Memes, Cyberactivism, and Breast Cancer

Off Brand

Hello darling readers! We are back with another marketing class assignment! This particular assignment is addressing something that is near and dear to my heart. Both metaphorically and quite literally. I’m going to need to ask you all to dive into your mind’s Wayback Machine and pull up some viral memes from the early aughts.

Drea, Black

Okay, who remembers when you would get spammed on Facebook at the beginning of every October with the latest, “Hey ladies, put this obscure message as your status update! It will confuse people and somehow promote Breast Cancer Awareness! Don’t tell the males!” or something to that tune?

So, ignoring that referring to people as males and females is repugnant, let’s focus on the memes. It started with name and bra color, i.e. “Drea, Black.” Then it was phrases like, “I like it on the chair,” or “I like it next to the bed,” where the “it” was where you left your bra. After that it was a number, followed by the word “inches,” and how long it takes to do your hair. Because sex sells, the heightened sexualization of the meme resulted in increased circulation, including but not limited to national news coverage.

I absolutely remember when these messages were circulating. The meme aroused interest, certainly, and hundreds of thousands of women jumped on board. I understand why – it was fun, it was playful, and it was interactive! Each person could customize the message to reflect themselves while still participating in the larger movement. As an extra bonus, you got to be in on the joke! People love being in the inner circle, even if that inner circle is enormous. Finally, it let people feel like they were doing something, helping a cause, for very little effort.

But was the meme effective? Short answer, no. Let’s look at the longer answer.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Source: Get The Gloss

Raising awareness for breast cancer is like raising awareness for the ocean – if you are ignorant of the subject in today’s day and age then it is because you have either been hiding in a hole in the earth, or you have intentionally avoided any sort of internet activity, news media, grocery stores, I could go on. There are a lot of problems with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and how they’ve made breast cancer an industry, but they have certainly gotten the word out. Pink products regularly flood every business imaginable during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Businesses change their logo colors. Arenas turn their display lights pink. The awareness is there.

Awareness is not needed as much as education and action. People across the world patting themselves on the back for raising awareness for a cause that is already widely known doesn’t do much to actually help said cause.

Save Women (and Men), Not Boobs

Another problem with the viral memes is the continued sexualization of breast cancer. So, yes, as I said earlier, sex sells. A lot of survivors are quick to point out, however, that breast cancer isn’t sexy. Not only that, but focusing on messages like “Save the Ta-Tas” and “Save Second Base” is incredibly objectifying. And survivors have been making this argument for a while.

Source: SCAR Project, Copyright 2011 © David Jay Photography

Some efforts have been made to bring the public image of breast cancer back to its reality. The Scar Project, which has been described by Forbes as “a shockingly raw, yet strikingly beautiful, photo series that shows a side of breast cancer we’re not used to seeing,” documents survivors boldly topless, many with nothing but a long scar where a breast once was. The survivors are smiling, stone face, and crying; some stand next to a family member, some are held by a partner, one even depicts two generations of cancer survivors, but most are in the image alone.

While I understand that breasts are sexy to a lot of people, myself included, the problem with using sexualized marketing strategies for breast cancer is that it is ignoring that a person is battling death and facing disfigurement for a chance to survive. People diagnosed with breast cancer are more than just their breasts. Furthermore, did you know men get breast cancer? Because men have breast tissue. All humans have some amount of breast tissue, no one is completely risk free here, though women absolutely bear the largest risk.

Correlation ≠ Causation

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Yes, objectifying breasts is a bad thing, but could this be a case of the ends justifying the means? Those memes got national news coverage—surely they did some good even if they made people uncomfortable? Well, the aforementioned Susan G. Komen did report an increase in donations during the time those memes were circulating. But those memes were circulating at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both my journalism classes, as well as my statistics class (ah, the good old undergrad days), a point that was brought up in the first week and covered repeatedly throughout those courses was that correlation does not equal causation. I know this is a hard one for a lot of people, particularly you political types. The ONLY way to prove causation, is through experimentation. What this means for our current conversation is that there’s no proof the memes did anything other than make a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy and convinced that they were doing something useful.

