Pink Paler But Not Passe: Breast Cancer Takes Its Lumps

It’s October, and you may have noticed things aren't quite as pink as they used to be. Yes, city skylines are awash with pink lighting, beauty counters are selling limited-edition lipsticks, and there are still pink ribbons on products throughout the grocery store.

“Breast cancer awareness is still an issue that is very dear to people’s hearts,” says Alison DaSilva, EVP at Cone Communications in Boston, and an expert in cause-related campaigns, “but it is drifting away a little more every year. It’s not that people care less about the cause, but that the commercialization is fading, as consumers’ relationships with causes become more complex.” She fills Marketing Daily in on this October’s paler shade of pink:



Q. Brands like Ralph Lauren’s new #PinkPonyPromise campaign -- in partnership with Macy’s -- are upping the ante, and while consumers are used to seeing a $1 contribution for taking some kind of social media action, Lauren's $10 per post offer may get them attention. But there don't seem to be many new ideas. 

A. No, there isn't. Mostly, brands are sort of massaging programs they've been doing for many years. Hard Rock Café’s Pinktober, in its 15th anniversary, is really over-the-top — you can “Get in bed for the cause” in its pink-sheet rooms, for example, and drink pink margaritas. And Estee Lauder’s support of visual storytelling, with its amazing “We are stronger together” videos, is groundbreaking. It's much more meaningful than any pink ribbon. But mostly, there's not a lot new.

Q. Is this the lingering effect of the uproar at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure controversy two years ago, which shook many women's faith in breast cancer awareness?

A. Yes, that soured people. And as a result, I think we are seeing less pink. In tracking these campaigns, we notice very few of them seem to mention the Susan J. Komen Foundation as a partner. 

Q. Do you think we'll eventually see breast-cancer awareness month go away?

A. No. It's too close to too many people. But I think it will continue to fade. Right now, for brands aimed at women, I see it as sort of the cost of doing business. You have to do something, because women expect it. But we don't see an intense mass marketing of these programs any longer.

Q. Except maybe in the National Football League. And due to the Ray Rice/domestic violence uproar, those promotions strike plenty of women as offensive. Jezebel just called the NFL's 

“Crucial Catch” effort a craven PR campaign designed to sell tickets and build goodwill among female fans . And Breast Cancer Action, a leading advocacy group, has named the NFL its Public Enemy No. 1 for dishing out misleading health advice. 

A. Yes, the timing of the Ray Rice scandal was certainly an issue this year, coming so close to October. I don’t think Rice had the power to hurt breast-cancer awareness efforts. But I do think the notion of cause is really changing.

Q. How so?
. Consumers are always looking for those ‘Gotcha’ moments, and at one point, that would have been accusing a marketer of not giving enough money from the campaign to the promised cause. Now it’s different. Consumers don’t just expect companies to donate as promised, but to also act on many values. The question becomes does this company care about me? Are they environmentally responsible? The idea that you can just do a box-top campaign is too simplistic. Consumers now want to know if your food contains GMO, or if there are any added chemicals. So, just like with the NFL, there is more than one issue, and there’s a ripple effect, with broad implications for corporate responsibility. They are getting woven together. And that means there are many more ‘Gotcha’ moments. 

And in that model, I think the consumer wins. Companies or organizations have to consider everything they do and all their business practices, not just one thing. Consumers are much smarter and more sophisticated.

Q. Are consumers more willing to blame brands for cause missteps?

A. Yes, and we saw that in the Olympics, as well, with human rights violations. There was guilt by association, so brands are more vulnerable.

2 comments about "Pink Paler But Not Passe: Breast Cancer Takes Its Lumps".
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  1. Susan OHalloran from susanInc, October 7, 2014 at 9:36 a.m.

    Really, really offensive headline for this article. 'Breast cancer takes its lumps'? This is witty?

  2. Peter Thorwarth from Better Group, October 5, 2015 at 4:53 p.m.



    Re: Susan G Komen, almost all of the outdoor materials I have seen this year (street banners etc) do NOT have words like "breast cancer", "early detection" etc.  In what ways does it seem to you that those in charge of marketing this are missing the mark?  Are they, for example, basing all they do on the "assumption" that "everyone knows Susan G Komen means breast cancer awareness"?


    Peter Thorwarth

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