Pink ribbons used to be just an accessory for little girls. Nowadays it’s the trademark symbol for breast cancer and the health advocates fighting the disease. The pink ribbon can also be seen adorning T-shirts, jewelry, as well as yogurt lids and sneakers, all for a cause. Cause marketing or cause-related marketing is defined as (Source: BusinessDictionary)
…joint funding and promotional strategy in which a firm’s sales are linked (and a percentage of the sales revenue is donated) to a charity or other public cause. However, unlike philanthropy, money spent in cause related marketing is considered an expense and is expected to show a return.
Is it right for businesses to get involved in cause marketing?
A 2004 survey by Cone revealed that 72% of Americans think it’s appropriate for companies to sponsor a cause for marketing purposes. A 2008 survey shows this opinion has increased to 85%. In practicing “corporate social responsibility”, the for-profits can make money and polish their image and the not -for-profits raise funds for cancer research and other projects. The consumers who buy pink products get the “feel good” effect. Everybody wins. However, some advocacy groups are concerned that the pink ribbon is being misused and abused. The Think Before You Pink initiative of the Breast Cancer Action “calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.” Guidelines for such disclosure may be set by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Your local BBB chapter might have some more info.
Where does your pink money go?
In a Newsweek report, Claudia Kalb looks at the different strategies of pink marketing. Some companies donate a percentage of the retail sales price, regardless of the amount. Others set minimum and maximum donations. Example of a capped donation campaign:
“…Give Hope Jeans, sold by White House Black Market for $88, donated “net proceeds” from the sale to the organization Living Beyond Breast Cancer. But they’ve capped their contributions at $200,000. This means that once they had reached the $200,000 limit they stopped contributing, no matter how many pairs of jeans were purchased.”
Think Before You Pink
It is recommend that consumers should check out carefully pink products and the campaigns involved before they buy.
Here are some tips:
Read product labels carefully.
Usually companies give relevant information on the product packaging (read the fine print!) as to the recipient charity organization and as well as the percentage or amount of donations. The Think Before You Pink site also gives a list of critical questions to ask “before you buy pink.”
Be choosy and go for bona fide charities.
Go for charity groups which are selective. Organizations such as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Cancer Society carefully choose their corporate partners. Komen for example does not just accept any corporate partner. It requires that a company donates at least 3 to 5 % of the retail price. It wouldn’t get involved in sales of alcohol, tobacco, or firearms. In addition, it expects partners to be sincerely committed to cause by engaging in breast cancer education as well as participate in fund raising events. According to Karen White, Komen’s director of corporate relations
Beware of pink washers.
The Think Before You Pink initiative is criticizing some cause marketing campaigns by companies whose products actually contribute to cancer. They cite, for example, cosmetic companies who purport to be pink but manufacture products which contain potentially carcinogenic ingredients (e.g. phthalates). Another pink washing example are the pink campaigns by car companies even though cars contribute to air pollution that leads to cancer.
Perhaps most criticized of all was the long-standing pink campaign of Yoplait, which used milk with the controversial hormone rBGH in their dairy products. Recently, manufacturer General Mills announced that Yoplait yoghurt is now completely rBGH-free, a move applauded by advocacy groups.
Consumers have the power to change things.
In being discriminate about who to support, con summers have the power to weed the unethical from the sincere. According to the 2004 Cone survey, 86% of respondents would willingly switch brands of comparable price and quality to a brand associated with a cause. However, 90% will also immediately switch brands in case a company is proven to have behaved inappropriately.
Donate directly to the charity of your choice.
Finally, even if you are confused or sceptical about all the pink marketing going on, don’t lose sight if the real cause – fighting breast cancer. Why not donate directly to the charity of your choice? At least you know exactly where and how much of you money goes…