Every year, people spend millions of dollars on items with pink ribbons on them – all because consumers have been led to believe that their purchases will help end the breast cancer epidemic. This is not necessarily the case. Companies know that aligning themselves with “breast cancer awareness” will improve the public’s perception of them and increase their profits. Often, people think, “between a regular product and one that has a pink ribbon on it, I’ll choose the pink ribbon product so at least some of my purchase goes to breast cancer research”. Unfortunately, we often have no idea how much these companies are raising or how it’s being spent.
I saw an article in yesterday's paper re: "pinkwashing", where a company does a breast cancer promotion but sells and profits from the pink-themed product. Has breast cancer become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns? My suspicion is that the motive is not always entirely pure. For example, take Yoplait's offer to donate 10¢ to the Komen Foundation for every pink yogurt lid mailed to the company from September through December. Komen would get a bigger donation if consumers simply donated the 44¢ it costs to buy each stamp, not to mention the fact that donors would have to polish off 100 yogurts to come up with a $10 contribution--a formula that surely enriches Yoplait more than the breast-cancer cause.
Komen, which has raised $775 million for breast-cancer research, screening, education and treatment since it was established in 1982, makes a point of transparency about its pink campaigns, as do at least two other large charities: the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), started by Evelyn Lauder. Komen, for instance, insists that partners in pink-ribbon promotions reveal what percentage of sales will be allocated to the charity and how the money will be spent. They do not, however, require corporate partners to divulge the profits from the products or the amount spent promoting them.