A Symbol of Hope or Shopping?

Whether it be the NFL, Yoplait’s pink lids, or local breast cancer benefit events, like UNCW Communication Studies Society’s Rock for a Cure this Friday night, the color pink is plastered all over the nation during the month of October. As it stands, the pink ribbon is a universal symbol representing the fight against breast cancer. Over the past few years some critics have emerged saying this beacon of hope has merely become an annual marketing campaign. Nancy Stordahl, a blogger for the Huffington Post, criticizes the campaign and in 2012 she composed a list of the ten things she felt were wrong with the pink ribbon.

You can find the full article here, but there are two points in particular she relates back to marketing that raise an interesting discussion. The first is that the pink ribbon is being used to sell stuff and has lost its original purpose, a purpose to unite this country and show our commitment to finding a cure. Today, marketers are using the pink ribbon to tie the cause to the products they are trying to sell. Stordalh even calls breast cancer the “shopping disease.” Customers are no longer buying just the product but they are now buying into the pink ribbon and what it has traditionally stood for. The typeology approach to IMC acknowledges that companies have products that look like another company’s products and services. However, it also points out that the market depends on common interests between themselves and the people who can help their company thrive. While the number of pink ribbon branded products on the market may be alarming, maybe marketers are giving consumers what they want – a deeper connection to a brand that allows them to make a contribution to something that has seemingly impacted them both.

The second point Stardahl makes is that marketers are selling the idea of “selling good will.” If the consumer purchases a product that will lead to a company’s contribution, the consumer views this purchase as their contribution to the cause. This tactic allows corporations and organizations to sell more products and increase profits while enhancing their corporate social responsibility at the same time. In turn, consumers are able to buy into the commodity culture that surrounds the pink ribbon. They become part of the fight and part of the cure all while donning their pink ribbon branded merchandise.

Next time you have the opportunity to join the fight, think local and try to avoid the marketing tactic of “selling good will” and supporting the “shopping disease.” If what critics say is true, and the pink ribbon has lost its symbolism for hope, strength and a unified commitment to a cure, is it ethical for marketers to continue using this symbol on their products? Let us know what you think about the national attention that is brought to the pink ribbon. Do you think it has become a marketing tactic or does it still representation of the fight to find cure?