Seeing Red About Lousy Pink Campaigns

I’m as far as you can get from an “I hate pink” critic of the breast cancer cause-marketing phenomenon, but I am frustrated by the number of bad to mediocre campaigns that emerge each October. These “me too” efforts damage the credibility of companies doing an outstanding job of mixing cause with commerce. 

This month you can find many terrific, transparent, well-conceived, well-funded and well-executed campaigns in the marketplace like Yoplait’s Save Lids to Save Lives and Avon’s multifaceted Breast Cancer Crusade. Unfortunately, for every five-star initiative, there are dozens of shallow programs that fail to follow fundamental best practices such as transparency.

Here are two examples of programs that, in my opinion, are unclear and miserly in their contributions: 

  • Dutch Brothers Coffee is marketing pink (and aptly named) “Be Aware” travel mugs and donating proceeds to “breast cancer screenings for women who are uninsured or underinsured.” Mugs cost $12 and include the consumer’s beverage of choice. The company neglects to mention what portion of the $12 mug sales will be directed to breast cancer screenings, what contribution maximums or minimums are involved and also omits which, if any, charity is receiving donations (an email inquiry by one of my associates about these details went unanswered).
  • An ad in a recent Sunday coupon circular for marinated pork urges consumers to “join the fight against breast cancer during dinner by teaming up with Hatfield Quality Meats and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.” Small type indicates the company will donate a minimum of $15,000 to Komen. Nowhere could I find an explanation of what would move the company’s contribution above $15,000. Is there a linkage with sales? Couldn’t find any mention of the program on either the Hatfield website or its Facebook page.



It’s time for all companies and nonprofits partnering on breast cancer campaigns to comply with these three widely accepted cause marketing best practices:

1)  WHERE does the money go? “Breast cancer awareness, treatment, cure, etc.” is not descriptive enough. Work with a reputable 501c3 and make it clear to consumers who’s involved.

2) HOW MUCH money from products/services purchased goes to the designated charity? Statements such as “ten percent of net proceeds” are overly vague. Even “one hundred percent of net proceeds” could very well equal zero. Marketers, don’t be tricky here. What portion of the purchase price are you donating?

3) WHAT MINIMUM or MAXIMUM will be donated? Perhaps there’s a campaign minimum (“no matter what happens, we’ll donate $5,000”) or a cap to this charitable effort (“up to a maximum of $10,000”). 

Marketers, do yourselves -- and everyone who believes in the power of cause marketing a favor -- lay your cards on the table to earn consumers’ trust.

4 comments about "Seeing Red About Lousy Pink Campaigns ".
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  1. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs, October 8, 2012 at 11:43 a.m.

    Good questions that many consumers want answered. It can be tricky for a brand though (having done several brand cause marketing campaigns) to be able to calculate a positive ROI for the company without consumers outraged that x% of profits are not going to the cause.

    You give some good ideas about companies can be transparent while not looking like they are riding on the coat tails of a cause.

  2. Dawn Roberts from we-care, October 8, 2012 at 12:01 p.m.

    Excellent breakdown of the must-do's in a Cause Marketing co-promotion. Over the years I have been involved with many promotions. At the last minute much can happen, a new partner is brought to the table that takes the promo to a whole new level. Sometimes a well intentioned person wants to tie in a designated cause. The two are not the same. It's through my own mistakes years ago that I learned how important the details of a promotion being covered, and included in all advertising are. Transparency = Trust, absolutely.

  3. maryellen collins from cumulus broadcasting, October 8, 2012 at 2:30 p.m.

    This is now a BIG JOKE...TOO MANY COMPANIES ARE JUMPING ON THE BANDWAGEN WITHOUT SUPPORTING THE "CAUSE". Personally, I won't give a DIME to any of these guys...after the political snafu of the Susan J. Komen organization and Planned Parenthood...they're OFF my list of contributable charities..

  4. Howard Brodwin from Sports and Social Change, October 8, 2012 at 6:19 p.m.

    @maryellen collins...
    Just to be clear, the month of October is about "Breast Cancer Awareness" and not about Susan G. Komen. While that org has done a lot of work to grab mindshare around the issue, they're not the only ones involved with branded cause campaigns this month.

    In my industry, if you watch NFL football this month you'll see their "Crucial Catch" campaign driven through pink on-field product (which you can purchase through their store) that's tied to their support of the American Cancer Society - not Komen. And while NFL gets high marks for the visibility component via broadcast, their online/social media support is a little weak in my book (but that's another article ;-)

    Bottom line is, this speaks directly to David's point in the post about brands needing to be transparent about WHERE the money goes. That way, consumers can decide how they want to support the greater cause and not simply the org behind it.

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