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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UCLA Journal of Gender and Law

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Painting the Capitol Pink: The Breast Cancer Research Stamp and the Dangers of Congressional Cause Marketing


Breast cancer awareness campaigns—widespread, largescale efforts focusing on general “awareness” of the breast cancer, rather than the dissemination of information on detection and treatment—are common sights in the American public and private spheres.  From NFL players donning pink socks to crafters selling “I love boobies!” t-shirts online, breast cancer-branded events and products have become an essential marketing tool to reach women, signal corporate virtue in a palatable, nonaggressive manner.  Even the federal government is party to the trend: in 1998, the U.S. Congress authorized the sale of the Breast Cancer Research Stamp (BCRS) by the U.S. Postal Service to raise awareness and research funds for breast cancer.  The BCRS has been available ever since.

This Article posits that the BCRS is more an attempt by the federal government to capitalize on the goodwill and consumer engagement generated by breast cancer awareness marketing in the private sector, and less a good-faith attempt to treat, cure, or prevent breast cancer among Americans.  The Article addresses three questions: (1) how does the BCRS reflect a private sector trend of embracing breast cancer cause marketing?; (2) why does Congress continually reauthorize the BCRS, even as other semipostal stamps lapse?; and (3) why has Congress chosen to raise money for breast cancer research through the BCRS?  In answering these questions, I argue that the true legislative motivations behind the BCRS are to generate goodwill amongst voters, promote small-government values, and align with breast cancer awareness causes without compromising other political positions.  I conclude that the BCRS exemplifies how Congress has eschewed expert opinion and instead adopted private sector marketing strategies when passing legislation.

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