Taking a closer look at pink marketing

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER, Featured

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Pink ribbonPink 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?

breast_cancer_bands_1In 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 race for the cureBefore 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

“We are selective. [The partners]  are not just buying a ribbon, they’re authentically committing to our cause.”

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…

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4 Responses to “Taking a closer look at pink marketing”
  1. BCAction says:

    What the Cluck? Tell KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure to stop pinkwashing!
    With their “Buckets for the Cure” campaign, KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure are telling us to buy buckets of unhealthy food to cure a disease that kills women. When a company purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribboned product, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease, we call that pinkwashing. Make no mistake–every pink bucket purchase will do more to benefit KFC’s bottom line than it will to cure breast cancer. Join us in telling KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure to rethink this pinkwashing partnership.

    Breast Cancer Action

  2. Raquel,

    Thank you so much for mentioning the work of Breast Cancer Action and our annual Think Before You Pink campaign. It is so important to get the word out about pink ribbon cause marketing and we appreciate you for helping us do so. Please stay up to date on all of Breast Cancer Action’s campaigns and continue to help us challenge assumptions and inspire change.

    Breast Cancer Action

  3. McLaughlin says:

    I’ve got my pink ribbon showing on my Twitter profile. Not sure if it will serve any purpose, but at least I’ve gone pink, right?

  4. Very comprehensive piece – and something a lot of brand marketers should read. Consumers are getting a lot more “hip” to these pink ribbon efforts and brands could lose a lot of existing trust if they go about their annual October fundraising wrong.

    When consumers realize there’s a cap or that only cents on the dollar are going to the cause (and who knows when it will really reach the cause) – they’ll likely choose the direct route and write a bigger check to Susan G. Komen or Breast Cancer Research Fund (etc) the next time they are solicited. I also wrote a bit about making pink matter for breast cancer in a recent post: learnedonwomen.com/2009/09/making-pink-october-really-matter-for-breast-cancer/

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