A Truck For Pinktober And The 11 Other Months Of The Year
By Rebecca Powers
Working vehicles — the trucks and machines that serve as the beasts of the road and construction sites — are a pretty drab lot: brown, green, navy; Caterpillar yellow is about as exciting as it gets.
Among those road warriors, Russ Clark’s jaunty pink dump truck stands out as it trundles along metro Detroit roads, delivering sand, gravel and mulch. In October, however, Clark’s pastel inspiration blends with the rose-colored sea of breast-cancer awareness imagery, when everything from the White House to handguns becomes pretty in pink.
Although well intentioned — and in Clark’s case, spontaneous — the annual color-coded campaign has sparked a cynical backlash.
When the month formerly associated with orange blushes, instead, some see red. The pink popularity has induced so-called pink fatigue, charges of “pink washing” and finger pointing at “pink crap” that promotes items sometimes seen as the antithesis of good health.
Clark’s spectrum shift was anything but jaded, however.
Last spring, Clark, the owner of his family’s Crown Sand & Gravel in West Bloomfield Township set out to repaint his “Green Hornet” truck, which was, of course, green. But his local hardware store had closed down and he just couldn’t find the proper shade.
“I went in and told my wife, ‘I’ve got half a mind to paint the damn thing pink.’ She said, ‘You should do it.’”
The hardware paint-counter clerk was doubtful when Clark asked her to blend a bright “pink ribbon” shade, but after an hour, they got it right.
He painted the dump box pink, the wheels darker pink and the cab white.
“My 19-year-old daughter said it was ‘awesome,' ” Clark says. And judging by customer reaction, her assessment was accurate. If one of Clark’s other two trucks happens to arrive with a delivery, he says, “The ladies will come out and ask, ‘Where’s the pink truck?’”
“My nephew wasn’t too thrilled,” he allows, “because he’s the one who drives it. He gets some horns honked
at him.” To that, Clark replies: “I takes a real man to drive a pink truck.”
For a soft hue, pink certainly elicits strong emotions — positive and negative.
In simple black-and-white terms, naysayers see ‘pinktober’ as commercially and pharmaceutically motivated and not focused enough on breast-cancer prevention and treatment. Proponents say that, although not all pink products generate funds for the public good, buying and sporting all things pink allows people to participate in a cause they care about.
“Komen benefits a great deal from pink products, which allows investment in research, education and community programs,” says Maureen Keenan Meldrum, director of Breast Cancer Special Programs at Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. She also chairs the Susan G. Komen Detroit Race for the Cure.
“It helps save lives,” says Meldrum, who 23 years ago was diagnosed with the disease that claims 40,000 lives every year. (Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among U.S. women.)
At issue is what’s known as "cause marketing." Think of the Product Red campaign famously championed by U2’s Bono in an effort to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. As a piece in one scholarly publication noted, cause marketing can, in some cases, become “ubiquitous” and “desensitize” the public. However, studies show consumers are increasingly expecting companies to support issues.
“There’s academic perspective and there’s real-life perspective; if you talk to people who have suffered, they’re pretty grateful,” says Craig Bida, executive vice president at Boston-based Cone Communications, which coined the term cause marketing and handles Yoplait’s Save Lids to Save Lives campaign, which has generated more than $34 million for the cause.
“You also have to remember,” Bida says, “that not that long ago, breast cancer was something kept hush-
hush. Now it’s amazing to see NFL players prancing around in pink shoes.”
The same may be said, on an individual level, of a pink dump truck. Clark’s blush-colored brainstorm was born of sheer impulse rather than as part of a corporate marketing concept. His pink truck drives a cheerful road less traveled than the national charitable campaign that occasionally teeters on the verge of a wellness cat fight.
Clark likes to boast that he has a history of being colorful, beginning with the 1967 Chevelle he owned 30 years ago and painted green.
“I wanted to be different,” Clark says. “I’m a trendsetter.” Indeed, his two other company trucks have names and trademark colors. Betty Boop is blue and white. Casper is white with light and dark blue lettering.
But why pink? “By putting breast cancer out there, it will have a purpose,” Clark says. “You only live once.”
Feedback: Let us know how you feel about the pink awareness campaign.