Is the Color Pink Bad for Battling Breast Cancer?

Research Suggests Gender Cues Leave Women Less Likely to Give

By Published on .

All that pink may actually be hurting efforts to fight breast cancer, according to a "battery of experiments" described by the Harvard Business Review.

The color is great branding for breast-cancer initiatives such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and the Pink Snack & Beverage Co., but it and other gender cues may actually make women feel defensive on the subject, the research suggested, making them less likely to think they'll get breast cancer and less likely to donate to cancer research.

Here's Stefano Puntoni, associate professor of marketing management at Erasmus University's Rotterdam School of Management, offering an explanation:

In psychology, there's a lot of literature on defensive responses. How do we deal with threatening ideas, with things that are existentially difficult to comprehend? What happens is , these set off very strong denial mechanisms. By adding all this pink, by asking women to think about gender, you're triggering that . You're raising the idea that this is a female thing. It's pink; it's for you. You could die. The cues themselves aren't threatening -- it's just a color! But it connects who you are to the threats.

There's more over at Harvard Business Review, including ways that breast-cancer efforts could keep using pink while ameliorating any defensive reaction.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and Pink Snack & Beverage did not respond to a request for their thoughts earlier this afternoon, but we'll update this post if they get back to us.

UPDATE: The research is food for thought but pink has worked well over the years, a spokeswoman for Susan G. Komen said. "I would say that in our experience for over 30 years now we've been pretty successful using pink," she said. "We've rasied over $2 billion for research and community programs to help people with breast cancer. I don't want to necessarily discount it. It's something to look at and consider, but our historic experience has been that we're doing okay with the pink."

Susan G. Komen, who died of breast cancer in 1980, also wore a lot of pink, the spokeswoman said, forming a strong association for her sister Nancy G. Brinker, who later founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure. "It's not just a random color we selected," she said. "It actually reflects the connection between the two sisters and the promise that was made."

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