Real men wear pink: Observations on the war on breast cancer

How do I know when a TV ad works? When my kids stop swinging from the rafters and say, "Wait, I love this commercial," which happens when the brilliant Geico - cavemen, lizards, googly eyes—comes on.

How do I know when a TV ad works? When my kids stop swinging from the rafters and say, “Wait, I love this commercial,” which happens when the brilliant Geico – cavemen, lizards, googly eyes—comes on.

This being football and baseball playoff season, we watch weekend sports, which feature these brands and ads. On a recent Sunday, my son asked, “Dad, why are those players wearing pink shoes?” I found myself not only explaining the NFL's support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but also branding, cause marketing, and the art of creating buzz and word of mouth. For the most part, he understood that if players on every team were wearing pink, then it must be important. “So people like you help decide what they wear to help celebrate special things,” he said. Smart kid.

Since my mother died of breast cancer more than 20 years ago, treatment as well as awareness and marketing have skyrocketed. Despite all these gains, I find it interesting that recent debate has focused on possible consumer fatigue around pink breast cancer events and promos.

What's next, pink microphones on American Idol? Pink Nascar jumpsuits? Pink Guinness? Actually, my son and I are fine with all of this. (Well, maybe not the Guinness.) Why? Because breast cancer is still here: Two hundred thousand women diagnosed each year, while 40,000 women die annually. Millions of dollars raised each year with product marketing, charity activities, and other sponsored-donation initiatives—and it's still here.

But think of the strides that were made in the past 20 years, much of it a direct result of ‘pink' October efforts. It would seem, then, that we can A) question and challenge the motives of companies that use ‘pink' to sell products and brands; or B) continue to create and discover more meaningful opportunities for “pink” to infiltrate our psyche, inspire dialogue, awareness, and most important, engagement (research, screenings, testing).

I choose B.

Tony Telloni, MD, Burson-Marsteller, and president, Proof Integrated Communications

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