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It’s breast cancer awareness month, and you know what that means? The pinkwashing of America!
I first noticed it while watching an NFL game on TV a couple of weekends ago. It was incredible … I’d never before seen 250 pound men look so much like bubble gum. From the gloves, shoes, and towels on the players themselves, to the coaches’ hats, referee wristbands, and entire cheerleader outfits. Even the mouthguards were pink!
All of this got me thinking (or “pinking”, if you will) … and researching. Turns out there’s a whole lot of people talking about breast cancer and the use of pink as its color du brand. Like, a documentary about how the color pink has helped dumb down and commodify a serious and complex disease. And a campaign calling for “consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.” There’s even a Twitter hashtag dedicated to documenting all this pinkwashing! Check it out — I promise it’s a fun browse.
But I digress. I’m actually more interested in a broader examination of the color pink. How is it most frequently used in design, especially for products and services? What associations do we make when we see the color pink? How can I make sure this blog post doesn’t turn into an angry rant about gender stereotypification?
First, a refresher course on the “meaning” of the color pink: Pink has been described as representing love, affection, intimacy, sweetness, warmth, and tenderness. Depending on the ratio of white to red in the mixture, pink can range from calm to passionate. And I think it’s safe to say that for most of us that grew up post-WWII, pink symbolizes femininity. (Though, this wasn’t always the case.)
Personally, my most immediate brand associations with pink (after breast cancer awareness) are Victoria’s Secret and T-Mobile, two very different products. But once I began thinking about the color pink beyond individual companies, I started to notice entire categories of the marketplace that are pink-saturated. Here’s what I came up with.
Mary Kay clearly owns this one — who can argue with a nearly 50-year history and pink Cadillacs? But there are several more contemporary cosmetic brands on the market that are employing the color pink. Black and white tend to be the more dominant hues here, but if you look closely at the secondary palette, you’ll see that pink is a frequent visitor.
There’s no shortage of pink in the fragrance department. Is it because pink is a strong visual cue for femininity? Or maybe something a little more complex, like our association of pink with the color of scented blossoms, such as roses and carnations? Here’s some food for thought: the color pink is named after the flowers called pinks, flowering plants in the genus Dianthus.
Perfume images found here
Connotations of love, affection and romance — in the wedding industry, the color pink is an obvious choice. Even in our current day and age of wedding blogs, Tumblrs and Pinterest boards, pink maintains a strong presence.
This may be the most specific category of the bunch, but it’s no stranger to pink. We don’t even have to look at cupcake shops outside of San Francisco, because the ones in our own backyard demonstrate the trend so well!
Here we are. The motherload. Go to the “girls” section of any Target or Wal Mart toy department and just try to ignore the pink. I won’t attempt to speak eloquently about the reinforcement of female/male gender roles and the “princess industrial complex” — I’ll just provide a few visual aids that tell the story on their own.
Obviously, this is a charged topic that we designers have to take into account when considering the use of pink in any of our work. We need to be aware not only of how pink has been used in the past, but how it’s evolving. For example, pink has become particularly trendy in recent years, with a resurgence of 80’s neon pink as well as coral pinks showing up on the runway and in home decor. With popularity comes an additional layer of meaning to juggle.
On a final, more light-hearted note … if you’re not too pink-exhausted by now, I invite you to celebrate Pink Week this November. It’s an entire week of celebrating everything pink, just for for pink’s sake. It’s coming up in a couple of weeks, so pull out all your rosy-hued gear and suit up!