Breast cancer charities warned that pink is counterproductive

Breast cancer charities have been warned that using pink in their advertising, communications and branding could reduce donations and support from women.


A report by London Business School, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and international business school INSEAD claims that gender cues such as pink ribbons, backgrounds and images of women are counterproductive and “activate a defensive reaction” in women that interferes with the objectives of breast cancer awareness campaigns.

The findings claim to contradict the “prevailing belief” of the advertising industry.

Dr Stefano Puntoni, associate professor of marketing at Rotterdam School of Management and co-author of the report, says: “These defensive mechanisms interfere with key objectives of breast cancer campaigns. For example, they lower women’s perceived vulnerability to breast cancer, reduce their donations to ovarian cancer research, make breast cancer advertisements more difficult to process, and decrease memory for breast cancer advertisements.”’

The claim that the colour pink in marketing communications is counterproductive is refuted by leading breast cancer charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, which changed its branding from purple to pink after consumer research found that supporters and the public associate the colour to breast cancer charities.

Deanne Gardner, head of brand and communication at the charity says while she cannot comment directly on the report, incorporating the colour pink into its branding helps the charity fund its work because of the strong associations with the cause.

“The colour pink is now universally associated with breast cancer and breast cancer charities. The association [with the colour pink] can be powerful in encouraging people to donate, check their breasts and get involved in the fantastic work that many breast cancer charities, such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer, are doing.”

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