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Archive for Monday, October 23, 2006

Breast cancer awareness draws corporate interest

Companies capitalize on concern

October 23, 2006

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Every October, products from tweezers to toothpaste get packaged in pink.

It's all sold with the promise of promoting breast cancer awareness or benefiting breast cancer charities. Breast cancer has become the darling disease of corporate philanthropy - especially during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But are the pink promotions more about boosting corporate profits via female-friendly marketing?

Although heart disease and lung cancer kill more women each year, experts say breast cancer is considered safer for companies to latch onto.

"The breast is associated with motherhood and nurturance and also sex. Those are things that hold a lot of appeal and are highly valued in our culture," says Samantha King, author of "Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy."

Savvy marketing has boosted the breast cancer brand since the women's movement of the 1970s. Just as women were being encouraged to talk about their health issues, companies were looking for ways to profit from cause marketing.

Critics say that if companies are concerned with a cause, they could just donate money. But some breast cancer organizations say they welcome the parade of pink products.

"We love it," says Lisa Wolter, executive director of an affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. "The more, the better."

Wolter says the Komen Foundation is careful about setting up financial relationships with corporate sponsors.

"We make sure our logo is used only when there will be a meaningful donation from the product or service, and that the customer can clearly understand it from reading something on the product," Wolter says.

Products include Playboy Beauty's $42 Gloss & Go pink lip gloss keychain with the Playmate Playboy bunny printed on top. Playboy doesn't disclose the sales percentage it promises to donate to the Komen Foundation. Wolter cited KitchenAid, Chevron, Serta and Quilted Northern Bath Tissue as companies having year-round commitments to the foundation. They each have donated more than a million dollars. In return, the companies get the business of millions of supporters.

"People who care about breast cancer - survivors, co-survivors - are all very brand-loyal when they know that a company is in the cause with them," Wolter says.

In some cases, companies spend more on the marketing than they actually donate to the cause.

The maker of Post-It notes, 3M, spent $500,000 in 2004 on a public-relations campaign to stick a seven-story pink ribbon of Post-Its in Times Square. The company then donated $300,000 to a breast cancer charity, according to an article in PR Week.

Many companies promote their donations but never disclose the amount or the recipient.

Viacom will pass along "profits" from its $6 SpongeBob PinkPants stuffed toy to "various breast cancer charities," according to a company news release.

This month, Campbell's Soup will sell pink cans of its tomato and chicken noodle soups. According to a statement, the company will "make a donation that will benefit breast cancer awareness initiatives across the country."

"Corporations don't have to say what they end up giving, and it's really hard to find that information," says King, who researched the topic as an associate professor of women's studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

And the pink promotions clearly pay off. Campbell's sold 7 million pink soup cans to Kroger stores for October - double the typical order, according to Advertising Age. The same article cites a 2004 consumer survey showing that 90 percent of shoppers think positively of companies that contribute to a cause and are willing to switch brands for that reason.

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