Think Before You Pink

You bet. Cashing in on a trend? Did someone say TREND? October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and one group urges people to
Think Before You Pink… In some cases, marketing has gone awry, a call for transparency, accountability and less hype.

breast cancer awareness

Below are the critical questions to ask to determine if a particular cause marketing campaign you come across is indeed for real. In other words, before you impulsively buy another pink ribbon wrapped product this month, you are urged to “think before you pink”—and ask these critical six questions:

How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer?

For example, Yoplait donates ten cents for every pink yogurt lid mailed back to the company—it would take four lids just to make up for the price of the stamp. If a company is not giving as much as you think it should, you might choose to give directly to an organization or charity instead.

What is the maximum amount that will be donated?

For instance, Cartier sold a “pink ribbon” watch for $3900, but capped its donation at $30,000 – after the company had sold 10 watches, consumers were no longer contributing to breast cancer causes.

How much money was spent marketing the product?

In a 2005 PR Week article, 3M touted that its 2004 breast cancer awareness effort, involving a 70-foot-tall ribbon made of Post-it Notes in Times Square, reached more than three million people and increased sales 80% over expectations. The article reports that 3M spent $500,000 on the marketing campaign (no actual numbers on profits were released), but only gave a little over half of that amount ($300,000) to the cause.

How are the funds being raised?

Every October, Lee Jeans proclaims a “Lee National Denim Day.” Participating companies allow their employees to wear jeans to work in exchange for a $5 contribution to Lee Jeans, which then sends the money to designated breast cancer organizations. According to its website, Lee donates the “net proceeds” that it has collected. What isn’t clear is how Lee defines net proceeds–e.g., are marketing and administrative costs deducted from funds raised?–or whether the company itself donates any money.

To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?

If research, what kind?
Are they the same studies we’ve been doing for decades that already get enormous financial support, or is it innovative research into the causes of breast cancer that is woefully underfunded?

If services, is it reaching the people who need it most? Campaigns that are not locally focused may siphon funds away from the community and give them to larger programs that are already well funded.

If advocacy and education, do the programs make steps towards ending the epidemic? Programs supporting “breast health awareness” ignore that we are already well aware that cancer is a problem and it’s time to move from awareness to action.

What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that may be contributing to the epidemic. Is the promotion a golf tournament on a golf course sprayed with pesticides? Is $1 being given each time you test-drive a polluting car, as in BMW’s Ultimate Drive Campaign? Are the products being sold cosmetics containing chemicals linked to breast cancer?

Contribute to a Cause, Not Cause-Marketers

Far too many marketing campaigns exist for it to be possible to trace the threads of profit for each, and it’s difficult to verify whether a promotion is legitimate while you’re standing in the store. Make the best choice you can with the information you have. If you have trouble getting answers or if you feel that a promotion is questionable, write to the company responsible, consider buying a different product, and tell your friends.

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