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October 12, 2010 | cwinters

Pink Ribbon Backlash: A Cause Marketer’s Dilemma

My mother is a breast cancer survivor, two times over. I love seeing NFL players wearing pink. I cheer for advocacy programs that encourage women to get mammograms. And like everyone, I hope that my daughter’s generation will not have to fear breast cancer like the prior generations of women. I’d love my two-year-old niece to never see a pink ribbon, because we don’t need them anymore.

Tara Parker Pope’s piece about Pink Ribbon fatigue struck a chord. She argues that while these campaigns have raised millions of dollars, and worked wonders for awareness – sparking copycat ribbons in every color for every cause – we are nowhere in the actual fight against breast cancer.

Are we at the beginning of a pink ribbon backlash? As marketers queue up for the privilege of going pink, will they soon be subjected to criticism of “pink-washing” their products, without making a difference in the actual cause? We already know that all pink is not created equal. We also know that the new Facebook campaign about where women “like it” (referring to where they leave their handbags) is causing some to ask the relevance question.

What does any of this have to do with the practice of public relations, and reputation?

A lot. For a cause program to be effective it needs to be relevant (to the business and to the target audiences), authentic and ownable. And it shouldn’t be something that requires issues management contingency planning.

Many brands find it tempting to jump on the pink bandwagon. Most would consider it safe…I would have before today. (Not ownable, but that is another blog for another day).

It is important to remember that cause marketing needs to be equal parts cause and marketing, meaning good for all involved. The pink issue also raises an important distinction between advocacy and action. Certainly, those two things work together. But awareness is an important first step. But is it an end game? Or is the real end game engaging people and motivating them to act (beyond just buying the product). How do we change behavior? Change outcomes?

A great cause program is mutually beneficial…to the cause, and to the brand. So it’s great to sell pink blenders, blankets and ball gowns. It is even better to do so, while advancing cures.

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