Capitalizing on Cancer

If you’re like most people these days, chances are you have some kind of connection or experience to cancer. As horrible and devastating as this disease is, it’s safe to say that cancer has become a bit romanticized in the media in recent years. From the news, movies, television shows, commercials, advertisements etc. it’s as if cancer has become this “cool” bandwagon trend. It would seem reasonable to the average person to conclude that leukemia and breast cancer are the most common types of cancers with all the media coverage they receive. However, actual incidence rates rank leukemia as the 10th and breast cancer 3rd as the most common types of cancer. So why is it that leukemia and breast cancer receive way more federal funding and press coverage compared to other types of cancer, such as bladder cancer which is ranked 6th?

This opens up the debate to a much larger issue. This week’s On the Media guest speaker Jake Jenson and Brooke Gladstone pose the question, why are certain types of cancers depicted more often in the media than others? Does the age of the victims play into how sympathetic people are? Or does it depend on which type of cancer makes the better story?

An article on Jezebel talked about how the commercialization of disease and how they become exploited for corporate profit. Walk into any store during the month of February and you’re bound to see pink products of pink everything tied with tiny pink bows. While this might seem like a good thing, because it’s raising awareness and raising money for breast cancer research, critics argue that companies use the pink ribbon for marketing purposes. Much like “green washing”, where companies claim to be “pro-green” and “pro-environment” as a way to appeal to the public, companies have adopted “pink-washing” as a marketing strategy. The obvious justification is that appealing to public sentiment and emotional is as effective as it is profitable. According to the article, “79% of consumers would likely switch to a brand that supports a cause, all other things being equal.” Not surprisingly, research has also found that female consumers are more willing to purchase a product if they see the pink breast cancer ribbon on the label. Essentially, we are literally buying into the idea that purchasing certain products which claim to support a cause when in reality it might be doing more damage than good. Without questioning how much of the proceeds actually goes to funding research, we will never know for sure how much goes into company pockets instead. Even if all this might be “raising awareness” for the cause, if the proceeds fail to do what they claim to do (to fund research) then what good is buying what might as well be considered “pink-branded garbage”? Is it ethical or fair for companies to capitalize on devastating diseases like cancer? Is there a better way for people to contribute their part to supporting cancer research?

Leave a Reply