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In the United States and around the globe, October has become synonymous with Breast Cancer Awareness. And with around 260,000 diagnosed with breast cancer in the US each year, the attention brought, and the dollars raised for research are sorely needed.
However, along with this awareness has also come a certain cynicism among consumers: With so many companies joining the cause, the public sensed opportunism among some companies, more anxious to be seen as supporting the cause than actually taking steps to do it.
No matter how well-intentioned a corporate partnership is, accusations of “pinkwashing” have become more common over the years, and many companies have found themselves in the middle of a PR storm after a poorly executed plan.
But avoiding these accusations and creating a respectful, effective cause campaign comes down to can be accomplished by remembering a few key principles:
It’s tempting to see other companies and competitors “jumping on the bandwagon” of breast cancer awareness and to think you have to jump on as well or risk losing market share – that the cause is actually a business opportunity to be leveraged for short-term gain.
Medical sociologist and “Pink Ribbon Blues” author Gayle Sulik has been critical over the years of this ” business-first” philosophy and the sensationalism around the breast cancer cause it has created. That hype led to her book exploring and exposing some of the cause marketing and creative inclusion missteps. In one interview, she stated, “The more I looked, the more I learned that something else was going on, and it had nothing to do with research. Breast cancer got ‘branded,’ and companies were using the pink ribbon as a logo, not the rallying call it was intended to be.”
Our suggestion? If Breast cancer is a cause your company wants to support, find an avenue to do it meaningfully with a respected organization and a well-organized event with a proven track record.
While it’s tempting to create a company event that will be “Fun,” like a walk or dress-up day, many experts point out that these events trivialize cancer and desensitize customers and employees to the challenging realities of the disease. By making it “fun” or “silly,” real research and prevention efforts can feel unimportant and unnecessary. In her book “Hiding in Plain Sight”, author Patricia Stanch showed how cause marketing watered down the cancer message and made the disease seem less rather than more important. While messages like “Save the Tatas” spelled out in body paint on college students or the “Breast Friends Fun Run” may be intended to draw a crowd and start a conversation, the result, according to Stanch, is desensitizing the seriousness of the disease and, hence, less action on the part of consumers rather than more.
Several large foundations in the US have been called to account in the last decade on accusations that their designated mission to “raise awareness” did little to nothing for raising research dollars, creating meaningful screening programs, or even having much effect on cancer rate among the public.
Thankfully, this public calling out made many organizations raise their standards and be more responsible with the dollars they brought in. An easy place to start vetting an organization to see if its work is above board, is its website. Any truly well-intentioned organization will report specific financials to show how much of their operating budget is going to the cause vs. being absorbed by administrative expenses. Further, all nonprofits in the US with contributions above $100,000 and assets over $250,000 are required to file IRS Form 990.
For further vetting, you may consider using websites like GuideStar or CharityWatch that produce reports on the actual results of an organization’s work and reviews from others who have previously worked with the organization.
A little due diligence at the beginning of your efforts can save many PR headaches later.
There’s an unfortunate trap in cause marketing and efforts. Because everyone wants to avoid accusations of impropriety during inclusive QA, the details of a deal with a partner organization can drag on past the publishing deadline for your corporate communications materials – and so the communications team creates press releases and messaging that is intentionally vague, not because they are seeking to exploit a cause, but because the legal team hasn’t signed off on the deal yet. In today’s “always on” digital media world, this can quickly build into a PR firestorm as consumers see a message like “A portion of the proceeds support breast cancer awareness” and assume it’s a thinly veiled disease exploitation ploy.
To avoid this, we suggest starting your planning as early as possible and, of course, keeping the offer for your partnership simple and concise: 10% of the proceeds from specific products purchased between specific dates are being donated to a specific organization.
Getting involved with a cause or event in a local market can be a great way to tell customers you care about the same issues they do. But getting the messaging right can be a challenge – a challenge the Chillistore team of localization pros is happy to help with. Drop us a line. We’d love to show you how!