Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
In 2010, Dr. Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (now the subject of an internationally acclaimed documentary by the National Film Board of Canada), wrote an eloquent editorial on Pink Ribbon cause marketing for BCAM’s newsletter.
King discusses the dubious partnership between Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and Kentucky Fried Chicken. She highlights the contradictory—indeed, hypocritical—links between breast cancer charities and commercial sponsors whose products often pose a threat to public health. On the positive side, King writes that breast cancer activists have gathered momentum and are gaining more public attention. But here we are again: it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the concerns King writes about are still alive and well.Is the public more savvy and more willing to put their dollars toward meaningful breast cancer research and environmental health initiatives instead of laying down their credit cards for pink mixers, pink tissues and…pink handguns?
Are things getting better? Do you feel that public opinion towards these pink ribbon marketing campaigns has changed? Are we more informed? Read King’s editorial and send us your comments. We want to hear from you! email@example.com
“Pink cigarettes for the cure?”
Samantha King (Special to the BCAM Bulletin, Fall 2010)
Samantha King is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Gender Studies at Queen’s University and author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy and National Film Board documentary based on this work.
In April 2010, when KFC and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced the launch of a new breast cancer marketing campaign, a Facebook group quickly sprung up in opposition. “What’s next,” asked the administrators of Pink buckets of kentucky fried chicken for the cure? Really? “Pink cigarettes for the cure?”
Truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised. After all, it has been less than a year since the first breast cancer gun – complete with interchangeable bubble gum pink grip – was released in the United States. And in Montreal, during the month of October, Ultramar gas stations were once again emblazoned with giant pink ribbons as part of a partnership with the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation. Handguns? Gasoline? Hormone-inflated chickens? Known threats to public health are clearly not a primary concern for some breast cancer charities. Indeed, it appears that organizations like Komen may have lost sight of their core vision – “to achieve a world without breast cancer” – as they scramble to attract commercial sponsors.
Known threats to public health are clearly not a primary concern for some breast cancer charities.
Perhaps because of a broader and frequently moralizing societal panic around obesity, as well as increasing recognition that food quality is an important component of good health, the Buckets for the Cure promotion elicited a quicker and more vexed response than other dubious endeavors brought to the North American public by the Komen enterprise. If high-fat diets are linked to breast cancer – an unsubstantiated but nonetheless widely held belief – what is the self-described “global leader of the breast cancer movement” doing promoting a fat and sodium laden product, commentators asked. In reply, Komen claimed that KFC offers a range of healthy menu options and placed responsibility squarely with the individual: “Consumers ultimately have a choice about what they will eat,” spokesperson Andrea Radar told NPR. More pointedly, Komen’s partnership with a corporation embroiled in a lawsuit with the state of California over the use of a known carcinogen – PhIP – in the preparation of its chicken, brings into question Komen’s legitimacy as an organization supposedly dedicated to saving lives.
But KFC is likely laughing all the way to the bank. With the promise to donate fifty cents for every bucket sold (although the small print notes that “customer purchases will not directly increase the total contribution”), their fundraising target was $8.5 million. This means KFC would have had to sell 17 million pink buckets of chicken over the five-week campaign to reach their goal – just as well they were only committed to a minimum of $1 million. As San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action asked in their response to the promotion: “how much does KFC stand to gain from this campaign?” Surely KFC – owned by the world’s largest restaurant company – could afford to donate this amount without making it conditional on a sales drive?
If there is a glimmer of hope to be found in this story, it is that it has peaked the interest of a broad range of activists who might not otherwise have paid attention to the problems with breast cancer marketing; it has also highlighted how the struggle against the disease is connected to other social issues. Some critics have pointed to the underserved communities who Komen claimed to be reaching through their campaign and have asked why the foundation doesn’t instead partner with community clinics and other organizations concerned about the health of marginalized populations. KFC has a reputation for installing themselves in neighbourhoods without grocery stores, where food insecurity is endemic – wouldn’t Komen’s efforts be better channeled towards changing these conditions? Meanwhile, animal welfare advocates have drawn attention to the ghastly treatment of birds at KFC processing plants and other commentators have questioned the working conditions of those who process and serve these chemically-saturated avians.
Does public outrage over Buckets for the Cure suggest that the sheen is slowly fading on the pink ribbon marketing machine? I sure hope so.