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Research Finds Breast Cancer Communications Often Play by the Wrong Rulebook

Monday, 13 June 2011

Research into gender identity cues in breast cancer communications uncovers surprising new insights into women’s perceived vulnerability to the disease

Research Finds Breast Cancer Communications Often Play by the Wrong Rulebook

Research into gender identity cues in breast cancer communications uncovers surprising new insights into women’s perceived vulnerability to the disease

Rotterdam, Paris, London, May 2011 – Leading international business schools Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), INSEAD and London Business School have issued new research into women’s perceptions of breast cancer communications. Such communications often feature cues referring to a woman’s gender identity, such as pink backgrounds, pink ribbons, or simply other women. The study found that the presence of such gender cues can be inadvertently counterproductive to the key goals of breast cancer awareness campaigns.

Stefano Puntoni, Associate Professor of Marketing at RSM, Steven Sweldens, Assistant Professor of Marketing at INSEAD, and Nader Tavassoli, Chaired Professor of Marketing at London Business School conducted a series of experiments to determine the impact of women’s exposure to breast cancer communications in situations where their gender was either especially salient or not.

“Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death and alerting women to their vulnerability will be critical for governments and charities around the world,” said Dr. Sweldens of INSEAD. ‘”Our research shows that breast cancer communications that feature prominent gender cues activate a defensive “it cannot happen to me” reaction in women.”

Dr. Puntoni of RSM added: “These defensive mechanisms interfere with key objectives of breast cancer campaigns. For example, they lower women’s perceived vulnerability to breast cancer, reduce their donations to ovarian cancer research, make breast cancer advertisements more difficult to process, and decrease memory for breast cancer advertisements.”’

“Our findings run counter to the prevailing beliefs in the advertising industry,” said Professor Tavassoli of London Business School. “Breast cancer campaigns should avoid using gender cues such as images of a woman covering her breast as they are less effective when placed in media contexts that make women reflect on their own gender, like websites or on TV channels dedicated to more female themes. Communications boosting women’s sense of self worth can help to overcome the defensive reactions and increase the effectiveness of breast cancer campaigns.”

‘Gender Identity Salience and Perceived Vulnerability to Breast Cancer’ is featured in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research. You can find the article here.

Information for the media:

About Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University - RSM is consistently ranked amongst the top 10 business schools in Europe. It is located in the international port city of Rotterdam where core Dutch values of openness, flexibility and acceptance of diversity have attracted businesses on a global scale. Our emphasis is on groundbreaking research and practices relevant to business; our primary focus is on developing business leaders who carry their innovative ideas into a sustainable future. Our portfolio includes a broad array of bachelor, master, doctoral, MBA and executive education programmes. www.rsm.nl

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World - As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas from around the world to change lives and to transform organisations. A global perspective and cultural diversity are reflected in all aspects of our research and teaching. www.insead.edu

About London Business School -  London Business School's purpose is to deliver insights and leaders that have impact. The School has been ranked number one in the world by the Financial Times for the Full-time MBA programme for the past three years. In research, the School is ranked top ten and holds the highest average research score of any UK academic institution (RAE 2008). www.london.edu

For more information on RSM or on this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at mschouten@rsm.nl.