By Karen Axelton

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is drawing to a close. Did your business participate by selling any “pink-ribbon” products that raise proceeds for cancer research?

As a regular reader of lots of women’s magazines and fashion magazines, I’ve noticed that in the past few years, the number of pink-ribbon products touted in their pages each October seems to have gotten a little out of hand. Is this a good thing (more options for donating to a worthwhile cause) or does it seem a little, well, self-serving for the companies involved? Apparently, plenty of breast cancer survivors think the latter, and a backlash of sorts is brewing.

Some women think that the onslaught of pink-ribbon products—everything from T-shirts to lipstick to scarves to water bottles–is trivializing the disease. Others question the amount truly being devoted to charity, like the woman quoted on who said: “The contribution percentage is negligible compared to markup on the product. How dare they use women in this battle to line their pockets?” Still others point out that, ironically, some of the very products being used in this manner contain possible carcinogens as ingredients.

An organization called Think Before You Pink is urging consumers to ask tough questions before buying products that claim to donate to this cause. So if your company is selling products tied in to breast cancer awareness, be sure you know:

  • What percentage of the proceeds actually goes to charity?
  • What specific charity does the money go to?
  • What is the charity’s record for efficiency and results?
  • Does your company match the customer’s donation?

Finally, experts advise, don’t give lip service to breast cancer research by putting pink products on your shelves one month of the year. This type of cause marketing works best when it’s tied in with a cause that you support all year long. If women are an organic part of how your business shows social responsibility, then by all means, sell the pink products. But if not, carrying pink-ribbon items could leave you red in the face.