Individual Consumer Decision Making
31 Trends Impacting Individual Consumer Decision Making
The “evaluation of alternatives stage” in the Individual Decision Making Process is worthy of a book on its own! There are many different techniques marketers will employ to get the attention of consumers and be top-of-mind when they are ready to make a purchase. For many years now, consumer attitudes and behaviours around sustainability and conscientious consumerism have shifted and become a key determinant in individual consumer decision making. Marketers have responded by creating strategies, campaigns, and promotions that win favour with consumers and put them ahead of the competition. Naturally, the rush to the finish line often involves manipulation, cutting corners, and deceiving consumers: often the hypocrisy goes unnoticed and its impact overlooked.
In the early 21st century, we are witnessing a profound shift in priorities as people clamor for products and services that are good for their bodies, good for their community, and good for the Earth. Some analysts call this new value . They estimate the U.S. market for body-friendly and earth-friendly products at more than $200 billion.
Just how widespread is conscientious consumerism? In a 2007 survey, eight in 10 consumers said they believe it’s important to buy green products and that they’ll pay more to do so. Corporate responsibility is now one of the primary attributes shoppers look for when they decide among competing brands. Consumer research strongly suggests that this awareness often starts with personal health concerns and then radiates outward to embrace the community and the environment. Predictably, advertisers have been quick to jump on the green bandwagon. , which emphasizes how products and services are environmentally responsible, is red hot.
refers to the performance of a sustainable business relative to societies and social justice. Internally, the social impact of a business refers to practices related to employees and employment within the business; externally, social impact practices include participating in Fair Trade practices.
In addition to employment practices, social impact refers to respect of others. This entails the respect of individuals and other businesses encountered locally and around the world. A sustainable business will make reasonable efforts to ensure its policies, practices, products, advertising, logo or mascot, and other aspects of the business are not offensive or disrespectful to clients in the global market.
Have you considered where your coffee, chocolate, clothing, or other products come from and the conditions under which they were produced? Social impact is one of the three pillars of a sustainable business, but it can be difficult to define and even more difficult to track and measure.
A sustainable business should consider the social impact of its business operations on employees, those employed throughout the supply chain, and on the community. So how can a business begin to maximize its social impact?
Here are some practices that will help create positive social impact:
- UN Global Compact: Review the 10 principles of the United Nations Global Compact and abide by them, whether or not the business becomes a signatory.
- Buy Fair Trade: Seek out opportunities to purchase Fair Trade products for your business. Fair Trade products ensure that those who produced the product in developing countries were paid a fair wage under humane working conditions. You can purchase Fair Trade clothing, handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, flowers, and other products.
- Company Policies and Practices: Consider the social impact of your company’s policies and practices on employees (such as healthcare coverage, educational opportunities, and work-life balance).
- Philanthropy: Evaluate the impact of your corporate giving programs. Find opportunities that are strategically related to your core business, and focus your philanthropy in those areas, benefiting both the community and the business.
- Supply Chain: Understand the conditions under which the products and supplies you purchase were produced; work with suppliers to achieve transparency throughout the supply chain; check the web sites of any of the numerous watchdog organizations (e.g. CorpWatch, Sweatshop Watch, International Labour Rights Forum) to find world regions, specific companies, and industries known for human rights abuses that could be occurring within your supply chain.
- Labour: Make sure your business follows policies and practices that are fair to its labour force. A good place to start is SA8000 and the International Labour Standards. Review and understand the standards, whether or not your business seeks certification. Support freedom of association, collective bargaining, and nondiscrimination in your own place of business as well as with suppliers. In purchasing, avoid products that were produced using forced and child labour. Look for certifications from Fair Trade Federation, Fair Labour Association, Social Accountability International, RugMark, Verite, Worker Rights Consortium, or others that have independently evaluated labour conditions.
- Social Responsibility: Check out the 2010 release of the ISO 26000 standards on social responsibility for companies.
There are many examples of brands and corporations invested in maximizing their social impact. These can be found in several different product categories, from ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s) to footwear (Adidas) to furniture (Herman Miller; Ikea). Some argue that the reason many brands are engaging in social impact initiatives is to better align with consumers — and not just any consumers, but Generation Z more specifically (RippleMatch Team, 2020).
