Perhaps you have heard of KFC's "Buckets for the Cure" campaign. The idea is, every time you buy a pink bucket of fried chicken from the chain, 50 cents is donated to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation for breast cancer research. Now, raising money for cancer research of any kind is great, but I can't help but think (and I am by no means alone here) that this campaign is misguided and misleading (not to mention the weird irony of buying – and eating – certain breasts to save others). Of course, tying an advertising campaign to the fight against breast cancer, a practice commonly known as pinkwashing, is nothing new. Let's look at some more examples and discuss!
KFC's Pink Buckets:
So yeah, buying a pink bucket of chicken raises money for breast cancer research. But wait! According to the National Cancer Institute, ". . . studies have shown that an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer is associated with high intakes of well-done, fried, or [barbecued] meats." Methinks that KFC sells both fried and barbecued meats, making this a somewhat hypocritical partnership. On top of that, the Washington Post has this to say on the campaign:
Also, the fine print points out that "KFC restaurant operators have contributed 50 cents to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure for each Komen branded bucket purchased by the operators from April 5, 2010-May 9, 2010. . . . Customer purchases of KFC buckets during the promotion will not directly increase the total contribution." (It's also noted that KFC has guaranteed the contribution will be at least $1 million. Which really is very nice.)
So it looks like buying pink buckets doesn't even have as much of an impact as they say it does (which is still just 50 cents per bucket). You'd probably be better off just eating at home and contributing money directly to the cure if you want to help out.
Sparklett's Bottled Water:
Earlier this year, Sparkletts began decorating their water delivery trucks and their website (pictured) with pink ribbons to advertise their affiliation with the Susan G. Komen foundation. Unfortunately, Sparkletts' bottles contain a known hormone disrupter, Bishenol-A (BPA), that is suspected to cause breast cancer and prostate cancer, and can even interfere with chemotherapy treatments. Sorry Sparkletts, but a pink sparkly truck isn't enough to do the trick – we aren't in Barbie's Dream House anymore.
Port-o-Pong Floating Beer Pong Table:
Ah, the floating beer pong table. For breast cancer. Though the website claims that, "Our mission is to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support," I have a hard time seeing the connection here. Several studies have shown that certain levels of alcohol intake can increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, and the fratty pool parties where these floating beer pong tables are likely to be used don't exactly sound like woman-friendly environments.
Facebook "Bra Color" Campaign and Others Aiming to "Tit"illate:
Remember a few months ago when you got that message on Facebook asking you to share the color of your bra to raise awareness for breast cancer? Yeah, that didn't work. Nor did it have much to do with real cancer research. Campaigns that aim to "tit"illate (pun intended, of course) like Save the Ta-Tas and Save Some Boobs, as well as the Facebook campaign, put the focus on the breasts and not on the research (or the women attached to those breasts). Total sexist pinkwashing.
Smith & Wesson's Breast Cancer Awareness 9mm Pistol:
That's right; it's a gun meant to raise awareness (and money) for breast cancer research. Aside from the sheer weirdness of this, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, firearms are the second most common cause of violent deaths of women, accounting for 29.2% of all violent deaths among females in the U.S. in 2008. There's some real cognitive dissonance at play in that "awareness campaign."
These are just a few of the stranger and more offensive "pinkwashed" products out there, but as I'm sure you know, there are lots more. From toasters to cosmetics to luxury vehicles, tons of big companies exploit our real desire as consumers to raise money for cancer research in ways that are often problematic.
For more information on pinkwashing, including a list of "Critical Questions to Ask Before You Buy Pink", visit Think Before You Pink. They have done some great work helping big companies like Yoplait to turn their pinkwashing ways around and do some real good for cancer research. I'd like to think they can do the same for the KFC campaign, but I'm not seeing any obvious solutions there beyond turning off those fryers (yeah, I doubt it). Same goes for that beer pong table.
Have any pinkwashed products or ideas to share? Leave 'em in the comments section!
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH's grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.