In the Doghouse

If It Makes You Wealthy: Sheryl Crow & Treasury Wine Estates Sell Out Women’s Health


August 6, 2013

After spending years promoting women’s health causes, breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow just signed a contract that could very well compromise the progress she has fought for.  Crow, one of the country’s top female performing artists, has entered into a partnership with Treasury Wine Estates, one of the world’s largest wine producers, to promote its brand Chateau St. Jean. As part of the deal, Crow is headlining Treasury Wine’s ill-conceived “Soak up Sonoma” promotional campaign, requiring her to take part in in-store promotions, social media initiatives, and free music downloads of her songs. Despite the focus on Sonoma, Treasury Wine is actually an Australian conglomerate whose other California brands include Beringer, Cellar No. 8, Etude, Greg Norman Estates, Meridian, St. Clement, Sbragia, and Stags' Leap Winery.
Perhaps the most hypocritical part of Treasury Wine’s campaign is its claim to health promotion.  As part of the deal, Treasury is offering access to recipes from Crow’s new cookbook, If It Makes You Healthy. The book's recipes are each paired with Chateau St. Jean wines, giving the public the impression that drinking alcohol is an essential part of healthful eating. Yet posing alcohol in this way is inaccurate at best: alcohol consumption is an important risk factor for breast cancer, even at levels of 3 drinks per week. There is no safe threshold for alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. Treasury Wine’s attempts to link wine consumption with healthy living is the latest specific example of the dangerous trend toward questionable health claims by alcohol companies.

Which brings us to yet another troubling facet of this promotional campaign: Treasury Wine's statement that it will donate up to $100,000 to breast cancer charities, an amount associated with sales of Chateau St. Jean during the month of October. The sum pales in comparison to the economic and social cost of alcohol-attributable breast cancer in the United States, given that $100,000 would not likely cover the total costs of direct care for one woman with breast cancer during the course of her treatment. In fact, direct care specifically for breast cancer in the U.S. cost $16.5 billion in 2010.

This promotion is a classic example of pinkwashing, a term coined by Breast Cancer Action to describe corporate campaigns in which the sponsoring company positions itself as a leader in the fight against breast cancer while engaging in practices that contribute to the rising rates of the disease.  Alcohol companies that engage in pinkwashing are using a good cause to cash in, while distracting from the evidence linking alcohol consumption to breast cancer risk.

Promoting alcohol as a healthy product is a harmful public relations tactic used to grow positive feelings toward the brands, the producers, and the industry as a whole – and increase sales. With this partnership, cancer advocate Crow is applying her considerable celebrity capital to increase sales of a product that contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women. Treasury Wine Estates is exploiting breast cancer as a public health problem, and posing as a health advocate, in order to sell more of that product.

The promotion is a mockery of breast cancer survivors and their loved ones, as well as a mockery of public health, breast cancer advocacy, and alcohol policy.