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Etsy accused of exploiting Breast Cancer Awareness Month in marketing email

Was this Etsy email raising breast cancer awareness, or just "pinkwashing?"


Lauren Rae Orsini


Posted on Oct 15, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 9:24 am CDT

Breast cancer activists have accused Etsy of using breast cancer as a marketing tool without doing enough to help the cause.

It’s an alleged example of “pinkwashing,” the corporate practice of selling pink products that don’t actually fulfill their claims about donating toward breast cancer prevention.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and with it comes an annual marketing effort to turn everything pink.

Etsy is no different. This week, a newsletter titled “Tickled Pink,” encouraged subscribers to buy bright pink handmade merchandise in order to “show your love to the women in your life.”

However, one blogger discovered that out of 24 products featured, only eight actually claim to support breast cancer causes, and some tenuously at that. The majority of showcased items use the pink ribbon logo or reference Breast Cancer Awareness Month without mentioning a donation.

The blogger, Acacia of Pink Goose, is furious about the promotion. She’s living with stage 4 terminal breast cancer, the disease she claims Etsy is profiting from.

“Etsy’s lack of ethics and oversight is bad enough,” she wrote. “The fact that the majority of sellers are craven opportunists profiting off of our disease with cheap ‘handmade’ crap is bad enough. But the fact that fuckwits like little miss Nichole [sic] actually promote these people as part of a fun, happy ‘Tickeled Pink’ [sic] marketing email is beyond infuriating.”

The woman Acacia refers to is Nicole Smith, a member of the Etsy marketing team who authored the newsletter. After Acacia’s post, fellow blogger Jane Flanagan of Ill Seen, Ill Said wrote her own post about contacting Smith on Twitter and receiving an unsatisfactory response.

“Hi @seenandsaid. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. Always appreciate the feedback on how to improve and grow,” Smith tweeted to the blogger.

“I’m so angry at Etsy’s glibness and lack of sincere compassion, at their sellers’ disingenuousness (though, of course, I don’t blame the sellers who just happened to have pink products but make no “pink cause” connection who were included in the e-mail) and also at Etsy’s own lack of participation in making any kind of contribution of pink causes, while they merrily use cancer to market their site and sellers,” Flanagan wrote.

“Pinkwashing” has become so widespread that the Better Business Bureau is encouraging consumers to purchase pink products with caution. It’s an issue that can’t be fixed overnight, but several bloggers are now clamoring for Etsy to address its part of this problem.

Mary Andrews, Etsy’s Lead Merchandising Specialist, told the Daily Dot that the company is taking bloggers’ complaints seriously.

“We really appreciate the feedback and thoughtful discussion regarding the Etsy Finds email around Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Our aim in the email was to acknowledge this national campaign of awareness. While we do not promote specific shop charities, nor did we make claims to do so in the email, we do support acts of generosity and compassion within the Etsy community. The email was meant for awareness, and created in a supportive spirit. We will take all of this into serious consideration as we map out improvements to our emails and how we promote awareness within our community in the future.”

Photo by sunsets_for_you/Flickr

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*First Published: Oct 15, 2012, 2:36 pm CDT