By Geoff Livingston
Pink washing and pink champagne highlighted the well attended Great Breast Cancer Debate panel at the 2012 Cause Marketing Forum featured Margo Lucero of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Brian Maynard from Whirlpool, and Teresa Segarra of ANN Inc., with Alison DaSilva from Cone Communications moderating.
The debate: necessity of the public conversation about breast cancer.
While the selection of panelists might sound quirky, they all had a reason to be there. Whirpool's KitchenAid product line's customers are usually middle-aged women. After a year and a half spent creating a program with Komen for the Cure, which launched in 2001, Whirlpool generated a lot of publicity – and evolved over the decade.
Whirlpool was successful very quickly in initiating pink as a fashion statement in the kitchen. However, only 20 to 30 percent of the sales were for the actual cause. That boom waned according to Maynard and now more sales are authentically for the cause. Today, a total of seven to eight percent of KitchenAid products sold are pink.
ANN Inc. had a similar story to tell. The clothier works with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and uses Ann Taylor Cares cards. After expanding the program to Mother's Day, they sold 90 percent of their cards during the first three days of the campaign, according to Segarra.
However, while Susan G. Komen for the Cure works with tons of brands for its fundraising, spokespeople made no mention about the controversies surrounding the organization.
In fact, Komen's Lucero felt that the conversation needed to become a public topic. Thirty years ago, she said, it could not be talked about publicly, but today, 230,000 people -- women and men -- are diagnosed with cancer every year. While the organization has seen a decrease in corporate sponsorships over the past year, Lucero blamed the economy rather than awareness or personal choice for the downturn – resulting in an audible gasp among the audience – while stressing that Komen had unified the "breast cancer sector" by offering brands a one goal statement, easily understood and uniformly marketable.
As the panel wore on, though, pink washing came up with all the panelists agreeing that while the ribbon campaigns during October are great for raising awareness, efforts needed to be furthered.
"It's not just about the bow," they said, "Companies need to do more."
The campaign provides companies a real opportunity to reach consumers and educate their employee bases. But for that we must move beyond the pink champagne specials and ribbons distribution.
Kroger's Sharing Courage Campaign
Interestingly, one of the campaigns recognized for a HALO Award at the Cause Marketing Forum was The Kroger Company's Giving Hope a Hand campaign for breast cancer preventions. Because so much publicity around pink fails, Kroger's decided to focus on the victims of breast cancer instead of the disease itself by developing a program around employees who are breast cancer survivors.
The Kroger Sharing Courage - Giving Hope a Hand campaign focused on highlighting the personal stories of many such women across the country. It was local, intentionally supporting communities where Kroger's had stores. Customers were thrilled and felt closer to the brand (no measurement data offered however), and the campaign generated a ton of publicity.
As a marketing strategist, I admire the authenticity of Kroger's campaign, especially the strong focus on core business marketing with local support. Efforts like these truly go well beyond the usual strategy of a simple pink ribbon.
About Geoff Livingston
Geoff Livingston is an author and marketing strategist, and serves as VP, Strategic Partnerships for Razoo. A former journalist, Livingston continues to write, and most recently co-authored Marketing in the Round, that offers ways to get more value from your marketing and communications channels when integrated together.