Going Pink Doesn't Help Breast Cancer Awareness

breast cancer awareness adsBreast cancer awareness has always gone hand-in-hand with the color pink. The majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer are women, and pink is considered the most feminine color in our culture, so we just don't question it. But maybe we should. A new study from the Journal of Marketing Research claims that emphasizing gender in breast cancer awareness ads might actually lower a woman's perceived risk for breast cancer, making her give less to gender-specific cancer charities and even make her less likely to remember the ads!

It seems kind of counterintuitive, right? Why doesn't pink work?

According to the research, a gender-linked (in other words, girly girl) ad triggers a defense mechanism that causes women to unconsciously ignore or downplay the message that may make them feel particularly threatened.


Interestingly, when one group of women looked at a super-pink, obviously female-targeted ad about breast cancer, and another group looked at a more gender-neutral one, the first group gave lower personal risk estimates (on a scale of 1 to 7) for breast cancer than those who looked at the neutral one.

The fix? Instead of axing the pink altogether, awareness ads could use messages that make us feel better about ourselves ("You're important!") and address our fear of the disease ("Admit it, you're afraid of breast cancer.").

Whenever I see female-centric breast cancer ads, I do get a bit defensive ... and scared, because it's freaky to think about a disease that almost exclusively targets my gender. (Just like uterine cancer.) But I agree that scrapping pink just isn't in the cards. The breast cancer awareness folks are going to have to continue to think of new, thought-provoking, and compassionate ways to reach out to women.

What do you think about this study?

Image via Cliff1066/Flickr

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