This article is republished with permission from the original authors. The original article, titled “Pink Ribbon Marketing on Alcohol Reveals Need for Pinkwashing Awareness”, and originally appeared on the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health website.

Products with pink ribbons on their labels are a common sight
in stores, especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October. 

Brands and companies frequently incorporate pink into their marketing, leveraging the strong awareness the pink ribbon carries in American culture to create an impression of social responsibility and increase sales. Because there are no restrictions or trademarks on the pink ribbon, companies are free to use it for any purpose, regardless of whether they contribute profits from the imagery to support breast cancer research or treatment.

This is so commonplace that Breast Cancer Action, a patient-centered advocacy group, coined the term “pinkwashing” to describe pink ribbon marketing done by companies whose products have a direct link to breast cancer, such as alcohol.  Such a practice may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a common problem with big implications that public health researchers like Marissa Hall, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and colleagues are trying to tackle. “Somewhere between 5-16% of breast cancers in the United States are attributable to alcohol. So, it’s surprising that alcohol is sometimes marketed in conjunction with breast cancer charities,” said Hall, who is also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center. “Understanding how consumers are reacting to this kind of marketing felt like an important research gap for us to fill, especially given rising rates of alcohol use among women in the U.S.”

Hall and researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill – including doctoral student Phoebe Ruggles, MS, and Assistant Professor Melissa Cox, PhD, at the Gillings School – worked with colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine and Boston School of Public Health on a recent study that found that viewing pinkwashed alcohol ads made no difference in a person’s intent to purchase beer, wine or liquor or view them as harmful to health. But for certain beer products, pinkwashed ads led viewers to believe products had a greater health benefit and increased their perception of the brand as favorable and socially responsible.


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