In 2018, McKinsey & Company collaborated with Box 1824, a research agency, to learn more about the “true digital natives” born between 1995 and 2010. The study revealed four core Gen Z behaviours: that they value expression over brand labels; that they will mobilize for a variety of different causes; that they believe in the power of dialogue to solve important problems; and, that they relate to institutions in an analytic and pragmatic way (Francis & Hoefel, 2018).
These core behaviours also have a direct impact on how Gen Z approaches consumption and their relationships with brands; the most notable finding in the study was that Gen Z view, “consumption as a matter of ethical concern” (Francis & Hoefel, 2018).
is one of the fastest-growing types of sponsorships. It occurs when a company supports a nonprofit organization in some way. For example, M&M’s sponsors the Special Olympics and American Airlines raises money for breast cancer research with an annual celebrity golf and tennis tournament. The airline also donates frequent flier miles to the cause. Yoplait Yogurt donates money for breast cancer research for every pink lid that is submitted. Cause-related marketing can have a positive PR impact by strengthening the affinity people have for a company that does it.
There are many examples of high-profile cause-related marketing campaigns where some of our most beloved consumer products have teamed up with non-profits in order to achieve mutually beneficial goals. Some of these might even be familiar to you:
- Pepsi’s support for a campaign called “Movember” that raises awareness about prostate cancer.
- Starbucks’ involvement with REDto raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.
- Reebok and Avon’s long association with Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Walk to End Breast Cancer.
- Walmart and its support for the Childrens Miracle Network.
In 2016, Ben & Jerry’s (the famous ice cream makers) launched a new flavour of ice cream that was part of a cause marketing campaign of a different kind: their “Empower Mint” ice cream was introduced in connection to a political and social justice campaign of their own making called, “Democracy is in your Hands” (Carmicheal, 2020). The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness about, voter suppression laws.
“Voter-suppression laws are targeting Black, Brown, and low-income voters, the gutting of hte Voting Rights Act (VRA) has allowed many states to move forward wtih plans to make it harder for people to vote, and money from wealthy donors is corrupting the system” (“Democracy…”, n.d.).
In addition to raising awareness about voter suppression, Ben & Jerry include calls-to-action on the website to register voters and join their fight for democracy and voter rights in America.
The advertising industry has the potential to radically change people’s attitudes and (more importantly) their behaviours as we face the real consequences of environmental contamination. Unfortunately, there’s also the very real potential that it will “poison the well” as it jumps onto the bandwagon a bit too energetically. It’s almost impossible to find an ad for virtually any kind of product, service, or company that doesn’t tout its environmental credentials, whether the focus of the ad is a detergent, a garment, a commercial airplane, or even an oil company.
is the act of creating an environmental spin on products or activities without genuine business-wide commitment to sustainability. Sustainability is a company-wide goal that permeates through every task, role, department, division, and activity of the company. Unwitting businesses may engage in greenwashing for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of understanding of sustainability. Other reasons may include attempts to expand market share, attract and manage employees, attract investors, derail critics, circumvent regulatory issues, and improve image. However, greenwashing may damage an otherwise credible business’s image or reputation.
As a result, complaints about greenwashing, or misleading consumers about a product’s environmental benefits, are skyrocketing. One egregious example is an ad for a gas-guzzling Japanese sport utility vehicle that bills the car as having been “conceived and developed in the homeland of the Kyoto accords,” the international emissions-reduction agreement.
To prevent a greenwash backlash, it’s imperative for advertisers to act responsibly. There’s nothing wrong with trumpeting the environmental value of your product— if the claims are accurate and specific. Or you can suggest alternative methods to use your product that will minimize its negative impact— for example, Procter & Gamble runs an ad campaign in the United Kingdom that urges consumers of its laundry detergents to wash their clothing at lower temperatures (Vranica, 2008; Pfanner, 2008).
The Federal Trade Commission provides guidelines to evaluate green advertising claims; it suggests that “if a label says ‘recycled,’ check how much of the product or package is recycled. The fact is that unless the product or package contains 100 percent recycled materials, the label must tell you how much is recycled” (“Sorting Out…”, 1999).
Born from the concept of greenwashing came “” – a concept that describes the act of making misleading claims to win customers over. Pinkwashing identifies brands that use the ‘Pink Ribbon’ – a symbol of breast cancer awareness – to raise funds for breast cancer research. A number of brands, including car manufacturers, dairy companies, and personal hygiene and cosmetics makers, adorn their products with pink ribbons all the while these products are known to include carcinogens that cause (breast) cancer. At the very least the alignment of these brands to the breast cancer cause is misleading; but of greater concern is that this particular cause-related marketing plays on consumers heuristics to simply choose what might seem like the “best,” or the “right” product because it supports an important cause.
