Interpreting the Pink Ribbon -- by the Numbers

November 13th, 2023
By Julie Zdziarski

I share my story in honor of all the women who became members of a club they never wanted to be a part of. I am a breast cancer survivor. At dentsu Sports Analytics we work with brands every day to help them evaluate the impact of their marketing partnerships – sport, entertainment, and cause-related. Here is my evolving perspective on the power of the Pink Ribbon and the sensitivity around Pinkwashing.

Update:  Here we are again in October, breast cancer awareness month.  Honestly, I don’t look forward to the reminder.  It triggers me - bringing up emotions I work very hard to tame.  My health is very good.  No evidence of disease.  Back doing everything I love and feeling strong.  Yet, still very afraid of recurrence. 

On December 6th, 2022, I underwent a second reconstructive surgery (after a double mastectomy) to move me closer to the illusion of what I once was – so that I might feel better in my own skin.   I am at peace with my result despite adding a few more scars.  I read somewhere that “a scar is the tattoo of a triumph to be proud of” and, in this case, I 100% agree. 

On the 1-year anniversary of my first pink ribbon post I was curious about how others feel when they see the Pink Ribbon.  I set out with interest to identify differences in opinion between the general consumer and someone directly experiencing the disease.  DSA recently surveyed 300 US consumers to find out (source: MKTG Fanspeed) and what follows is a blueprint for brands supporting this cause.   


86% of consumers believe the Pink Ribbon raises awareness of the disease. While 78% of those directly impacted by breast cancer (either a survivor or friend/family member of someone impacted) believe that brands using the Pink Ribbon have good intentions.  Understandably this group has a heightened sense of awareness and feeling.

Brand Take-Away:  The Pink Ribbon is synonymous with positively driving awareness of the disease.  Data also confirms it means ‘good intentions’ so if you are not prepared to authentically embrace and respect the sacredness of this mission – don’t get involved.  


Those directly impacted by breast cancer are 12% more likely to ‘see pink products everywhere’ during the month of October than the general consumer. 

Brand Take-Away:  Eyes are opened to the Pink Ribbon platform -- people are listening, survivors are REALLY listening.  Use this opportunity to say something meaningful and do something good.  


64% of those directly impacted by breast cancer wish that brands would use the platform to better educate the public about the disease. In fact, 70% of actual breast cancer survivors call for more education.

Brand Take-Away:  The challenge is clear -- add an element of education to your breast cancer campaign.  Inform and educate. 


What is pinkwashing?

pink • wash • ing (noun)

a marketing tactic. the exploitation of breast cancer for profit or public relations. the act of supporting the breast cancer cause or promoting a pink ribbon product with either little or no intent of the revenue being used to support the fight against breast cancer. 

61% of those directly impacted by breast cancer believe that all brands that use the Pink Ribbon are part of official cause marketing programs to support the disease.  This is NOT TRUE. 

Brand Take-Away:  Any company can paint themselves pink and/or incorporate a Pink Ribbon into their marketing during October and not donate a single dollar to a formal cause.  Breast cancer is a multibillion-dollar industry that is completely unregulated.    

This leaves the window open for companies to falsely use breast cancer and the Pink Ribbon to amplify their marketing for personal gain.  With 60% of the general population believing that cause marketing campaigns lead to the vast majority of funding for breast cancer research (vs. government funding) – consumers are ripe for deception. 

Brand Take-Away:  Be transparent and concise with your messaging.  What organization is receiving the donation? Is it clear that money from this purchase supports breast cancer research or resources for the community?  What % of proceeds are being donated?  Be sure the consumer understands the authenticity of your partnership. 


63% of those impacted by breast cancer agree that brands that incorporate the Pink Ribbon understand how breast cancer survivors feel.

(see my October 2022 post for more on how it ‘feels’ for a survivor)

Brand Takeaway: These individuals BELIEVE that brands care.   Data supports that brands shoulder an important responsibility when moving forward with this type of charitable campaign. This is a sacred space that deserves a marketer’s respect.  The deception that is Pinkwashing has no place here.    

I sat for a bit with all the data and decided a letter to brands would be best. To those brands wanting and willing to step up to support this important cause…here you go. 

Dear Brand,

The Pink Ribbon is not just a logo…it’s a story, a scar, a memory, a life lived, and a life lost.

It carries a powerful message of hope that resonates with so many.

It’s always about awareness but educating is best.

Remember you are talking to me, those before me, and those who will come after.  Authentically honor my story and others.

Be VERY clear with the details of your campaign. Identify your intention. Think beyond October.

Remember, authenticity in marketing comes from understanding.  Listen to our stories.  Learn.  Show you understand and that you care.  Stay with us.  Don’t leave. 

And THAT is how it should be done.

So, if you do decide to join with us...THANK YOU.

THANK YOU for your support of those who are currently battling, those who survived, and all of those who showed up when we needed it the most.