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Welcome! This study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and my name is Dr Clare Patton, the Principal Investigator of the project. I am based in the Health and Human Rights Unit (HHRU) in the Law School at Queen’s University Belfast and work under the mentorship of the HHRU Director, Professor Thérèse Murphy. I will post information about the progress of my research project over the next twelve months.


This study builds on the research from my PhD ‘Legitimacy, role, and the corporate takeover of a disease: A reading of breast cancer cause-marketing campaigns and their influence on the social roles of stakeholders’ (August, 2017). My PhD collected data from the largest breast cancer cause-related marketing (CRM) campaigns in the UK belonging to four multinational corporations (MNCs) Asda, Avon, Debenhams and M&S. I collected language and imagery within these breast cancer CRM campaigns and coded that data into ‘frames’. The most common ‘frames’ collected were 1) white, 2) positive, 3) heteronormative, and 4) infantile.

What this means is that the most popular breast cancer CRM campaigns in the UK use an overwhelmingly large number of white women in breast cancer campaigns and black and ethnic minority women are much less visible. The positive frame relates to the constant ‘upbeat’ message that is attached to breast cancer CRM campaigns. Positive language can include the narrative that breast cancer can be a positive experience (eg. the use of phrases such ‘the silver lining’ or ‘it brought me closer to my family’) with a lack of balance addressing the non-positive side of the disease. The heteronormative frame contains examples where women with breast cancer are associated with traditionally heterosexual roles and activities. An example of breast cancer heteronormativity is constant reference to women with the disease as ‘mothers’ or ‘wives’ in nuclear families. This can mean that women lose their own personal identity and places their value in relation to their relationship with others. It can also place a pressure on women to ‘fight’ breast cancer, not only for themselves but for family. The infantile frame is the tendency within breast cancer CRM campaigns to use props and language that would also fit well with a children’s event. Many campaigns use fancy dress themes, games such as ‘pass-the-parcel’, face-painting and use slogans such as ‘never lose your sparkle’.  Even some of the corporate campaigns can have a childish sounding name such as Asda’s ‘Tickled Pink’ with ‘tickling’ being closely associated with an infant activity. These four frames were the most common found in my PhD study of UK breast cancer CRM campaigns and led me to conclude that:

A breast cancer patient is expected to be a heterosexual woman who is a mother or grandmother (aged between mid-twenties to mid-sixties) of a nuclear family, she will face her breast cancer diagnosis with a positive attitude and will not question, too deeply, the causes of the disease or potential treatments. She will take part in fundraisers which are fun (fancy dress) or feminine (cake sales) and will do so to ‘give back’ to society (in an act which goes full circle – she is ‘giving back’ for all the fundraisers that are held in aid of breast cancer) moreover, she is participating to support other women who are going through breast cancer, this is known as the breast cancer ‘sisterhood’ and membership to this ‘sisterhood’ depends on the woman’s willingness to conform to the expectations of the social role of a breast cancer patient. Breast cancer patients who do not conform to these behavioural expectations face exclusion from this ‘sisterhood’ of support which is typical of the more general social exclusion that accompanies any person who does not conform to the social roles which society structures.

Current study

This study will test the PhD hypothesis in that I will talk with women in the UK who have (or have had in the past 5-years) a breast cancer diagnosis. It is important to ensure that women with breast cancer shape their own ‘social roles’. (A ‘social role’ is simply a term used to describe how we behave around others and how we expect others to behave around us.) Corporations and charities can also learn from and benefit from a fuller understanding of how women with breast cancer want to be portrayed in breast cancer CRM campaigns. This study will ask women with a lived experience of breast cancer for their full thoughts, opinions, and views on all breast cancer cause-related marketing campaigns and how they believe these campaigns can be improved.


The data collected from the interviewees will be coded and situated with the data collected from the earlier PhD study to identify any patterns and anomalies. This information will be used to inform a policy report which will contain a draft soft-law regulatory framework to better monitor all large cause-related marketing campaigns in the UK. At the centre of this framework is an ethics ‘quality mark’ called ethicsQM. It is proposed that this mark will be placed on CRM merchandise upon confirmation that a set of ethical standards has been reached to give consumers greater confidence in CRM campaigns. The launch of the proposal for ethicsQM will take place at an international conference in the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast in September 2019. It is hoped that this conference will be an opportunity for conversation between corporations, non-profits, regulatory agencies, lawyers, breast cancer advocacy groups as well as other cause-receiver advocacy groups. The participants of this study are also warmly invited to this conference to continue with their input, if they so wish. Continued collaborative conversation can drive forward best practice in CRM campaigns to ensure that all parties in the CRM matrix derive benefit.

See here for further project information

See here for call-for-participant leaflet

Please contact me at for any further information.‌