This in a nutshell is the problem with cyberactivism. It’s really easy to post something on social media and feel like you did good. However, if your post doesn’t contain something that educates, or links to a place where people can make donations, or actually furthers the cause in some way, then you didn’t really do anything. The memes didn’t go viral for their message, they went viral because it was mysterious and everyone leapt on that bandwagon.

What actually helps?

Cowgirls Against Cancer. Source: Colorado Springs Gazette

As a society we are still working on how to employ social media for the greater good. Humanitarian Academy for Development has a great, quick article on the good and the bad of cyberactivism. The tl;dr is that it gives people the sense of doing good for very little effort and sometimes no results, but at the same time it can also spread a message far and mobilize people that might otherwise have remained disparate. So how can cyberactivism help?

  • Educate. A cute message isn’t enough, provide information.
  • Connect. Include links to educational sites, foundations, message boards, etc. For example, here’s Breast Cancer Action’s site, check them out.
  • Donate. Want to help but don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it? Send money. Directly to the org, don’t just buy something pink/green/puzzle pattern/pick your cause’s merch color.
  • Get involved. Use your new online connections to find the people who are getting things done, and go join them.

Warby Parker and Social Media

Off Brand

Hello, darlings! Remember when I said I would update more often? That’s gone well, hasn’t it? So, seriously, resetting your life after being somewhere else for 13 years and change is a Big Deal(tm). We’re still getting used to everything. And unpacking. It’s a process.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today! We’re here to talk about Warby Parker! Why, you ask? Because I’m taking a Social Media Marketing class to fill an elective for my MFA, and they’ve decided we’re going to talk about Warby Parker this week. “Drea, this isn’t what we were anticipating when you said you’d try to update more often,” I hear you saying. It’s not what I envisioned either, but let’s try it out! The class is only for 10 weeks, and I believe I’m assigned a total of four of these case study blog posts. I’ll make a point of throwing in some posts about writing and my absurd life in between. It’ll be an adventure!

First Impressions

Source: Warby Parker

Okay, let’s focus! So, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was first introduced to Warby Parker when I was roaming around University Village in Seattle. They had their own building which cropped up in a corner of the parking lot back in 2016 (which was annoying, because it meant less parking lot), and honestly because they had a trendy new building in an expensive shopping center, I made a lot of immediate assumptions about the company and their prices. If you’ve ever been to University Village, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It turns out, however, that I was wrong (see, I admit it when it’s applicable).

Apparently, Warby Parker is the brainchild of Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider, who were classmates at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (it’s a business school, I had to look it up). These charming (benefit of the doubt) individuals decided that they would revolutionize the way prescription eyeglasses were bought and sold. The traditional way of buying glasses – making the appointment every time, heading into a show room, paying through the nose – didn’t work for everybody. Their solution was to create a business model that focused primarily on online sales, manufactured in house, and sold directly to the consumer.

Now, in 2022 there’s an excellent chance you’re going to shrug and say, “So?” because by this point ordering glasses online isn’t really a big deal. Who hasn’t, right? In 2010, however, when they launched this endeavor, it absolutely was. To ease the initial distrust that the average consumer might have over ordering glasses online, they started the Home Try-On Campaign, where they would actually mail up to five pairs of glasses to your house for you to try on, decide which you preferred, and return the rest. They also made a point of being particularly engaging on social media.

