Buying for a good cause
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 1:50 p.m.
Think pink. Or red. Or yellow. In fact, think of pretty much any color, and there's probably a marketing campaign attached to it these days.
Increasingly, corporations and retailers are partnering with nonprofit groups to raise awareness and cash for charity of all stripes.
Stores were awash in a sea of pink in October to draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Consumers could purchase pink golf balls, M&Ms, toys, vacuum cleaners, knives, even ''pink ribbon'' bagels and, by extension, contribute financially to breast cancer research.
The practice of linking specific products to charitable donations, known as cause marketing, has become an increasingly popular way for corporations to burnish their image while contributing to charity.
(Product) Red - a global marketing campaign to raise funds to fight AIDS in Africa - launched in the United States in mid October. From iPods to Armani, red products were heralded by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and U2 frontman Bono.
And of course, the Lance Armstrong Foundation earns money for cancer research through the sale of yellow Livestrong bracelets.
For the pink ribbon campaign, dozens of corporate sponsors signed on to produce signature products to benefit breast cancer research. Many of them are linked to the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
The Komen Foundation, named for founder Nancy Brinker's sister who died of breast cancer at age 36, has dozens of corporate partners and sponsors.
''What our goal is really is to touch people where they live, work and play,'' said Komen cause-marketing manager Caroline Wall. ''Cause-marketing programs are critical to our ability to expand our programs.''
Not everyone is so enamored of some cause marketing efforts. Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, takes issue with much of the pink-themed marketing, urging consumers through ad campaigns and its Web site to ''Think before you pink.''
''It encourages people to find out where their money is going,'' said Pauli Ojea, community organizer for Breast Cancer Action. ''What we want to know is what that pink ribbon really means to women living with or recovering from breast cancer.''
The group alleges some companies, including automotive companies BMW and Ford, use the pink ribbon campaigns to ''pinkwash'' their image while selling vehicles that produce air pollution that could include carcinogens.
Breast Cancer Action is particularly harsh on cosmetics companies it claims make products that contain carcinogenic ingredients while supporting pink ribbon campaigns. Taking those chemicals out of their products would be a more important step, Ojea said.
''I think that would be a much bigger public service than a pink ribbon campaign,'' she said.
The Komen Foundation has a rigorous screening process for partnership applications, Wall said. That process considers a potential corporate partner's products carefully before approval, she said.
Companies such as BMW, which this year marked its 10th year as a Komen partner, both contribute dollars and help get the foundation's educational materials about breast cancer to the public, Wall said.
''We would not, as a nonprofit, be able to get our message out without the sponsorship of companies such as BMW,'' she said.
Like Breast Cancer Awareness, the Komen Foundation also wants pink ribbon product buyers to ask questions, Wall said. The Komen Web site includes questions for potential donors to ask before buying a pink ribbon-themed product or service.
Cause marketing helps consumers as well as businesses and charities, Wall said.
''The consumer feels like they're actually participating in something,'' she said. ''Number 2, it gives them the message and the resources.''
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