'Pink' products make her see red

The Baltimore Sun

Just in time for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you can purchase a variety of chick flicks in a DVD sleeve with a pink border, and 50 cents of the purchase price will go to breast-cancer research.

The movies include An Affair to Remember, A Walk in the Clouds, Ever After, In Her Shoes, Legally Blonde, Mermaids, Moulin Rouge, Never Been Kissed, Say Anything and Thelma & Louise.

20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment have promised to donate a minimum of $250,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure from the sale of these DVDs.

October is breast-cancer-awareness month in the same way that December is Christmas-awareness month.

You'd have to be colorblind not to see all the pink products. Buy one and a portion of the sale price supposedly goes to breast-cancer research.

Some completely tone-deaf marketing executive even came up with this slogan: "Shop for the Cure."


I don't know about you, but I am pinked out, and I have lots of pinked-out friends.

I was never comfortable with the idea of a corporation trying to hitch its sales wagon to a disease that is the dread of every woman.

But now those companies are legion, and all their pink merchandise has succeeded in trivializing a disease that not only can kill women but can also cripple the families they leave behind.

Pink mixers, pink airplanes, pink-frosted Oreos, pink soup cans, pink M&Ms; and pink mattresses. And if it isn't pink, it has a pink ribbon stuck on it, like Lean Cuisine meals and Quilted Northern bathroom tissue. The list of these products is as long as it is bizarre.

Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing at Charity Navigator, an online charity watchdog, said the first grumbling of consumer "pinklash" began last year, and it is growing.

"It is because the market has become so saturated," she said. "What we are hearing from the public is that not every partnership seems authentic."

Some companies donate to social causes out of their own pockets. But the minute the sales and marketing boys realized that this was a way to target women, who make most of the family's purchasing and donating decisions, the whole process became suspect.

It is good for the charities. By piggybacking with corporations, they have access to a much larger marketing budget than they could ever generate on their own.

But on the flip side, "the corporation is borrowing the squeaky-clean image of the charity to boost their image," said Miniutti.

Lance Armstrong has his yellow wristbands. Bono has his red campaign for AIDS awareness. But nothing can touch the pink ribbons that the Komen Foundation first gave away in 1990 to runners in its Race for the Cure in Washington.

You can argue that the pink ribbon is now as widely known as the golden arches.

And it has helped Komen donate $1 billion to cancer research, according to the foundation's own accounting.

But the sight of it triggers in me -- not a reminder to have a mammogram or do my breast self-exam this month -- but an increasing level of irritation.

I don't like to be manipulated, and I don't like to have my worst fears exploited by a company that makes athletic clothing or scented candles or kitchen knives.

And it infuriates me that the marketplace determines the distribution of medical research dollars in this country. That's worse than the fact that money decides elections.

If a company wants to write a check to breast-cancer research in the name of all the women it employs, fine. Do it.

But whether I choose to donate to breast-cancer research or to Meals on Wheels, I want my conscience, not the unseen hand of a marketing executive, to be my guide.

Charity Navigator gives Komen high marks for accountability in its corporate partnerships. It looks like the money does get there. But you insult me when you ask me to mail in the sloppy, foil tops from my morning yogurt in return for your promise to donate 10 cents to the cause.

Besides, chick flicks were never my thing. I liked the Bourne trilogy.


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