Pink alone isn’t enough: Study shows breast cancer survivors want authentic action from brands

The overabundance of pink ribbons, breast cancer-focused marketing campaigns and cause-branded products are often seen by breast cancer survivors as simply money-making efforts, research from FIU’s College of Business (FIU Business) finds. These initiatives intensify during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

For the study, to be published in Health Marketing Quarterly in 2019, researchers conducted five focus groups with breast cancer survivors.

The survivors pointed out that current breast cancer-related advertising doesn’t really reflect patients’ experience. In many cases, images show homogeneous, happy, smiling women who are often young, thin and white. Patients skew a little bit older – the prototypical breast cancer patient is in her 50s, 60s or 70s.

Kimberly Taylor

The women surveyed said they wanted to see a more diverse set of images, said Kimberly Taylor, associate professor of marketing and logistics at FIU Business, who conducted the research with Jana Nekesa Knibb, assistant professor of sociology at Community College of Rhode Island.

The study found that while survivors appreciate the informative and awareness-building of cancer advertising, they are increasingly skeptical of companies’ motives and are questioning their cause-focused marketing campaigns, explained Taylor.

“While many companies and organizations strive to do their part to help promote breast cancer awareness, we believe they are really missing an opportunity to do so more authentically and, ultimately, more effectively,” Taylor said. “They could change how the experience of detecting or surviving breast cancer is depicted so it’s not all just shiny and happy.”

A major concern shared by study participants was whether brands are truly supporting breast cancer awareness as they claim in marketing campaigns – what exactly is the company doing? How much money are they donating and to what organizations?

“Anyone can pretty much make a pink something,” Taylor said. “A basket filled with pink – pens, notebooks, gum and bears – is cute, but how is it helping? They don’t want a pink toaster or a pink vacuum cleaner from a company not really doing anything.”

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