In Defence of Moustaches and Pink Ribbons

We are already half way through November, or for the boys, Movember. I imagine many moustaches are on their way to prime condition.

November means another month and another cancer awareness campaign after October’s Pink Ribbon Campaign. However, since the major controversies surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the past year, these cancer charity marketing initiatives have been under the microscope and subject to much backlash.

Last month, Margaret Wente’s commentary in The Globe and Mail regarding Breast Cancer Awareness Month carried the exasperated title, “Can We Just Relax About our Breasts?” Ms. Wente posits that the problem with breast cancer awareness is due to the “fear, hysteria and paranoia that people have whipped up around breasts.” She cites “chemophobia” as fuelling “imaginary risks” surrounding breast cancer, and points to Florence Williams’ book Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History as an example of this hysteria.

A few days after Ms. Wente’s article came another submission in The Globe and Mail, this time regarding Movember. Author Amberly McAteer wrote, “[Does] asking people to do something as silly as grow hair trivialize the real, scary issues the Movember movement is trying to elevate?” She also mentioned knowing a few men in the past year who grew Movember moustaches but did not participate in raising any funds for the charity.

I completely understand these concerns about whether creative marketing is pushing the focus from more deadly or common diseases, creating unnecessary fear and misunderstanding about the risk of certain conditions, and that they may even trivialize the diseases. Yet, is it wrong for these charities to try to appeal to the general public if it results in greater awareness and fundraising for the cause? Both Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns do not pursue misleading agendas, nor do I buy the assertion that they generate an unwarranted hysteria regarding the diseases. Additionally, I am wondering what solutions are being offered if one of the main complaints is that the so-called unsexy medical conditions, such as colon cancer and epilepsy, are being overshadowed by these hugely successful campaigns for breast cancer, and prostate cancer and men’s mental health. Understandably it is more difficult to market these “less sexy” diseases to the general public, though the yearly costs of inflammatory bowel disease in Canada is approximately $2.8 billion.

We have to think about what are the goals of any health awareness and fundraising initiatives. For Movember, it is “Awareness and Education, Survivorship, Research” for prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation aims to “raise awareness and mobilize action on breast cancer…our investments in vital research, education and health promotion programs have led to progress in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.” These two campaigns are excellent examples of successful charity marketing despite their imperfections. Yet, I agree with many of the criticisms concerning these campaigns. Yes, consumers should be wary of products marketed as submitting a portion of the sale to cancer research, such as in the case of the pink ribbon branded NFL products that, in the end, only 5% will go to the American Cancer Society. I agree that the risks concerning these diseases should not be exaggerated nor packaged into sleek, misleading products. I agree that there are more common and more deadly diseases and conditions that should gain greater public awareness, and increased funds for research and treatment. However, there is little to be achieved by lamenting about the successes of Movember and the Pink Ribbon Campaign.

If, for example, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada and Epilepsy Canada would like to increase awareness and funding, these organizations should analyze Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s marketing programs as great examples of how cancer campaigns can be effective and prominent in public discourse, and plan to replicate that success. In the ideal world, we would be able to raise the most awareness and money for the diseases that are the most common, most deadly, most devastating, or perhaps most expensive to the patient. However, reality dictates that the distribution of raised funds will never be perfectly even between these causes. But can we aim to increase awareness of those conditions that are not raised through Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness? Of course, and we can do that without slamming the popularity of facial hair this month. So let us celebrate the successes of Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and hope that other charitable causes can reach similar goals as these organizations. Here is to mustaches and pink ribbons to all of us.

23 comments
  1. Thank you for this post. I believe the best prevention for cancer starts in your own kitchen. The internet has great information on how to prevent with simple recipes and delicious food. Donations are great and a big thanks to all the people with the amazing intention to help the cancer research.

  2. Thank you for posting this. Definitely needed to be said.

  3. I’m wearing my mo with pride ;) (would prefer a tachey emoticon)

  4. I thought it was wonderful the other day when everyone males and females at my bank were all wearing pink ribbons! Awesome don’t you think?

  5. Exactly. You can’t fault a charitable movement for being successful if it’s for a worthy cause. In any case, I think that a charity event raises awareness for charity as a concept, as well as the particular cause that is being championed.

    Although I’m still undecided when it comes to Fanuary…

  6. I have participated in Movember for the last three years. It has been a rewarding experience, as my team has been able to raise both awareness and funds for prostate cancer initiatives. Thanks for the great post.

  7. I actually took part in movember a good few years ago when it was unknown and enjoyed the laugh.. To be honest I hate it now because of the hype and vast amounts of publicity over it so I refuse to do it now for those exact reasons you gave.

    • Publicity just helps to promote the reasons BEHIND this cause, creative marketing works and the fact that it is POPULAR now does not mean that it’s a bad thing, it’s not a fashion fad that will last a season, it’s not a top 40 song that will plummet to the bottom of the charts when a new song comes out, it’s a cause and it raises funds regardless of whether you are growing a mo or not. A bit of fun so that life is not taken so seriously is not a harmful thing. And i am sure 100% of men with cancer would agree that ANYTHING to promote donation of money towards Movember is great, they are the ones that have to live with it and if creative marketing HELPS this then so be it! Negativity gets people nowhere, it is a serious cause, it’s a serious issue, that’s WHY it is promoted around creative marketing – people take notice this way, it’s a sad fact but it’s true!

  8. Nerd With Taste said:

    All so true! The kids in the local varsity soccer team all decided to do Movember, and had no idea what it was about. It’s not just about lack of personal hygiene, there is a cause! ~ nerdwithtaste.wordpress.com

  9. Kmras said:

    Does anyone NOT know the meaning to movember?? Probably not. Aka awareness raised more then if it wasnt for this wonderful time of men and their charmingly handsome stashes

  10. I work in Marketing and I think any creative marketing is an excellent way to bring awareness to diseases AS WELL AS raise funds for it…not only that but it also helps to build a team within your company if that is the way that you raise your funds. So not only is it good for the main reason but there are a lot of little things that follow this that are healthy for us to promote! I am not growing a Mo…I’m female, but I am getting a tattoo instead! I think people take life too seriously sometimes, YES it is a serious issue but the point of making a creative way to raise funds just helps people to get more involved. Sometimes shock marketing works, sometimes it doesn’t, posters of forms of cancer, or a depressed male are not really going to promote this cause…creative marketing is always up there in the high percentages of working…! It’s not a matter of what cause gets more money, how did this become a form of a competition? We are all apart of these causes for 1 reason at the end of the day – to help the awareness and banter for donations. It’s simple, and I think it works, hell, it DOES work, it’s quite obvious the statistics show that!!!

  11. Alex said:

    Great post! I think these subjects are always a little awkward. I have always encouraged my male friends who participate in the growing but not the raising of funds to look at why they are doing this: for the cause or for the stache competition? Either way, it’s making people think.

  12. The Movember campaign to me is a great success. It’s almost as if you are a man without a moustache in November, you’re out of the pack. It does raise money and awareness because we never donated to prostate cancer before my husband started doing it (I am sad to say). At the end of the day that’s what matters.

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