Beginning to Doubt "Pink"-- Consumer Perceptions of Breast Cancer Cause Marketing

Midway through National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our 2012 Cone Communications Breast Cancer Trend Trackerreveals consumers are becoming skeptical about the intents and impacts of breast cancer cause marketing campaigns.


According to our research, nearly all Americans (92%) believe breast cancer is an important cause for corporations to support; however, just 26 percent feel companies have had significant positive impact on the issue, and only half of consumers (52%) believe their individual breast cancer-related purchases make a difference. Consumers are also questioning companies' and brands' motivations for "going pink." The Trend Tracker shows three-quarters (77%) of Americans believe some companies support the cause solely for corporate gain.

To demonstrate authentic support of the breast cancer cause, consumers demand companies and brands talk more about the impacts of their efforts (88%) and support the issue year-round, not just in October (90%). Companies must innovate not only how they seek consumer participation in fundraising efforts, but also how they communicate with stakeholders. Some brands are already leading the way, embodying the top five trends we've seen this month:

  • Diversifying nonprofit partners: No longer do one or two large nonprofits rule the breast cancer space in October. As the breast cancer cause undergoes increased scrutiny, brands are turning to distinct partners for a unique approach and impact. Nonprofits shining through include: Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Young Survival Coalition, among other niche organizations.
  • Putting a face on the issue: Whether featuring real-world cancer survivors as campaign models, as in Ford's Warriors in Pink "Models of Courage," or naming products after breast cancer victims, such as Caribou Coffee's "Amy's Blend," brands are connecting with consumers through true-life stories, quite literally putting the faces of breast cancer, not the brand, front and center.
  • Shifting from the grocery aisle to the beauty aisle: "Pink" once seemed centralized to food and beverage products, but today the fashion and beauty industry is taking center-stage. From cosmetics, to jewelry, to apparel, the bulk of this year's campaigns are coming from the beauty world.
  • Going beyond donations: Some brands, like Avon and Novartis, are providing more than just dollars toward the cause – they are creating opportunities for people affected by breast cancer to connect to critical emotional support through online communities and social networking.
  • Curating collections: Companies such as Sephora and Macy's are offering carefully selected "suites" of products in support of breast cancer, giving consumers a wider selection of items to purchase and maximizing opportunities to capture support.

With still no breast cancer cure on the horizon, company and consumer support of this issue is far from finished. But marketers take heed – not only are consumers increasingly weary, but just yesterday, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued "Five Best Practices for Transparent Cause Marketing," in reaction to growing concerns about the legitimacy of some "pink" cause campaigns. Breast cancer is indisputably a critical issue consumers want to support, but they demand results. True progress will take more than more than just pink ribbons.

Stay tuned on Tuesday, October 23 for a special post on the WDYSF blog. We hope you'll join us as we share some exciting news from Cone Communications!

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