The pink ribbon is one of the most widely recognized symbols in the United States and is an international symbol of breast cancer awareness (Pool, 2011). Marketers are now pinkwashing and using the pink ribbon symbol to influence consumer decisions and increase sales. Pinkwashing is when a company is supporting the cause of breast cancer or promoting a pink ribbon product while producing, manufacturing, or selling products linked to the disease (Pool, 2011). A variety of cause-related marketers are using breast cancer to guilt consumers into buying products that are not beneficial to them (Pool, 2011). Cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving a mutually beneficial collaboration between a corporation and a non-profit company (Solomon, 2014). Many consumers believe that purchasing a product with a Pink Ribbon symbol will express moral support for women with breast cancer when in most cases this is untrue (Pool, 2011).
The study of compensatory decisions rules shows that when all things are equal, the company that is donating to a charity or has a good cause behind it, will likely be the product purchased (Solomon, 2014). The brand Yoplait has put a pink ribbon on the company’s product and changed the product colour to pink during October to increase the likelihood of consumers purchasing the product (Pool, 2011). Yoplait is a pinkwasher because certain products from the company are made with milk from cows that have been injected with a synthetic hormone referred to as rBGH which has been known to have many health concerns, including cancer (Pool, 2011). Despite the Yoplait company making a small ten-cent donation to a breast cancer organization for every pink lid each consumer mails back to the company, the amount does not add up to be a lot of money (Pool, 2011). Yoplait is pinkwashing because the company is marketing that they support the cause of breast cancer while selling products that may lead to cancer.
Pinkwashing is commonly performed by marketers throughout the world to increase exposure (Pool, 2011). A Fuse Tea sales representative stated that Fuse Tea changed the colour of its bottle to pink during breast cancer awareness month and handed out their new product to runners who were supporting breast cancer (Pool, 2011). This action of making the bottle pink was to draw exposure to the product as they did not donate any of the proceeds to breast cancer. In addition, the Fused Tea company is a pinkwasher because their drink product is filled with artificial sugars which have been known to lead to cancer (Pool, 2011). It is hypocritical for Fuse Tea to make their product pink in attempt to increase exposure to breast cancer supporters because their product is known to be unhealthy (Pool, 2011).
I recently became aware that, “the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is $1.8 billion, but only 5 percent goes towards cancer prevention” (Pool, 2011). I am shocked by this statement and feel that companies are using cause related marketing as an excuse to make more money. In addition, I don’t understand what my valuable money is going towards when donating to a company. I have noticed that backlash by consumers has raised awareness of the misuse of the pink ribbon and cause- related marketing, but I am still shocked by how easily consumers are manipulated by certain companies. Thankfully, there is an amazing ‘Think Before You Pink’ campaign that demands transparency and accountability on the part of companies that align themselves with breast cancer. In conclusion, I have learned to now be more aware of products and their ingredients along with question what companies are donating my money towards.
The willful blindness that guides corporations and global conglomerates in cause-related marketing ventures can also be paralleled with what we are witnessing around climate change. The wealthiest and most powerful companies and nations are contributing to the global demise of women’s health and climate degradation. KPU student Julie Hartman explores this connection in her op-ed below.
As consumers become more concerned with making smarter and more responsible purchasing decisions, companies become more concerned with improving their Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) as a means to generate customer sales (Solomon, White, & Dahl, 2015). One way in which companies can improve their CSR efforts is through cause-related marketing which is a “type of marketing that involves a collaboration between a for profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit” (Solomon et al., 2015). Sometimes companies pursue cause-related marketing campaigns through unethical means, often negatively impacting the very consumer they are supposedly attempting to please; such is the case with “pink-washing” (Pool, 2011) a concept we’ll examine more closely here.
The pink ribbon that is the symbol of breast cancer may look innocent, but it is actually rooted in manipulation. Colour “is a powerful marketing tool that significantly influences consumer purchases, so much so that it accounts for 85 per cent of the reason why someone decides to purchase a product” (Kumar, 2017). Feelings and phrases associated with specific colours subconsciously influence consumer decision making (Kumar, 2017). Pink evokes feelings of universal love, friendship, and harmony; and is associated with phrases such as “tickled pink” which means “to feel happy or content”, and “in the pink” which means “to be healthy” (Bourn, 2010). Combined, these associations give consumers a warm fuzzy feeling inside, making it the perfect colour to use when developing a cause-related marketing campaign. Plaster it all over products that claim to “support breast cancer” and consumers are sure to believe the pink ribbon narrative (Pool, 2011).
