The Awareness Bracelet Scam Of The 21st Century

Dear Audy,

Today NHBPM has challenged me to call BS on something that is ridiculous. This month, I have been trying to raise awareness of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome by participating in this blogging challenge and sharing my stories.

This might sound a little bit twisted against my efforts, but I’m calling bullshit on awareness bracelets.



Even the orange or red ones that stand for CRPS, depending on which person who ordered them from a manufacturer that you ask.

I have actually seen people arguing online about the “right” colour of awareness bracelets for CRPS. These people are experiencing anger, outrage and judging one another based on this ridiculous debate. It’s not like there’s some official board of awareness bracelets ruling on the colours of every cause.

Just a couple of weeks ago, South Park took on the topic of awareness bracelets with all of its delightfully dark wit. In S16E13 A Scause For Applause, Jesus’ miracles are discredited because it’s revealed that he used performance enhancing drugs (a nod to the Lance Armstrong fiasco). Everybody in America is getting their WWJD (What would Jesus do?) plastic wristbands removed in light of the revelation and faith in the iconic Christian figurehead is dwindling like never before.

Stan Marsh stands alone in his refusal to remove his wristband – he just likes it. In true media sensationalist fashion, this becomes a movement of people worshipping Stan as a leader of STANding up for what you believe in. Nike features him in a typically ridiculous television ad. His message reaches as far as poverty stricken farmers in Belarus, who are standing against oppression of genocidal proportions.

However, Stan might not have been a truly truthful hero either. Rumours arise, toting that he hadn’t actually remained STANding for his beliefs the whole time, that he had in fact removed his bracelet and then stuck it back together with superglue. His reign of leadership crashes to a finish, leaving both Stan and Jesus looking for a way to redeem themselves, disguised under a desire to help the people of Belarus.

This is where the story becomes highly relevant to my point.

Finding themselves needing to raise awareness, Stan and Jesus realise that, of course, they need awareness bracelets!

They pay a visit to the Seussian-like P.F. Pityef Bracelet Factory, where a shady-looking, rhyming Seussian greets them with a poem and a Wonka-like factory tour:

In the modern age there are those who believe
That a cause is a thing to worn on one’s sleeve
And so we sell a cause, it’s called a Scause
And wearing a Scause gets you lots of applause

We start with some plastic, which is sherped by our sherpas
And dip it in colours that show off your purpose
There are green Scauses for recycling, blue Scauses for kitties
And pink Scauses that focus on nothing but titties

Do you hate abortion? Ha! Then a white Scause is for you
Why not champion your Scause with some sparkles and glue?
We make Scauses for this, we make Scauses for that
Why, there’s even a Scause for just being fat

What’s the matter, can’t think of a Scause?
How about raising awareness for the hairs in your schnoz?
Let’s just think of the thing that you care about most
Let’s make it orange, like marmalade toast

And now I’d like to say thank you for your coming down
I’m off to go sell these in your little town


(Click here to watch the clip)

Awareness bracelets raise nothing but the bank balances of the companies peddling these products using misleading charitable intentions. If you Google “awareness bracelets”, you are not taken to a wonderful world of information, learning, sharing and fundraising. Instead, you will find a bunch of different plastics manufacturers offering to customise bracelets for the Scause (ahem, cause) of your choice. For a price, of course.

The brilliance of A Scause For A Cause also extends to the link between Lance Armstrong and awareness bracelets. The whole plastic cloaking of wrists for causes began in 2004 with Livestrong, an organisation that was founded by Mr Armstrong for the purpose of raising money to help cure cancer. Livestrong bracelets serve to assist this cause by raising funds and not just awareness, which seems like a fairly valiant undertaking.

In light of how this endeavour spawned a society of Scauses, let’s not forget that the wristband itself was developed by Nike’s marketing team.

It was a very successful marketing effort indeed. Awareness bracelets quickly became a fashion accessory, so trendy in fact that one could go to a market stall and buy knock-off awareness bracelets. Yep, knock-offs. They are just coloured plastic or rubber bracelets without even a Scause in sight.

This isn’t another thing to get angry at Lance for, Society, you just took it too far.

When was the last time you saw somebody wearing an awareness bracelet, asked about it and were given some information about that cause? When was the last time you thought “Oh, I’ve never seen a wristband that colour before, I’d better find out about that”?


