October is breast cancer awareness month. Have you noticed? Of course you have. The world is awash in pink. Breast cancer is likely the most well-supported cause in the cause marketing domain. Pink ribbons adorn a plethora of products. In some cases, the product itself is turned pink. It’s given rise to the term “pinkwashing”, generally used to describe this practice. From appliances to toilet paper, marketers rush to convey support for the cause. But what is “support” and what is just blatant opportunism for profit? It’s a question more people should ask.
I’m not writing this to attack the cause. Before I go on, I should reveal my personal perspective on this subject. My mother is a breast cancer survivor. My sister was not as fortunate. She died at the age of 33. Clearly this disease runs in my family. I have sisters, nieces and a daughter to be concerned about for as long as it takes to find a cure for this awful disease.
Perhaps the personal connection is what draws my attention to the phenomenal support received by this cause. As a professional having worked extensively on cause marketing campaigns, it makes me skeptical. Support can mean many things. In the best cases, companies take valuable action. Funds are donated. Marketing might is used to spread the message. Relationships are developed between businesses and organizations. In worst cases support is a thinly veiled veneer for profit.
There’s a backlash against pinkwashing evident in social media. Search the hashtags #pinkwashing or #pinknausea on Twitter or one of several pinkwashing pages on Facebook. People are sharing and exposing the most ridiculous instances of pink for profit. But there’s much more. A Google search for “pinkwashing” delivers over 239,000 results.
There are so many worthy causes that deserve public awareness. Dedicated, genuine cause marketing can have a significant impact. In searching for an organization to support, one of my clients asked that the financial contribution they were capable of delivering would make a real difference to the cause. That’s a thoughtful approach and one that’s proven to be successful for both parties.