The politics of pink and other cause marketing campaigns

Checking out with my groceries at my local Hannaford supermarket this weekend I considered the $2 and $5 coupon swipes at the register to benefit organizations that fund breast cancer awareness and research.


Grocery shoppers have plenty of other options to support breast cancer research and awareness through their product purchases. Yoplait yogurt’s Save Lids to Save Lives campaign has extended to its sister General Mills brands like Honey Nut Cheerios and Green Giant, amping up their donations to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Companies are increasingly incorporating cause marketing as a device to attract and engage consumers while making a societal contribution. Cause marketing typically happens this way – through pin-ups and pass throughs at the register, or transactionally, when a company makes a donation because of a product purchase. Increasingly companies are using the promise of a charitable donation to entice new likes on their Facebook pages.

When the books are closed on this latest October pink campaign, it will be interesting to see how the recent fall out from Komen’s plan to stop funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood will effect fundraising – will corporate support for building awareness and sponsorship for research migrate to other groups like the American Cancer Society? Have companies spread their donations among a greater diversity of non profits?

While on the surface the risk to companies from cause marketing appears slim, the Komen experience demonstrates otherwise. Politics are affecting sponsorship decisions – sometimes in favor of a certain policy but most often companies want their community giving to be non-political. The Boy Scouts of America continues to receive significant corporate support from AT&T, Lowe’s and Bass Pro Shops, among others, despite the youth group’s ban on gay members. AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson is on the record against the policy but remains on the board saying he can be more effecting making change from the inside.

As companies consider their corporate giving programs next year they ought to start with a review of what they want to accomplish – what is the issue the organization and its customers and other stakeholders want to affect? Sometimes the answer will indeed be political, the way Seventh Generation and other sustainable businesses joined forces to lobby for legislating new laws for listing ingredients in personal care products. For corporate advocates, evolving giving from a marketing tactic to a strategic purpose will eventually move the needle, from check book charity to true change agent.


About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.