Fighting Breast Cancer: Where the Green Goes When You Buy Pink

If you think you've been seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, you're not alone.

Last month, in honor of the 16th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, style and substance came together in an explosion of fuchsias, magentas, garments and gadgets.

From Yoplait yogurts and Hershey's chocolates to Clinique cosmetics, consumers were presented with a Madison Avenue of opportunities to spend some green on pink in support of the cause.

Read more about the race for the cure in's Cancer Center.

But how much of the money spent on such items actually went to fighting breast cancer? And how much went to companies' bottom lines?

Yoplait's "Save lids to save lives" campaign is one of many corporate programs that donate to the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which put over $30 million toward finding a cure last year and expects to raise even more this year.

Photo Essay: Pink Products

For every pink lid sent back to the company, Yoplait donates 10 cents — the total cost of a Yoplait yogurt is usually $1 or less — to the foundation, with a minimum total donation of $500,000 and a maximum donation of $1.5 million.

The Komen Foundation said that $830,000 was raised through the Yoplait program in 2005.

The "Ford Cares" campaign to rev up breast cancer awareness, supported by celebrities like Courteney Cox, Renee Zellweger and Megan Mullally, encourages Americans to buy various "pink warrior"-themed accessories such as pink silk scarves, T-shirts and leather cuffs. Forty to 80 percent of the retail price of "Warriors in Pink" apparel goes to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Hershey's was selling limited-edition Pink York Peppermint Patties, Nuggets and Kisses throughout September and October. The set donation of $250,000, regardless of sales, has already been made to the Young Survival Coalition, a non-profit network of breast cancer survivors dedicated to addressing breast cancer in women under 40.

"Last year, we only had the patties for sale and they were out of stock by mid-October," said Hershey's spokeswoman Monica Heckman. "So this year, we've added two new products and doubled our donation."

There are skeptics, however, who say consumers should rethink pink before whipping out the credit card.

Christy Turnin, a 22-year-old New York student whose mother died of breast cancer in 2003, said companies seem to be the ones making the profits.

"People should check just how much of their purchase actually goes to a creditable foundation," she said. "Too many companies are involved just for the publicity, but donate very little to the cause itself."

But most companies are happy to indicate exactly how much is donated to charity. For example, Clinique donates a generous $10 for every "In the Pink" lipstick purchased for $14.

Other companies have ads that declare a "portion of the proceeds" will support breast cancer research, but don't specify what that portion is.

From this limited information, it is impossible for the consumer to know exactly how much money from their purchase actually goes to the cause.

Companies that donate to the Komen Foundation, however, are required to specify precise amounts.

"All our partners must release exact amounts and notify consumers if a maximum donation has been reached," said Komen's cause marketing director Caroline Wall. "Companies have to submit a proposal before they can join the program. This is processed by a cross-functional team of health, science, communication and business experts to ensure they have a genuine interest in helping eradicate breast cancer."

For example, 10 percent of retail sales of Qwest and Sanyo's limited-edition pink cell phone went to the Komen Foundation last month, with a maximum donation of $100,000. Due to skyrocketing sales, the company will continue through to December and increase the cap to $150,000. If sales exceed this cap, a statement will be released to consumers, according to a Qwest representative.

Companies such as LF Stores and shows such as "Mamma Mia!" donate 100 percent of net profits from their "pink" products to the cause. So why not donate directly to breast cancer organizations?

"Consumer participation gives individuals a chance to be part of a nationwide collective effort," said David Witt, a spokesman for Yoplait. "It's all about engaging the consumer to create a stronger awareness."

Eric Dorfman, director of New York fashion public relations and advertising firm Ed Media, said the fashion world sees it as their duty to get the word out about breast cancer.

"They realize that early detection is the key to prevention," he said.

Dorfman added that increased awareness is a positive start in fighting the disease, which based on current rates will strike 12.7 percent of women born today, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"However we can get the message out there, whether it is through corporations, designers or entertainment, is what counts," he said.

A recent poll conducted by the Komen Foundation shows that over 75 percent of Americans believe companies should take part in the "pink" phenomenon.

"People see this as a social responsibility for businesses, a chance for them to make a difference," said Wall.

Los Angeles-based fashion photographer Ada Watkins agreed.

"People will buy New Balance sneakers or Tic Tacs anyway. So what's the harm in shopping pink?" she said. "One day it will all pay off. One day there will be no such thing as breast cancer."

Get complete coverage in's Cancer Center.