Because that’s the idea behind these things, that people will spread awareness and through chatting about bracelets. That’s the charitable, purported purpose anyway. The marketing evil genius is a little bit different.

Nobody wants to seem like a selfish person. Nobody wants to seem like they take their first world riches or their good health for granted. Everybody wants to seem like a good person, or like what they think other people think a good person is.

Many would define a person who helps others as “good”. Thus, it logically stands that a person who is wearing awareness bracelets is more “good” than a person who isn’t, because everybody can see that they “care”. It’s right there on their arm in bright coloured circles.

The rising popularity of awareness bracelets has little to do with people caring, it has nothing to do with the actual raising of awareness of anything. It has everything to do with sales, profits and both personal and professional images.

Some of the wristband wearers don’t even realise that it’s all for show, they don’t even realise that just wearing a band on your arm isn’t helping anything. The band isn’t educating people. The band isn’t sharing information. The band isn’t conducting research. The actual wristband part of your purchase isn’t funding studies, that’s only the role of the sales profit in an ideal situation.

The band isn’t even raising awareness.

IT’S NOT EVEN DOING THE ONE THING THAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO DO.

Awareness bracelet?! That title is a lie. It’s hardly even a bracelet, it’s just a piece of plastic. It’s not the symbol of hope and solidarity that people would like to believe in.

I’m sorry y’all, but if your wrist is covered in colours, you’ve likely been duped. This isn’t me trying to call you stupid, this is me trying to explain a situation that was set up to mislead you.


South Park’s Suessian charlatan leaves town with these final words:

Oh my, it’s the sound! (Butters: What sound?)
Of all the sounds in all Soundom, this is the most profound
That’s the sound that means I must pack up my tent
It’s the sound of the very last cent being spent

My work here is done and just look at you now
You’re all covered in Scauses, from your hoof to your brow
Enjoy all your Scauses, you look great in your cause
Be sure to give each other lots of applause!


Remember, the purpose of awareness bracelets isn’t even fundraising in most cases, most of these atrocities are only profiting plastics companies that are cashing in on a trend. This is how capitalism works, it doesn’t abide by morals. You can even buy “awareness bracelets” that just make you aware of words like “Love” and “Strength”, you know, words that you’d have otherwise never heard of.

Following the scam artist’s departure, Stan says, “It’s almost like that guy had it figured out all along”….ALMOST, INDEED.

Ok, Caf, OK. So you’re not a fan of awareness bracelets. But HOW are we going to raise awareness without them?!

Awareness is about knowledge. Raising awareness is the process of spreading information. Raising awareness isn’t about cures, not yet, that comes after enough people have become aware that an issue exists.

Blogging helps to raise awareness, I wrote about this a few days ago. I know that this works because people write to me and tell me “Hey, I’m aware of CRPS now”.

Talking and sharing help to raise awareness. Campaigns such as NERVEmber, CRPS Awareness Month and the WEGO Health challenge help to raise awareness. Funded campaigns help to raise more awareness than anything, think of all of those “brought to you by government department” ads. It’s too bad that funding can be hard to come by.

Every time that somebody learns about CRPS, learns that it exists and that it effects millions of people, that is when awareness is raised. Anything you do that helps to teach people who would otherwise remain ignorant of your message is an awareness raising effort.

When was the last time a bracelet did that?

But, Caf, MY awareness wristband DID go toward raising money for my condition!

Imagine if you simply donated a few dollars directly to the charity of your choice. Imagine if you got nothing in return for your donation, other than knowing that you had contributed. Imagine not wearing your charitableness like a badge of honour on your arm.

The money would still be going to the right place. All of it. No cents taken out of each sale to cover the manufacturing costs of a bunch of plastic rings. No sense taken out of your charitable efforts by the sly hands of capitalism.

That’s what a donation is. Donating in exchange for goods is just purchasing. Part of the awareness bracelet scam is having people believe that they could not financially contribute without there being a token for them to receive in return.

As for your token of donation raising awareness… Are you still convinced that it does that at all?

Cartoon Jesus sums it all up perfectly:

So, what have we learned from this great wristband theft?
Maybe that when stripped of our Scauses, only causes are left
Causes shouldn’t be worn on our wrists with a sneer
Let’s keep our causes where they belong, which is right here

*points to his heart, rips open his top*

On t-shirts.