Staying Connected

For Warby Parker, engagement looks like a lot of posts, frequent campaigns, and as much customer involvement as they can manage. Their Twitter bio lays it all out, “Glasses starting at US $95 (including Rx), sunglasses, contacts, and eye exams, too! Buy a Pair, Give a Pair. Questions? Let @WarbyParkerHelp know.” It’s effectively the same on Facebook and Instagram – who they are, what they offer, where to get help if you need it. They are good at balancing their content. What do I mean by that? Well, though they’re a company and clearly selling a product, they make a point of having content that isn’t just about selling more glasses. There are a lot of updates about their different brick and mortar stores that are opening across the US, which makes sense. They feature pictures from customers in their frames. They even have completely unrelated content, like libraries they would love to go explore.

Source: Warby Parker

Perhaps my favorite of their current social media campaigns is #WarbyBlue. Warby Parker’s primary color in their stores, their shipping materials, and so on, is blue. They partnered with Lichen on an eyewear tray, which is in a very bold blue, and is a funky looking thing inspired by egg crate to hold your glasses in place when you set them on tables, nightstands, and so on.

The #WarbyBlue hashtag has been partnered with everything from the new eyewear tray to a short video of bouncing blue gelatin. It’s fun, it’s playful, and if you followed Warby Parker it would add a pop of color to your feed that catches the eye and interest.

There’s one more thing all over their social media, and I like it even more than #WarbyBlue. It’s not just a campaign, and it’s definitely more important.

Buy a Pair, Give a Pair

For every pair of glasses that Warby Parker sells, they provide a pair of glasses for someone in need. Since the beginning, Warby Parker has partner with VisionSpring to provide glasses the people and communities across the world for whom corrective eyewear was very necessary but out of reach. It is easy not to think of it this way, but poor vision is a disability, and can negatively impact people’s lives if it is not treated. In 2015, Warby Parker began their own program called Pupils Project, which currently works primarily with the Department of Education in New York City and the Department of Health in Baltimore to provide screenings, eye exams, and glasses to school aged children. They also partner with a similar program in Mexico, run by Ver Bien, which provides glasses to elementary school children throughout the country.

El Salvador. Source: Warby Parker

According to the case study in my text book, Warby Parker has been able to provide over 500,000 pairs of glasses to people and children in need. However, my text book was published in 2016, which means the case study they’re citing was probably from 2014. That was a very long time ago in the world of social media, social change, and business. If you go to Warby Parker’s website right now, or any of their social media pages, you will find out that number is a little behind. So what are they at now?

10 million pairs of glasses.

10 million pairs of glasses to people who might otherwise never have been able to afford them. To people who might otherwise have never been able to see. That is powerful. That is a business who has used their platform for something meaningful. I’m not saying they’re not also making a ton of money – their brick and mortar stores indicate that they definitely are – but they’re also doing good.

Going blue?

Clearly Warby Parker is doing just fine. Their business continues to grow, their online store bolstered by the storefronts popping up all over the US and even moving into Canada. Their business model, and a steady social media presence and marketing plan, has more than paid off. So, as a person with impaired vision, will I be switching to Warby Parker?


My absurdly extra frames. Source: Faniel Eyewear

Not because they’ve done anything wrong, but Warby Parker employs a classically fashionable approach to their designs and to be perfectly honest it’s just not for me. I get my glasses the frustratingly old fashioned way because I found a company whose styles I love and the frustratingly old fashioned way is the only way they sell their frames. That said, everyone in my household (with the exception of my daughter, but age will likely do her in as it did me) wears glasses. Given everything I’ve learned about Warby Parker in this assignment, and given how much I dislike our current eyecare place, when it’s time for my son to get new glasses I may just go see what Warby Parker has to offer.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk


More old school work! This one was for structured essays, specifically hermit crab essays. For those of you whose lives do not revolve around writing, hermit crab essays are when an essay is structured to appear as something else. Like a hermit crab hiding in a shell, get it? Anyway, I decided to write up a snarky course synopsis. It made me giggle.

