was redirected to research or even…helping cancer survivors pay bills while in treatment, what a difference that would make!!

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      October 7, 2010 9:06 am

      I could not agree more, and love the thought of a company taking the money they were going to spend on pink marketing and giving it to families who are paying for treatments (without writing a press release about doing so!).

      • October 8, 2010 9:10 am

        Amen to that! And I have to comment on the “food” products that are supposedly helping the cause….hot pockets (ick), yogurt (cancer-causing dairy!) and every assortment of junk food to be had….it’s a travesty to promote your sales with a cause when your products ARE a cause. Shameless and greedy.

        Nutrition is SO overlooked for treatment and/or support for cancer! I took the surgery to give myself a clean slate, then went vegan. I was declared cancer-free in 8 months with no chemo or radiation.

        Thank you for this post!!

  9. October 7, 2010 9:21 am

    Yes. I would rather give directly to a charity, than rely on some corporation’s touchy-feely pledge that “some” of “the proceeds” are going to charity. I like transparency.

  10. Karen Aptekar permalink
    October 7, 2010 10:06 am

    Great post. I’d not been able to articulate in my mind exactly what my objections have been to “Pinkwashing” . Thanks for explaining it all so clearly. Oh and I just love the term Pinkwashing. Perfect!

  11. October 7, 2010 10:38 am

    Brava! And what Magpie said. I think the one that irritated me most was the pink Peppermint Patties a few years ago. Puleeeze!

  12. staceyburke permalink
    October 7, 2010 11:15 am

    Excellent post. I honestly hadn’t thought about it and will pay closer attention.

  13. Eta permalink
    October 7, 2010 6:19 pm

    Well spoken Esther! Legitimate and important point made.

  14. October 13, 2010 12:23 pm

    The answer is simple. Don’t buy from companies that are pinkwashing. Make your feelings known. If they (companies) receive lots of consumer complaints they will change their practices. by not buying you will get their attention.

    The other answer isn’t so simple. Stop giving money to “Awareness” bringers, like Komen. Don’t support them. They give only a fraction of their money to actual research projects. Most is spent on advertising and executive salaries. (You don’t expect those people to sacrifice do you?) Instead give your money to actual research projects. There are a few research PAC (for lack of a better word) out there that aggregate donations and give all of the donations to the charity or research project of choice. Same goes with other groups like United Way. Have you ever seen their financial statements? Ha ha and people think charities aren’t in it to make money.


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