FREE PUSSY RIOT.


He’s got his tongue in his cheek, but I have to agree with cartoon Jesus on this one. T-shirts are much more effective at sending a message than tiny plastic strips. T-shirts have infinite possibilities for customisation, can share snippets of information or directions to websites that hold a plethora of informative stuff.

T-shirts are also something that people are going to wear anyway. For many, they are the only items of fabric between their nipples and the world. T-shirts are walking billboards, just waiting to tell people things, be that something important or just the name of the manufacturer. T-shirts are so common and variable that it’s actually interesting to look at ones that we haven’t seen before, to appreciate designs that catch our eyes.

T-shirts are so good at sending messages that they don’t even call themselves “Awareness T-shirts”, they just inherently spread information.


In comparison to the reach of t-shirt signage, awareness wristbands are the tiny bits of text hiding in the corner of a billboard. Only the dedicated readers will find them. They’re the fine print, the asterisked points beside an advertisement. They’re the stuff that has to be said for legal purposes, but that nobody cares about.

What do you think about awareness bracelets?


Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

Love & Lid Popping,
Caf


P.S. Thank you, South Park. Thank you for your being continually awesome throughout half of my life.

WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM


This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • 7 thoughts on “The Awareness Bracelet Scam Of The 21st Century

    1. Megan

      I have to disagree a bit. I have an awareness bracelet that I purchased from the Lupus Foundation. I sold those to the people I knew for whatever they’d pay for it and then I gave all that money to the Lupus Foundation.

      Also, I’ve found that it’s a great conversation starter. I’ve had strangers ask me what I’m wearing on my wrist and I’ve been able to tell them about Lupus. I’ve also had a few people randomly grab my wrist so they could read it themselves, which does scare the bejeezus out of me. I’ve had to stop myself from punching a few people in the face because that’s my natural reaction when someone grabs me.

      This has been my experience with my awareness bracelet. My situation might be unique. I do agree with you about those stupid ones with the random words on it. So pointless.

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Megan, it’s wonderful to hear of these bracelets being useful and helpful to some people. The wrist grabbing thing hadn’t even occurred to me as a thing that might happen, some people just have no sense of personal space!

    2. robin

      My family and I sell these for our Relay For Life Team..they represent the different types of cancers and yes there is a color for different types..our braclets read “Cancer Sucks” because well it does and we wanted to be able to sell to everyone not just for Color cancer which our team Represents The Passing of My Uncle who lost the battle after 10 years.. So these bracletts may not mean anything to you but to me and MY family and those that wear them they do. thank you have a blessed day

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        Thanks so much for sharing your story, Robin! It’s nice to hear stories about other people’s experiences with these. A few people have mentioned that they wear them as a symbol of solidarity rather than to raise awareness and I think that anything that makes people feel better is a good thing :)

    3. Matthew Smith

      I’ve seen charities selling these, including small ones (e.g. the Hypermobility Syndrome Association, for people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome). There must surely be better ways of spreading awareness of a charity or cause that doesn’t require someone to grab your arm – an old-fashioned enamel pin-on badge, a T-shirt, a mug – all of which are big enough to have an actual logo, a clearly-written name, and maybe some facts about the condition, unlike a bracelet which is all one colour and has the cause engraved into it (in the same colour). Not very visible and it could just be a decoration. I think some of them just see other charities doing it and jumped on the bandwagon thinking it’s something they have to do because everyone’s doing it, but the first and maybe second causes were noticeable, the 10th, 56th and 89th probably won’t be. I agree it’s not a very effective way of raising awareness.

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        It’s only in these comments that I’ve learnt that there are people who actually grab somebody’s arm to read the wristband – the idea is terrifying to me! My arms wouldn’t even tolerate wearing one, so I’m kind of primed to cringe at that thought… I definitely think that there’s a lot of bandwagon boarding in relation to using bracelets to raise awareness, everything that you’ve listed is more effective in my opinion. It’s gotten to the point where each colour has a heap of different causes associated with them and so it does all just get lost in a crowd. I’m a fan of charities that have used cute enamel pins for fundraising, I have an apple for heart disease and a butterfly for deafness, but even those aren’t obvious about their causes – they’re just cute enough that I want to wear them. Awareness raising needs to be cute AND informative… I think this should be the challenge for charities, rather than just trying to choose a colour ;D

    Comments are closed.