What Is Pinkwashing Breast Cancer Awareness & How To Avoid It

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You’ll see many businesses participate in spreading awareness by including pink ribbons in their marketing campaigns as well as sponsoring and participating in local fundraisers. Is your business ready to take part?

At Tandem Interactive, our digital marketing agency in Fort Lauderdale will also be doing its part to bring awareness and raising funds for breast cancer research initiatives and treatment assistance. #TeamTandem will be participating in multiple events held by Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Broward throughout the month.

While Breast Cancer Awareness Month should always prioritize making a difference to those affected by the disease, it also presents an opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers and show them that they care about bettering society. Are your upcoming marketing efforts for your chosen cause solid?

One thing you’ll have to avoid is “pinkwashing.” A recently coined term, pinkwashing comes with pretty negative connotations. The last thing you want is your company to be perceived as pinkwashing Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s a breakdown of what it is and how to avoid doing it.

Pinkwashing Definition

So, what is pinkwashing? First coined by the activist group Breast Cancer Action (BCA), the official definition of a “pinkwasher” is “a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time, produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”1

The term pinkwashing is typically applied much more broadly nowadays. It is often used to describe companies and cause marketing campaigns that utilize pink ribbons and other Breast Cancer Awareness iconography but fail to make a significant enough commitment to helping improve the lives of breast cancer patients and their families.

Avoid Pinkwashing Breast Cancer Awareness Marketing

If your cause marketing efforts are all show and little to no action when it comes to actually making a difference this October, you’re likely pinkwashing. Customers and community members are becoming more aware and critical of this phenomenon. If they find your company is participating in the cause mostly or solely for your own benefit, be prepared to face some backlash.

The best way is to avoid pinkwashing in the first place. Here are just some of the ways to ensure your company’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month advocacy and fundraising efforts are genuine.

1.      Use the Pink Ribbon Responsibly

The pink ribbon has become an incredibly recognizable symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness. However, a few loopholes have allowed some companies to abuse its use. While the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization has its own trademarked pink ribbon, the pink ribbon actually started as a “peach ribbon” created by activist Charlotte Haley. After Haley refused to work with Self magazine and Estee Lauder on their Breast Awareness Month issue, the magazine created the first pink ribbon.

These well-known variations can be confusing for consumers. Additionally, since the color and general ribbon symbol cannot be trademarked, companies not affiliated with Komen or any other breast cancer charity can still use pink ribbons in their marketing.2 Multiple companies have been revealed to use pink ribbons to market a certain product, but not donate any portion of the profits to breast cancer research or other causes.

The previous excuse of “using the pink ribbon to spread awareness” just won’t cut it with today’s informed consumers. Avoid pinkwashing by using pink ribbons in your campaigns only if you will be donating a substantial portion of the proceeds to charity and other breast cancer foundations.

Also, don’t use pink ribbons to market known carcinogenic products or products with carcinogenic ingredients like certain cosmetics or junk food. KFC and Susan G. Komen got into hot water after teaming up for a “Bucket for the Cure” campaign, despite Komen asserting the campaign was successful in spreading awareness and bringing in funds.3

2.      Be Transparent About Your Fundraising

An important way to avoid pinkwashing or being accused of pinkwashing is to be honest about where the money is going. Spell out the portion of profits you will be donating and which organizations it will be going to and the initiatives it will be used to support. Companies have faced backlash after it was revealed their combined marketing and fundraising campaigns weren’t as generous as they appeared to be.

For example, it was uncovered that Proctor and Gamble required customers to use a specific coupon when purchasing their limited-edition pink Swiffer products for a donation to be made. Those coupons had been published in newspapers weeks prior to the products being on sale. In the end, a significant number of purchases weren’t being used to raise funds.4 These are just some of the things companies have tried to hide when it comes to their Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns:

  • Donation caps
  • Sales being separate from donations
  • Incredibly low donation promises
  • Extra steps consumers need to take to contribute to a donation

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, make sure your company’s marketing, awareness, and fundraising are genuine, transparent, and substantial. Fall into the pinkwashing trap and you might be perceived as an unscrupulous company willing to make a profit off of people’s suffering. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from participating in this important cause. If done properly, you’ll not only deeply connect with your customers, but also be seen as a proactive business that truly cares about the community.

Tandem.Buzz  is a South Florida full-service digital marketing agency serving clients nationwide. Our Fort Lauderdale SEO company specializes in organic SEM, social media, neuromarketing, visual marketing, and reputation management in South Florida and throughout the country. We are also a Fort Lauderdale PPC agency offering award-winning pay-per-click, remarketing, and other paid online advertising services. Contact us or call (954) 519-4114 today to find out how #TeamTandem can launch your company to the next level!


  1. Think Before You Pink.org – 4 Questions Before You Buy Pink
  2. Amy Westervelt, Forbes – The Pinkwashing Debate: Empty Criticism or Serious Liability?
  3. Nadja Popovich, NPR – Critics Cluck At Breast Cancer Awareness In A Bucket
  4. Emily Deruy, AB News – Pink Washing Is Real and It Hurts [Commentary]