Pink-washing, as described by Breast Cancer Action who coined the term, is when companies or organizations claim to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product while producing products that are linked to the disease (“4 Questions…”, n.d.). While awareness campaigns, such as Komen for the Cure, are “trendy”, they don’t do much to make a positive impact (Pool, 2011) They stress the importance of self-exams and early detection knowing that it doesn’t work for everyone. These campaigns often claim they are trying to “find a cure” but deflect when asked why they don’t try to find the cause of breast cancer itself. Focusing on the cause – or prevention – of this disease stands in direct opposition to those who not only profit off breast cancer, but do so while continuing to produce products containing known carcinogens (Pool, 2011).
Globalization has led to the spread of breast cancer campaigns into new regions, with their carcinogenic products in tow – resulting in increased risks of breast cancer in countries where it previously had not been a major health risk (Pool, 2011). It can be argued that this cause-related marketing campaign does more harm than good, in relation to the cause that it promotes.
When I reflect on pink-washing through the eye of an environmentalist I can see many similarities between it and “greenwashing”. The shared idea is that both seek to convince consumers that their organizations are supporting causes while simultaneously causing serious harm behind the scenes. Less apparent, however, is the fact that both types of campaigns have a highly influential global presence.
Although breast cancer and climate change may be issues invisible to some, they still negatively impact a large global population. This invisibility is perhaps the biggest hurdle in fighting climate change. Wealthy, developed countries have a significantly greater carbon footprint than those of developing nations who will experience the most devastating impacts of climate change. Because those living in developed countries cannot see the impact first-hand and the concept of the Earth dying feels so abstract and scary to them, it is easier to ignore the problem than to approach it head on. I find this to parallel consumers of pink ribbon products in the marketplace: they do so in good faith yet continue to be blissfully unaware of the foul practices of the companies involved. They are unable to see the bigger picture because they are blinded by the happy smiling faces of women featured in the campaigns. With all the pink and the joy, it’s almost an abstract concept to imagine breast cancer being a deadly disease. And so, we remain detached from those who face the daily reality of breast cancer unless we know someone living with it, experience it ourselves, or take it upon ourselves to dig deeper than what is portrayed in marketing and the media.
Materialism & the Conscientious Consumer
Will money make you happy? A certain level of income is needed to meet our needs, and very poor people are frequently dissatisfied with life (Diener & Seligman, 2004). However, having more and more money has diminishing returns — higher and higher incomes make less and less difference to happiness. Wealthy nations tend to have higher average life satisfaction than poor nations, but the United States has not experienced a rise in life satisfaction over the past decades, even as income has doubled. The goal is to find a level of income that you can live with and earn. Don’t let your aspirations continue to rise so that you always feel poor, no matter how much money you have. Research shows that materialistic people often tend to be less happy, and putting your emphasis on relationships and other areas of life besides just money is a wise strategy. Money can help life satisfaction, but when too many other valuable things are sacrificed to earn a lot of money — such as relationships or taking a less enjoyable job — the pursuit of money can harm happiness.
It is important to always keep in mind that high seems to lower life satisfaction — valuing money over other things such as relationships can make us dissatisfied. When people think money is more important than everything else, they seem to have a harder time being happy. And unless they make a great deal of money, they are not on average as happy as others. Perhaps in seeking money they sacrifice other important things too much, such as relationships, spirituality, or following their true interests. Or it may be that materialists just can never get enough money to fulfill their dreams — they always want more.
In a society where materialism corrupts peoples’ lives, “Minimalism: A documentary About the Important Things” (D’Avella, 2015), aims to show how your life can be better with less. People have become so accustomed to feeling they need these material items, that they don’t think twice about the purchase as they assume happiness is a given. With this mindset, consumers are wired to be dissatisfied with what they have. To be able to transition to a minimalist life and live happier and financially free, consumers must eradicate their compulsive and addictive consumption behaviours.
