"You can cook for the cure, shop for the cure -- why don't we have the cure yet?" asked Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.
While some companies make sizeable donations for every "pink" purchase -- such as Clinique, which donates $10 of every $14 "In the Pink" lipstick sale to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation -- other companies only donate a couple cents per dollar or transaction.
Breast Cancer Action is running a "Think Before You Pink" campaign asking consumers to question breast cancer charities and their corporate partners before spending money on pink products. A 2002 ad the group ran in the New York Times pointed out that Eureka donated less than 1 percent from the sale of its "Clean for the Cure" vacuum, while American Express donated only a penny per transaction of any amount during its "Charge for the Cure" campaign.
"It's rarely more than a penny on the dollar," said Trent Stamp, executive director of Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog group. "It's just great advertising."
Consumer advocate Mike Adams, a vocal critic of mainstream cancer treatments, said companies selling pink products are not held accountable for their promised donations, and consumers are largely unaware of how much of their purchase is actually donated.
"For most pink products, only a tiny percentage of the product price is donated to cancer research," Adams said. "Buying a pink can of soup, for example, may result in two cents being donated."
Daniel Borochoff of the American Institute of Philanthropy, says companies often use meaningless phrases such as "net profits to charity" or "a portion of proceeds go to charity," to help sell pink products. In reality, "pink" donation promises may only last for an unspecified limited time, or a certain sales target must be reached before donations are triggered, Borochoff said.
"There's no accountability on where the money goes or how it is used," Adams said. "Where are the anti-cancer education programs that teach women nutrition?"
Brenner says consumers must "engage in meaningful activity" to solve the problem of breast cancer. "If you think you're going to solve the problem by buying Yoplait, you've got another thing coming."