The surprising story of the Pink Ribbon

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so we decided to share with you a sequence of articles about this topic. Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer and the most common cause of death among women. It is a global public health problem with consequences also on a socio economic level. If numbers increase in the same manner as in the present, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be 3.2 new million cases per year.

In the last weeks we talked about what the risk factors of developing breast cancer are, the methods how breast cancer can be diagnosed, and the current available treatments.

In this last article we want to raise awareness about the present marketing campaigns that focus on breast cancer, share with you the pink ribbon symbolism and how it all started.

The history of the pink ribbon

The pink ribbon is one of the most popular and recognized symbols in the world. Over the years the pink ribbon has become a synonym of strength, hope, responsibility for breast cancer but also an excuse for cause-related marketing.

But the pink ribbon isn’t the only ribbon that supports a cause. Ribbons have been used since centuries, supporting many causes such as quitting alcohol (white ribbon), freeing the American hostages held by Iran (yellow ribbon) or to increase awareness of the AIDS pandemic (red ribbon).

In 1990, Charlotte Haley, a breast cancer survivor, wanted to increase awareness about the low budget that was allocated for the research on breast cancer. She did this by handing out glued peach-colored ribbon cards that stated that only 5% of the National Institute of Health of US budget was used for breast cancer prevention. As Charlotte sent the card to many women, including influential and powerful ones, the executives of Estee Lauder and Self magazine came up with the idea of using this ribbon as a symbol for the Breast Cancer Awareness month in October 1991. But Charlotte did not want to work with them, as she considered them to be too corporate and commercial. Because of this disagreement Estee Lauder changed the color of the ribbon to the now popular pink and the company distributed the pink ribbon in all their cosmetics stores as a way to support breast cancer awareness. And like that, the pink ribbon became the mirror of happiness and optimism of survivors that take pride in their winning battle.

Studies suggest that this pink ribbon has a bigger influence than we thought, as it gives people a way they can identify and accept breast cancer without the visuals of a tumor, pain and side effects.