Would you like hot wings with your pink ribbon? Pink Cause Marketing and the Nudge

Unpublished working paper

by Michele Battle-Fisher

 Pink is everywhere. You can find splashes of pink on NFL football helmets. After a routine mammography, I placed a pink ribbon over the grungy passenger door of my Subaru (which did not come equipped with a pink ribbon upon purchase). I am afraid that it may have become so ubiquitous that seeing a pink ribbon lacks visceral meaning. According to Think Before You Pink, a project of the Breast Cancer Action (http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/?page_id=8), the advocacy organization highlights as a cautionary tale of the unholy alignment of Komen and KFC (the maker of fried chicken goodness) in 2010. What good is it to have a myopic view and wrongfully shortsighted to get “pink” exposure to KFC customers when saturated fats clog the very vessels of a body the cause marketing claims to protect. On Komen’s website highlighting research findings (as of 2-8-2013), they present results from a host of randomized controlled trials, pooled analyses and cohort studies ( real, gold standard science) show no detectable proven link between higher fat diets and breast cancer (http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Table15Dietaryfatconsumptionandbreastcancerrisk.html). Why segregate the breasts away from the holistic health of the person consuming the high fat foods for the sake of a “nudge” to consume KFC?

 In academic lingo when we want to impress while alienate others during careless happy hour banter, such choice marketing as “pink marketing” could be labeled as a soft libertarian paternalist “nudge”. A nudge perhaps does enough to not make a consumer run to the hills before making a purchase at KFC. But where is that pink memory after upsizing the meal? Where is the saliency? It is probably in the non-recyclable waste can with the chicken bones. What is lost in this paradigm is the necessity of public accountability connected to each personal declaration of choice.

Aww, ecological complexities versus John Stuart Mill’s stance on paternalism…

Lovely for a Friday.

I present that the theory yet places emphasis on the means of preserving autonomy of the individual over the ends of long standing needs of the population as required by public health. Isn’t the point of cause marketing (in theory) to help the cause of the majority (while the cha-ching rings). Thaler and Sunstein’s book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, present the notion of “choice architecture” to nudge us to change by ourselves without forcefully being called to change (see Thaler, Sunstein, & Balz, 2010).  What about the nested, systemic factors that impede healthful choices? Choice architecture does not thoroughly account for the ecological complexities innate to a public health concern such as breast cancer prevention (such as interactions of the patient, personal social networks, and the larger polis). Disadvantaged populations may not control over the influence of their “choice architects” who may be acting dubiously nor did they have control over the “food deserts” where they live. I doubt that a collective neighborhood would voluntarily protest a farmers’ market or request a lack of fresh foods, a proliferation of convenience stores, and fast food on every corner. That is just the ilk of community that they have been dealt and must learn to navigate as best as possible. Yes even if there is a community, you still have a “choice” available to go the market or KFC though the opportunity to make that choice should never be seen as equally possible for everyone in that neighborhood. The assumption that there will be parity in access and usage of such urban improvements will be a point of discussion. But, hell, should not one have that “choice” as one that looks at all achievable through better access? Let this not be lost to the discussion that a nudge remains a marketing tool at its nucleus which must be paired with evidence based, substantive interventions as well as acknowledgement of complexity. Now getting public health interventions to then utilize the power of complexity research in deed to combat this is a battle for another day.





“Breast Cancer Research- Table 15: Dietary fat consumption and breast cancer risk”. [Webpage]

Retrieved on February 8, 2013 from http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Table15Dietaryfatconsumptionandbreastcancerrisk.html.


“Campaigns”. [Webpage] Retrieved on February 8, 2013 from




Thaler, R., Sunstein, C.,& Balz, J.. (April 2010). Choice architecture. Retrieved on February 8,

            2013 from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1583509 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1583509


About Michele Battle-Fisher

This is an archive of the Orgcomplexity Blog. Please follow me at the following sites: mbattlefisher.wix.com/orgcomplexity Michele Battle-Fisher (Facebook author page) www.linkedin.com/in/mbattlefisher mbattlefisher (Twitter) michele.battle.fisher (Skype) Author Website http://amazon.com/author/michelebattlefisher

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