Beware of “Pinkwashing” This Month


At the shopping center near my home I can buy a pink balloon, a pink hairbrush, a pink box of crackers, a pink hairdryer, a pink phone case, a pink candy bar, or a pink t-shirt.  I can’t, however, find any specific information on these products that tells me if, in fact, part of my purchase goes to a breast cancer charity and which charity that might be.

I was inspired by a blog post I read recently and decided to look into this for our readers.  Last month, Erika Lehman of the Cincinnati BBB’s The Center for Ethics reminded donors that, while we may want to do what we can, the reality is that purchases of pink items do not necessarily lead to donations to the charities.

As manufacturers have realized the sales power of pink products, more and more of them enter the market each fall.  Some are true cause-related marketing (CRM) promotions, in which a company uses a charity’s name and reputation to sell its products, and in those cases, charities win through increased exposure and contributions and companies win through increased product sales.  Other pink products are fakes, lining the pockets of greedy corporations trying to capitalize on people’s generosity.

These fakes are, surprisingly, easily accessible.  Recently, The Center for Ethics at BBB received a 50-page catalogue of pink products, urging us to purchase and resell these products during the month of October.  Nothing about our name suggests we fund research or other initiatives aimed at ending this disease, yet, we had an all-access pass to every pink product imaginable mailed straight to our doorstep.  We tossed the catalogue in the trash; by the number of pink products that hit the market each fall, we know everyone else does not.

An unfortunate side effect of the successful pink ribbon marketing campaign is that others can imply solidarity by using the color pink, thereby attracting supporters of breast cancer causes who might then become their new customers.  “Pinkwashing” is a term that has been used to describe the co-optation of breast cancer symbolism for monetary gain.  (The practice is so widespread that there is a documentary film addressing the “hijacking” of the symbolism for profit.)

If you, like me, are spending valuable time in your grocery aisle searching products for details, you can take a little extra time to ensure you are actually supporting a charitable cause with these tips from Erika:

Which charity does this product support?  Do I support the charity’s mission and believe in its programs?
How is the charity receiving the contribution?  Will simply purchasing the product result in a contribution to the charity or will I need to do other “homework” to make sure the contribution is received?
How much of the purchase price is being donated to the charity?
Is there a limit on the amount of money the company will donate to the charity?  Has the company reached that goal?
Can I make a bigger impact by donating directly to the charity?

If you have questions or want to know more, contact your BBB.


Written by

Beth was Director of BBB Services and wrote for the consumer education blog from 2008 to 2011. Beth also managed projects of the Tri-State Better Business Bureau Foundation, including the Student of Integrity Scholarship and senior citizen education programs, and she worked with local charities as a part of our charity reporting service.

No Comments to “Beware of “Pinkwashing” This Month”

  1. [...] to Know About Breast Cancer Awareness or Research Charities I wrote last week about “pinkwashing”, a phenomenon that threatens cause-related marketing‘s success.  We discussed the issue [...]

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