I said again and again on Twitter that this year I was NOT going to join in to the breast cancer awareness fuss. "I said, and said, and said those words. I said them. But I lied them." (That's Dr. Seuss.)
And so I am about to make a blanket objection. The trouble with blanket objections is that, at least for ME, when _I_ read a blanket objection, and I've done the thing the blanket objection is about, I feel slapped. Even if I don't think the person making the blanket objection is talking about ME PERSONALLY, they ARE talking about something I PERSONALLY did, and so they DO mean me, whether they intend to mean me or not, and my face burns with embarrassment, which then makes me feel upset and angry and like slapping back.
That's not good. I don't want to cause that feeling in you. And yet here we are, and I am going to try to do it without the slapping sensation. And although I have just said it is totally understandable to take something like this personally, it's also true that I'm not thinking of one person in particular, or even several people in particular: I'm thinking of posts on Twitter that have been re-tweeted thousands of times and sentiments I've heard expressed again and Again and AGAIN by TONS of people. If you think I'm quoting you or specifically addressing you, I can tell you for absolutely sure that I'm not---that if I'm saying something you said, it's because hundreds or thousands of other people said it the same way.
So. ON with it. There are three breast-cancer-awareness-related sentiments I'm objecting to:
1. Oh come on, is anyone seriously claiming they aren't AWARE of breast cancer?
2. Making dumb fake-sexy posts on Facebook and Twitter isn't going to cure breast cancer.
3. MONEY and TIME are needed, NOT "awareness."
My first objection applies to all three, and it is the tone in which these statements is delivered: the intention is to slap people down. It's not just exasperation, it's not just making a point: it's contempt. The eyes are being rolled; the words "DUH" and "YOU IDIOTS" are implied; the hope is that the person reading those words will burn with embarrassment. That's not nice, is it? And it does nothing to improve or change things, it only causes anger and other divisive feelings.
And now I will explain what breast cancer awareness is FOR, since to me all three of those statements indicate NOT knowing what it's for.
Let's back away from breast cancer for a moment, and think about a company that makes deodorant. The company hires an advertising agency to advertise the deodorant, and that agency produces ads both in print and on television. Do we say, "THAT'S stupid. Like we don't already KNOW deodorant exists?? Come on, the company doesn't need to make people AWARE of deodorant---they need MONEY and PROFITS!"
No. The reason we don't say that is that we know what advertisements are for. Advertisements bring the product to the front of the consumer's mind. If the product is in the front of a consumer's mind, the customer is going to recognize the product when he or she sees it, and may be influenced to purchase. Advertising is not what the company needs, but it LEADS to what the company DOES need, which is money. It leads to it SO EFFECTIVELY, the company gladly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars, on advertisements. That's how connected "bringing something to the fronts of people's minds" and "money" are: VERY connected.
Furthermore, marketers have discovered something very important, which is that if you can get a consumer to take even one TINY step toward the product, the consumer will defend that step by making a HUGE step toward the product in allegiance. Can you get the consumer to click a box on a pop-up survey? Can you get the consumer to scratch off a little panel to see if they've won? Can you get a person to change their Facebook status? Then you, the marketer, have made a HUGE stride toward getting the consumer involved with your product. And a consumer who feels involved will feel loyalty, and loyalty will lead to dollars.
Back to breast cancer awareness. Is breast cancer awareness month intended to teach people that breast cancer EXISTS? Of course not. Does anyone think that by using a racy Facebook status they are making HUGE STRIDES toward a cure? Of course not. Would ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND disagree that money was needed more than awareness? Of COURSE not. But awareness is not literally "awareness," it is ADVERTISING. We're accustomed to advertising in the product world, but it's not as familiar to us in the fundraising context so we don't always recognize it.
Breast cancer awareness is intended to put the concept of breast cancer in the fronts of our minds. I already know that breast cancer exists, but I often go days or weeks without thinking about it at all. In October, however, I think about it every day: I keep seeing statuses, or pink stuff at the store, or big signs, or advertisers trying frantically to use the concept to sell their products. This is GOOD. Because when a concept is in the front of my mind, I am more likely to put it in the front of my wallet---even if I neither purchase something pink nor change my status (though doing either of those things makes me even more likely to pony up the dough).
When people participate in non-cure-related activities such as purchasing pink pens or changing their Facebook status, they are, even if unwittingly, building loyalty to a product, a product that requires financial support. Loyalty is good. Loyalty results in more money than lack of loyalty does.
And does anyone think that someone participating in a Facebook status game is doing that INSTEAD OF writing a check? YES, money and time are what is needed---but that doesn't mean awareness thwarts those goals, or takes away from them, or substitutes for them. And in fact, it works IN SUPPORT OF those goals. Slapping people down for their participation---especially when, if nothing else, those people have good intentions---works AGAINST those goals.
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