Breast Cancer Awareness Month Is A Marketing Scam


It’s October, which only means one thing: pink ribbons, yogurt labels, football jerseys and buckets of fried chicken will be popping up everywhere. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is upon us, and it’s with that news that I warn: it’s all a scam.

Susan G. Komen For the Cure

Since 1982, Susan G. Komen For the Cure has used the month of October to galvanize women to their cause, kicking things into fundraising mode. Nearly $400 million was raised by Komen in 2010 alone, working with corporations like Yoplait and Ford to strike up campaigns centered around charitable contributions to a foundation supposedly set up to fund research into the second leading cancer-caused of death in American women (behind lung cancer).

Komen raises money through cause marketing, often as part of a capped percentage of sales of special “Breast Cancer Awareness” editions of products. Additionally, Komen is famous for their “Run for the Cure” 3-day races.

What most people don’t understand is that these donations are really more of a base marketing cost towards a campaign to make headway into the demographic of women ages 18-54, with what little actually donated to the cause being spent lining the pockets of executives at Komen.

In early 2012, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it would be rescinding funding to Planned Parenthood; funding that had been used to provide breast cancer screenings to women with low-incomes. The group’s claim that the decision to remove funding from Planned Parenthood was not based on the political views of Komen leadership was met with skepticism by many. Karen Handel, then senior vice president for public policy for Komen, ran on an anti-Planned Parenthood platform in her failed bid for governor of Georgia in 2010, adding fuel to the controversy.

Founder and CEO of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Nancy Brinker, received a 64% raise in 2012, bringing along with it a salary of $684,000 a year.

“This pay package is way outside the norm,” said Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charities. “It’s about a quarter of a million dollars more than what we see for charities of this size. … This is more than the head of the Red Cross is making for an organization that is one-tenth the size of the Red Cross.”

Cause Marketing

Cause marketing is when a for-profit organization teams with a non-profit charitable organization, often consisting of promotions that promise that a set percentage of proceeds on select items will go to the non-profit organization. Examples of this in the world of breast cancer include Yoplait’s “Save Lids to Save Lives” campaign (Komen), the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” campaign (American Cancer Society), and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign (Komen).

The goal of cause marketing is for a brand to benefit from positive public relations coverage as well as gaining the opportunity to win greater market share through cross-promotion and planting the idea in consumers’ minds that if they’re already planning on spending money in a vertical, it might as well be with the business tied to the noble charity.

Komen’s partnership with KFC reeked of cause dissonance. The supposed goal of this promotion was to “save lives,” but in reality, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in American women. One 8 piece bucket of KFC extra crispy chicken contains 2,380 calories and 160 grams of fat. Even if you split that bucket among 4 people, you’re still looking at 595 calories (60% calories from fat) and 40 grams of fat. Additionally, the launch of the “Buckets for the Cure” campaign coincided with the launch of KFC’s double-down sandwich, featuring pieces of fried chicken as the “bread” of the sandwich. You’re either trying to save our lives or you’re trying to kill us. Pick one, KFC.

Similarly, the NFL’s “Catch for a Cure” campaign would be classified as cause marketing. If you turned on any of the NFL games this past weekend, you probably noticed that the fields had basically turned into a sea of pink. Players wore pink gloves, refs through pink flags, fans wore pink jerseys, and players ran towards pink first down lines. In the name of raising awareness, the NFL is doing its best to capitalize on an underrepresented demographic: women. In 2012, the NFL’s contributions to the American Cancer Society as a result of the “Catch for a Cure” campaign, came in at $1.5 million. This represents 0.0188% of the NFL’s operating revenue.

The Sexualization of Breast Cancer

Why exactly does breast cancer, above other forms of cancer, find itself the centerpiece of the cancer research/marketing field? For lack of a better way to phrase this: breasts are sexy.

“Save the boobies!” “Save the ta-tas!” “Save Second Base!” “Feel Your Boobies!”

These are all examples of actual lines organizations have used to promote breast cancer awareness. The American Cancer Society takes the cake with its own tag line: “It’s Okay to Look at Our Chests!”

The sexualization of this all-too-real medical condition plays right into the classic marketing strategy of “sex sells.” Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it right; and it certainly doesn’t make it any less objectifying.

These slogans work to divide the woman, the human life at risk, from her breasts. When you say, “save second base,” you’re not only playing into the idea that the value of a woman lies solely in her looks, but you’re also suggesting that we should search for a cure for nothing else but to give men something to play with.

Breast cancer is serious, not sexy.

You don’t see this type of marketing approach for other types of cancer. You wouldn’t see a “save the nuts!” poster for testicular cancer awareness, would you? Why is it any more appropriate to say, “save the boobies?”


Do the ends justify the means? Is your hard earned money going towards the cause, or is it simply making its way to the pockets of NFL owners, yogurt conglomerates, auto dealerships and charity executives like Nancy Brinker’s paycheck?

Breast cancer is a very real medical condition that will lead to the deaths of nearly 40,000 people this year, alone. If you’re going to donate to this cause, I hope you do your research, find out how much of your money will be going towards research, screenings and treatment. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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