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Breast cancer's pink, girly ads may not resonate with viewers

Breast cancer research and awareness is a cause with a look - one that is currently pink, girly, and covered in ribbons. And thanks to the many breast cancer awareness campaigns, there's  now a widespread mental association between pink ribbons and breast cancer, as well as some serious bucks floating to ribbon-touting brands claiming to support The Cause (if not always following through). But could this girl-centric image actually alienate women?

A recent study in the Journal of Marketing Research seems to suggest so. More specifically, the research shows that breast-cancer-awareness ads that call attention to gender leave their female viewers feeling less at risk than gender-neutral ads. According to an entry in today's Health Blog:

In one experiment ... 37 females were asked to look at a fake breast-cancer ad that conveyed certain facts about the disease. One group saw an ad that was heavy on the color pink, used female faces and included ad copy that said “Hey, woman! Yes, you” before giving the information. The other group included the same exact information, but used more neutral colors (no pink), had no photos of women and started with “Hey you!”

After they viewed the ads, women were asked to provide their own personal risk estimates for breast cancer and also for several gender-neutral diseases on a scale of 1 to 7. The women who looked at the pink poster had lower breast-cancer risk estimates than those who looked at the neutral one. There were no differences for the gender-neutral ads.

Study author Steven Sweldens, PhD, believes that gender-specific ads may backfire by causing women to feel directly threatened and, in turn, triggering an unconscious defense mechanism that causes them to underestimate their own risk.

Since gender is an important element to consider when it comes to breast cancer (which affects many, many more women than men), eliminating breast cancer's feminine image simply isn't feasible. Rather, Sweldens suggests that ads could reduce female viewers' defensive reaction by focusing on positive messages, such as how important and special viewers are. In any case, dissociating breast cancer awareness from the pink, girly identity it has cultivated seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

Photo by Tessa Ann's Buttons

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