Soundview Executive Book Summaries

The Pink Ribbon: A Victim of “Cause Marketing”?

Let’s make a few things clear before we go any further with today’s post.

According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, breast cancer accounts for one out of every three cancer diagnoses for women in the United States. This means nearly 200,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. It is the most common type of cancer among women and is a cancer that is second only to lung cancer in the number of women whose lives it claims each year. October, as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, helps to continue to raise awareness of this terrible disease that can strike any woman during the course of her life.

With that in mind, I was somewhat startled when I read this piece from the Boston Globe. If you read this piece, I beg you to please read the entire Boston Globe article, as it is essential that you get the full story before making assessments. The article discusses a very sensitive issue that will hit home with virtually anyone. However, it also brings up a number of interesting points about the link between consumer goods, charitable causes and the buying public. I’m sure I’m not alone in volunteering that I’ve often bought products emblazoned with the pink ribbon under the notion that a portion of my money would help one of any number of breast cancer charities. These are organizations that are desperately in need of financial support and if our purchases further their life-saving efforts, all the better for it. But as you’ll learn when you read the Globe’s story, the route from our pockets to the charity’s coffers has a variety of twists and turns and, in a few unfortunate cases, it terminates before the money arrives where we intend.

I could go on for pages about the difficulties involved in engaging in what the Globe piece refers to as “Cause Marketing.” The Globe article discusses the psychological impact of this marketing practice. It certainly led me to question myself. Are we so inundated with “pink” (particularly during October) that we begin to glaze over, losing sight of the vital importance of the cause? Have I ever offended someone suffering with breast cancer by sporting a pink ribbon? Does buying “pink” branded products make me feel like I’ve “done my part” and does it make me less likely to independently contribute to a breast cancer foundation?

Putting the individual aside for a moment, there is a crucial message here for businesses, as well. Business leaders should understand the overwhelming need for transparency when aligning their organizations with a charitable cause, particularly one like breast cancer that affects millions of people. James Champy, author of Inspire: Why Customers Come Back, has an excellent perspective on the need for openness on the part of the seller. When a colleague of mine interviewed Champy recently on the subject of marketing with a higher purpose, Champy gave a forthright answer about the need for authenticity.

“You have to be so pure that you’ve got to be willing to put everything you do out there so customers and the public can see what you do,” Champy said. He also noted that if a company violates the public trust, it will be forced to deal with the consequences, something that in today’s online world can potentially destroy a company.

If I’ve learned anything from both Champy’s insight and the Globe article, it’s that I absolutely WILL continue to purchase products that contribute to the search for a breast cancer cure. In addition, I may also cut out the middleman and send an additional donation directly to a worthy foundation.


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