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breast cancer branding

All pink everything

From pink Aero to a bra that tweets, what's the thinking behind branding cancer?

Breast Cancer Awareness month has come and gone in a flurry of bake-a-thons, sponsored fashion shows and a pink celebration of what it means to be female. I’m not feeling proud, or even particularly included in the entire charade. I don’t even like pink much. Meanwhile, we have segued into Movember, roughly translated as Prostate and Testicular Cancer Awareness month. Raising money for either cause is undoubtedly important, but their marketing and promotion varies wildly.

The Stepford drill sticks. Lipstick, nail polish, Swarovski key charms, baking utensils, Kit Kats and Aeros are all specially made up in pink for the month of Pinktober. The breast cancer campaign shouts "WEAR IT PINK". After all, what better unites ladies than make up, jewellery, baking, and chocolate?

Cancer isn’t fluffy, cute or sexy – but breast cancer, unlike lung, intestine, liver or other cancers, lends itself well to pricey and prettified packaging and branding. This year, the promo has mutated with the times, with a bra that tweets each time it is unclasped. Created by a Greek advertising agency as part of a campaign promoting breast cancer awareness, its advert features Maria Bakodimou, an attractive actress who models the bra and urges viewers to remember to examine their breasts. 

A worthy sentiment – but the softly-lit images of Bakodimou in her underwear, combined with some seriously sexual undertones, distract from the message. An objectified woman pushing for engagement with one of the most delicate of women’s issues undermines her own cause. She exists in a total fantasy world, as much of a gimmick as the Bluetooth-run bra itself. 

But pink is for girls, blue is for boys – right? It harks back to the institutional framing of male and female that runs from baby grows through to the new Kinder Surprise eggs. Intersex woman and counsellor Sarah Graham, knocked the gendered assumptions of Pinktober in an interview broadcast by the BBC on the weekend, saying “This pink and blue thing is a nonsense. It’s a hegemony that we need to challenge. We need to be free.”

Mastectomies and hair loss can obliterate self-confidence, alienating traits often seen as most feminine

Nowhere is this freedom more essential than when tackling the effects of breast cancer. Mastectomies and hair loss can obliterate self-confidence, alienating traits often seen as most feminine. The support for these women post-treatment by the awareness campaign is valuable. It is the expected image of women, though, that really needs to change if they are going to truly be helped to recover.

This November, the overturning of gender expectations has been taken further with the introduction of a third ‘indeterminate’ gender in Germany. Under the new legislation, babies with characteristics of both sexes can now be registered as neither male nor female. It is a major step forward in recognising those who are intersex or transgender, moves outside of the boxed segregation of gender roles. 

Until Breast Cancer Awareness month recognises a similar grey area in what it means to be feminine, their campaign will remain contradictory. Wit and a sense of irony are key if we are to progress. Women don’t need to have the cause dictated to them by a boardroom, and are more than able to engage without buying anything pink. Or freshly baked.