TEDxSeattle Presents

Sarcasm, Thick Thighs, and RBF: Making It Work For You

Saturday, December 2, 2017
6:00 p.m. to 12:45 a.m.
Church Key Pub (Edmonds, WA)
$25.00 (tuition includes two drink tickets) / class size limited to bar occupancy

taught by Drea Talley

Drea Talley has years of experience being the Mean Girl most of us are not willing to be. The second youngest of six children, she was raised in a household where a clever tongue and sharp wit were valued. From as early as 5-years-old she was trading quips with her brothers, and over time progressed from “You’re a butt,” to “Oh, sorry, let me make this as monosyllabic as possible: you smell and no one loves you.”

Ms. Talley has also spent the last 24 years as the (not always) proud owner and manager of a zaftig figure, and has worked out a program for not hating yourself just because you don’t meet societal beauty standards as well as telling people where they can stick their comments about your weight. Ms. Talley has also developed strategies for addressing passive aggressive attempts to belittle your appearance, and the proper response for anyone who dares utilize the phrase, “I’m just saying something because I care.” Because let’s be honest, if they cared about anything other than their own perceptions and biases, they would want to know what you wanted.

Through this workshop, Ms. Talley will walk you through pushing past your self-conscious impulse not to say anything or wear drab palettes to go unnoticed. She will discuss with you your best colors, and why none of that matters if they’re not colors you like. Particular time will be spent reinforcing the mantra that black and grey are fine if that’s how you roll. Embrace the glitter. Those earrings are absolutely not too flashy for a casual lunch, and who asked Karen anyway?

Ms. Talley will help you lay the groundwork for calling forth the wild-eyed she/he/they-demon that already lives inside you and knows perfectly well that no one actually likes kale and will definitely say that to Becky’s face at the PTA meeting. While eating a brownie.

Ms. Talley’s other TEDx presentations include “Women Over 30 Can Wear What They Want” and “Tea and the Rise of Civilization.”

Relating to Winter


So, I was digging through old school papers trying to find an essay I had written, and came across this exercise from 2016. It is an imitation exercise, and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the work we were imitating in the writing. If one of you clever darlings can place it, let me know. Anyway, as we are into December and certainly at the right time of year, I thought I would share.

Relating to Winter

This was supposed to be about moonlight filling the silence left in the wake of new snow. The kind that turns the hillside into a blanket of shimmering white glitter, unbroken save for a trail of fresh footprints. Like the girl in the stories that finds Frost in the woods and becomes his bride. This was supposed to be about cashmere scarves settled like silken armor about the neck and tucked into leather coats, about stinging kisses of wind to the cheeks and curls teased into tangles by every errant gust. About nights spent walking through the cold, sparkling city and admiring the twinkle of lights and stars. This was supposed to be about smiles and bright eyes. This was even supposed to be about driving slow through neighborhoods you would never be able to afford, hands wrapped around cups of chocolate warmth, breath fogging where little faces pressed against windows as you and your children murmured in awe over the colors and animatronic reindeer.

Or maybe it was supposed to be about watching holiday movies between contractions, or about the strangely cozy silence of 3 a.m. while wrapped in a blanket gazing at still fading embers, or sleeping through afternoons filled with gray and wind and rain on the living room couch with a child curled to your chest, and also behind your legs – a Tetris puzzle of limbs and blankets that comes together with an inborn artlessness. Or maybe it was just supposed to be about rain that only gives way to days of brittle sunlight and frozen streets with no sparkle. About tears freezing to cheeks in a hospital parking lot, stepping carefully around patches of ice before the heat of the lobby crashes over you like a wave, making your head swim. Watching holiday movies on a bigger TV now, waiting for doctors, and offering bland platitudes to a sobbing girl who keeps saying she just wants to go home.

Or maybe it was about something entirely different. The spicy smell of a candle. The weight of a fog that doesn’t lift for three days. The crinkle of a taffeta dress. The whistle of wind around the house. But disregard what was supposed to be. And know that this is not now nor will ever be about an insult and slammed door as you walk away without once turning around or looking back because he doesn’t deserve it. Not about the pointed fragments of a shattered china cup. Nor about malicious silence.