The Business of Breast Cancer

It’s October, and that means that nearly every brand on the market has modified its product line to reflect one of two themes: pumpkin-spice or breast cancer awareness (BCA).

Splashes of bright pink can be seen on jewelry, apparel, food products and various other consumer goods. Brands like Clinique, Yoplait and Lokai show their support for cancer patients and survivors by donating a portion of profits from their BCA-specific products to organizations such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Bright Pink. While many companies do good for the breast cancer community, some take advantage of exploiting the fact that the use of breast cancer images/symbols on products is very minimally regulated. Currently, there are no rules or restrictions governing the use of the breast cancer ribbon, the color pink, or words such as ‘hope,’ ‘love,’ or ‘survivor’ on a consumer good. According to doctors Jennifer Harvey and Michal Strahilevitz, “…any corporation is free to use the pink-ribbon symbol, including those selling products that may increase women’s risk for developing breast cancer.” [1] Due to this lack of regulation, brands can mislead customers into thinking they sell BCA products, or that proceeds from said purchases will be donated to cancer research.

For example, the other day I opened one of the fifteen weekly e-mails I receive from ULTA Cosmetics, a popular makeup-store chain, and noticed that the message focused on breast cancer awareness.

Out of the twenty products promoted in the e-mail, all of them were pink, some had breast cancer ribbons (one lipgloss shade was even named ‘Survivor’), but not one mentioned a partnership with breast cancer support group/organization. The pink-ribbon adorned ‘Smashbox’ primer showed slight promise considering the product tagline on the website  read “Giving is Gorgeous!” but ultimately, none of the sale proceeds were donated to a notable cause.

I understand the whole “raising awareness” positioning that companies like ULTA Cosmetics take, but is there really anyone in this world who isn’t aware of the deadly disease? Although I’m not undermining the good that results from bringing awareness to breast cancer, it’s evident how companies can exploit this issue for their own benefit. More often than not, the breast cancer ribbon is just a PR-tool that organizations use to improve their public image without actually donating to the cause, and one major overlooked culprit is the National Football League.

For the entire month of October, all 32 NFL teams get decked out in pink gear – cleats, headbands, towels etc. to show their support for breast cancer victims, survivors and affected loved ones. Sure, this color combination looks great on the field but does it do much else? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that these guys are willing to rock hot pink for the good of others, however, the NFL reaps the benefits of being associated as a breast cancer supporter without doing a great deal to benefit the cause. While the NFL does raise millions for the American Cancer Society through its licensed pink merchandise sales, raising money and donating are completely different. According to Business Insider, for every $100 made through pink merchandise sales, only $8.01 makes its way to the American Cancer Society research funds. [2] The remaining ninety-something dollars are lost in retailer, merchandise, royalty and administrative fees. A breakdown of a NFL pink merchandise sale is shown below:


While some might say “an $8 donation is better than nothing”, it seems unfair to illicit purchases from consumers who don’t realize that only a tiny part of the money they spend actually gets donated to a worthy cause. If you’re looking to do your part in supporting the cause, consider giving to the National Breast Cancer Foundation or similar foundations, where you can be assured your donations will be utilized to directly benefit those affected by breast cancer.

Stephanie Khodzhayan


[1] Gaines, Cork. “A Shockingly Small Amount Of Money From Pink NFL Merchandise Sales Goes To Breast Cancer Research.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

[2] Mulcahy, Nick. “A Call for Responsible Use of Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer.” Medscape Multispecialty. Medscape, 6 Jan. 2009. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

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