I Don’t Need the Color Pink to Remind Me of Breast Cancer
Pink is assigned to the feminine. Or at least it is for now. It wasn’t always. It used to be considered a masculine color, back when men wore powdered wigs and high-heeled shoes. But, historically, women have been allowed to take over and emulate the masculine (the opposite is not usually true), and pink became a “girl” color.
A case in point: The Pink Ribbon. Most of us have seen it, worn it, know what it stands for and even believe in the cause. We probably, in some form or another, have defended it and know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Indeed, the icon overtakes most others. So you would think that the color pink would create a learned association with breast cancer awareness and the likelihood of donating to the (very well known) cause.
Dr. Stefano Putoni of the Rotterdam School of Marketing at Erasmus University in the Netherlands found just the opposite. Dr. Putoni primed women with gendered cues, specifically the color pink, and then asked them to rate how likely they thought they were to contract breast cancer or to give money to research efforts attempting to wipe out ovarian cancer.
Asking women to either write essays on gender issues or showing them visual advertisements dominated by the color pink defined the priming effect. This study was done to check the effects of color branding on specific cues. The women primed with gender cues were far less likely than the control group to think they’d get cancer (35% less) and even less likely to donate. Dr. Putoni’s thought that this was counterintuitive.
The research group went on to try another approach, this time showing women pink ads that address breast cancer on a female friendly site, but never mentioning them, and then did the same thing on a site that was gender neutral.
The difference in recall about the ads was significant. That is, only 33% of women remembered the pink ads from the gendered site, while a whopping 65% remembered when neutrality was introduced. This time I was not surprised, but they were again, and went on to replicate the finding ten times over the course of three years.
Dr. Putoni explains this through the means of the Psychology of Fear. That is, thoughts of cancer are scary, and we want to get away from thoughts of them as a quickly as possible, and so don’t want to donate or remember. Okay. Maybe. However, I don’t see pink as a threat, and I am constantly aware of Breast Cancer.
73% of all money spent on wellness in the United States is spent by women, and only 23% of all research money is spent studying illness contracted by women. This communicates to women that even though we are the ones taking care of ourselves, we also better be the advocates for ourselves when we do get sick.
In addition, perhaps it is not because women associate the color pink with getting sick, but because women have either tried to or have already taken the preventative steps we know to do, have already donated the mammogram to a women who cannot pay for one, have already walked in the race and already comforted a sick friend while she was dying, or made dinner for the family of another friend because she was too busy throwing up from her chemo treatment that day.
The data that Dr. Putoni and his team forgot to get was the preliminary data: the data that asked about previous awareness, previous donations and previous friends and family that had already been taken out due to the disease.
The result of another study, done by Dr. Shelly Taylor at UCLA, show the awareness of women to disease and distress in their friends and other women to be biological. The Tend and Befriend study results indicate that someone else’s pain is never very far away from the female awareness, and it isn’t dependent on a color used for branding.
What do you think? Does the color pink bring to mind breast cancer? A blond bombshell rocker chick? Girl babies? Danica McKeller’s racing suit? A cartoon panther? What?
Photo Credit: The Arches