NATIONAL | September 2003
Wear a ribbon-- but donate carefully
'Tis the season to shop against breast cancer. During October-National Breast Cancer Awareness Month-- you can buy a vacuum, eat yogurt, tweeze your eyebrows, light a candle or change your lipstick color... all for breast cancer awareness.
But is consumerism the best way to show you care about the disease? Some breast cancer organizations, notably San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a nonprofit made up of people affected by breast cancer and their supporters, have concerns about this kind of corporate advertising. Such campaigns may help corporations boost sales and look like good guys-- and shoppers feel like dogooders-- but BCA wants donors to be aware of where their money goes.
"People are well aware of the breast cancer epidemic," says Barbara Brenner, executive director of BCA. "Now is time that we changed the course of it."
Her organization has put its own campaign in motion, Think Before You Pink, referring to the ubiquitous pink ribbon that's a trademark of the wellknown Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The site provides a slew of information about where cause-related money is funneled and what alternatives exist.
Here's some of what Think Before You Pink has dug up:
Yoplait yogurt's "Save Lids to Save Lives" program of the past five years donates 10 cents to the Komen Foundation for every pink lid that consumers return. But you'd have to eat three pink-lidded cups of Yoplait every day during the annual four-month campaign to raise just $36 for the cause.
BMW's six-year-old "Ultimate Drive" campaign entices people to their showrooms for a test-drive, then donates $1 a mile to the Komen Foundation. It costs the consumer nothing, but BMW misses the irony here: Components of car exhaust (known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs) have been linked to breast cancer.
Eureka's "Clean for the Cure" campaign of 2002 donated $1 to the Komen Foundation for each purchase of a certain model vacuum cleaner, up to $250,000 total. But BCA wonders if the company paid far more than that for ads trumpeting this goodwill gesture.
Avon's "Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer" campaign, instituted in 2001, donates $1 of each $4 sale of lipstick from a new line to their own Avon Foundation, which funds certain breast cancer organizations and research institutions. But while the companys doing good, theyre also doing w4---they experienced a 6 percent growth in unit sales last year due in part to the campaign.
Eight cents of the 40-cent breast cancer postage stamp goes to research: 70 percent to the National Cancer Institute-"which already has a huge amount of money and is doing mostly research that is looking for the elusive cure for the disease," says Brenner-the other 30 percent to a program administered by the U.S. Department of Defense that Brenner and BCA prefer because it looks at factors that precipitate breast cancer. Cindy Schneible, vice president, cause-related marketing and sponsorship, for the Dallas-based Komen Foundation, doesiA seem fazed by BCXs negative publicity, including claims that Komen is already "phenomenally well funded" and supports programs that "do little to advance the type of research that will bring us closer to truly preventing the disease."
"Our approach to fighting breast cancer focuses on the woman-and man-who gets breast cancer today," says Schneible. "We also are committed to the future. Our approach is fourpronged: research, education, screening and treatment. And we do feel that research should be approached from several fronts."
Yoplait too defends its campaign. "Over the last five years we have raised $10 million for breast cancer," says Pam Becker, a, spokeswoman for Yoplait (part of General Mills). But why give all the fiinds to the Komen Foundation? "It is well-known and people trust it," says Becker. "There is still no cure for breast cancer, so we have to get the word out about early detection."
Brenner makes it clear that she does not want to discourage women from donating to breast cancer causes, but urges them to look beyond brand names. For instance, BCA suggests women check out these lesser-known institutions, which are doing research into environmental causes of breast cancer: the Silent Spring Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health.
"We're just saying that the research efforts that have a great deal of money keep getting more," says Brenner. "We want to encourage consumers to be savvier about how they give and to whom they give."