When you think of addiction, drugs, alcohol or gambling most likely come to mind. However, addiction can manifest itself where you may least expect it. “Consumer addiction is a physiological dependency on products or services” (Solomon, White, & Dahl, 2015). Over the course of the last decade, Amazon has quickly become one of the most addictive sources of consumer goods. More than 71 per cent of Americans are Prime members and more than 46 per cent of them buy something once a week (Moore, 2019). Addiction is defined as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing or activity.”, and yet drug, alcohol and other substance addictions are viewed with such negativity, whereas consumption addiction (shopaholics) are met with a light and playful title.
Shopaholics have all the same symptoms of any other addict, including withdrawal. Addicted consumers do all this shopping to get that “quick fix” to feed the urge. Consumers must convince themselves that they need every item they buy because they will never admit they have a problem. Because of addictive consumption, many consumers are living beyond their means and it is truly ruining their lives. To take back control of their lives, the best thing consumers can do is attempt to convert to a minimalist life and free themselves from the virus that is, consumer addiction.
On the other side of things, compulsive addiction also ruins many households. “Compulsive consumption refers to repetitive shopping, often excessive, done as an antidote to tension, anxiety, depression or boredom” (Solomon, White, & Dahl, 2015). There are many reasons why people experience. Ultimately, the feeling of depression and anxiety were only buried below the surface (D’Avella, 2015). Buying exactly what you need, and nothing more, not only saves you money, but helps those feelings as well. “Stripping your belongings down to the bare minimum feels like you are taking a heavily weighted blanket off of your shoulders” (D’Avella, 2015).
I believe that we, as a society, need to absorb certain aspects of the minimalist lifestyle. Does that mean we should all live in tiny houses and have one outfit? No, it does not. We should attempt to eradicate the negative behaviours associated with our addictive and compulsive consumption to cleanse ourselves. Adopting the minimalist lifestyle will not only help our mental health, but it will financially free you from the strain of consumption (Solomon, White, & Dahl, 2015).
- The “Student Op-Ed: Pinkwashing and the Pink Ribbon Symbol” is by Abraham, T. (2019) which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.
- The two paragraphs under “Materialism” are adapted from Diener, E. (2020). “Happiness: the science of subjective well-being“. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers.
- The “Student Op-Ed: (Pink-)Washing Away the Cause: Manipulating consumers through cause-related marketing campaigns” is by Hartman, J. (2019) which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.
- The 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th paragraphs under “Greenwashing” are adapted from Launch! Advertising and Promotion in Real Time [PDF] by Saylor Academy which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
- The “Student Op-Ed: The Quick Fix” is by Richard, A.M. (2019) which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.
- The section under “Cause-Related Marketing” is adapted from Principles of Marketing by University of Minnesota which is is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
- The section under “Social Impact” is adapted (and edited) from “Social Impact” (2.2) in An Introduction to Sustainable Business which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
- The second paragraph under “Greenwashing” is adapted from “Marketing” (Chapter 6) in An Introduction to Sustainable Business which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
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A term used to describe consumers who act with a heightened sense of awareness, care, and sensitivity in their purchasing decisions. This form of consumerism centres the principles of sustainability and may either present as performative or values-based decision making.
The design, development, and promotion of products that serve to minimize negative and harmful effects on the environment. Green marketing is most visibly evident through packaging design, labeling, and messaging (e.g. "green dish soap").
One of the dimensions of a sustainable business: an examination of a business's practices that relate to labour conditions as well as the entirety of its operations across that the supply chain to ensure those practices reflect social responsibility and ethical behaviour.
A collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship between a business and a non-profit organization that provides the business with greater access to consumer markets (in pursuit of sales, growth, and profit) and the non-profit with more exposure and awareness of its cause.
A term used to describe an act of hypocrisy whereby a company proclaims to engage in "green" business (marketing) practices, but is actually engaging in harmful and devastating impacts on the environment. Those impacts may be hidden, disguised, or purposely misrepresented to consumers (and broader group of stakeholders) so the company can win favour with conscientious consumers.
Similar in spirit to "greenwashing", this term is used to describe an act of hypocrisy whereby a company aligns itself with a breast cancer fundraising endeavour (e.g. pink ribbon campaign) all the while producing products that are associated with the very causes of (breast) cancer itself. Brands that engage in pinkwashing may disguise or purposely misrepresent the (dangerous) ingredients in their products or the (unsafe and hazardous) working conditions used to bring the products to market in order to win favour with consumers who idealize the significance of the pink ribbon symbol.
The prioritization of possessions (material possessions), money, and the consumer purchases above and beyond relationships, spirituality, and personal well-being.