Does the color pink hurt anti-cancer campaigns?

I visited Erasmus University as part of my sabbatical. While there, I interviewed some of the faculty about their research. Here is the first interview, where I asked Marketing Professor Stefano Putoni about his research on gender identity.

The question: Does the color pink hurt anti-cancer campaigns?

(Apologies for my loud voice.) Stefano’s research highlights the difficulties with creating a branding campaign. I can’t say that organizations should abandon their branding efforts using the pink ribbon. The brand is too well known. However, the research raises some cautions about how specific marketing communications are designed. If you read the paper (link below), you will see those cautions in greater detail. Unfortunately, as is often the case with research, there is not an easy answer.

The paper: Puntoni, S., Sweldens, S. & Tavassoli, N.T. (2011). Gender Identity Salience and Perceived Vulnerability to Breast Cancer. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(3), 413-424. (Download)

Breast cancer communications that make women’s gender identity salient can trigger defense mechanisms and thereby interfere with key objectives of breast cancer campaigns. in a series of experiments, the authors demonstrate that increased gender identity salience lowered women’s perceived vulnerability to breast cancer (experiments 1a, 3a, and 3b), reduced their donations to ovarian cancer research (experiment 1b), made breast cancer advertisements more difficult to process (experiment 2a), and decreased ad memory (experiment 2b). these results are contrary to the predictions of several prominent theoretical perspectives and a convenience sample of practitioners. the reduction in perceived vulnerability to breast cancer following gender identity primes can be eliminated by self-affirmation (experiment 3a) and fear voicing  (experiment 3b), corroborating the hypothesis that these effects are driven by unconscious defense mechanisms.

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