Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of Pink – How a cause co-opted a color and made a difference

This fall, while walking in my third Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk, I passed some of the time by really taking in our 2500 person pink parade. I began to wonder how breast cancer was able to successfully commandeer a color that every little girl, Crayola box wielding kid and femininity-flaunting woman could claim prior ownership to.

“Taking Pink” actually happened by accident in 1990 at The Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure in Washington D.C. Event organizers randomly handed out pink visors to the 8500 participants. Some participants attached pink ribbons to themselves for the event and The Komen Foundation took note. A year later in the Race for the Cure in New York, The Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to every participant, from that day forward the pink ribbon has become the symbol of support for breast cancer awareness.

Fast forward 18 years and I am not sure anyone could have predicted how the pink ribbon and its signature color would affect people’s philanthropic activities and purchasing decisions.

We have all seen the sea of pink products in the stores leading up to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. This year, you had the opportunity to purchase pink can openers, George Foreman Grills, Cartier watches, tic-tacs, chapstick, and Yoplait containers with pink lids, to name a few. Each of these companies has realized the power of cause-marketing and the benefits of aligning their company with the fight against breast cancer. They are also able to distinguish their products from their competitors and give their consumers an opportunity to support a cause by purchasing everyday items.

This cause-marketing has proven problematic for some companies. Take EsteĆ© Lauder and Yoplait as examples. Both companies have been contributing to the cause and promoting breast cancer awareness for years, but they do so by selling products that actually contribute to disease. EsteĆ© Lauder refuses to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which ensures their products contain no chemicals, such as parabens, that are known or strongly suspected of contributing to the disease. Yoplait’s annual campaign, Save Lids to Save Lives, donates ten cents for every pink lid that is mailed into the company to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, up to a maximum amount. However, Yoplait makes yogurt from cows treated with rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which recent studies have shown can be linked to an increased risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

These examples are in the minority, however, and don’t diminish the incredible impact that the pink movement has had on the average consumer and its ability to impact a purchasing decision that serves the greater good. When we see pink on a package or product that doesn’t normally sport pink, particularly during October, we know it means breast cancer support. And we can make the decision to purchase that product as a way of showing our support for that cause. Pink also compels masses of people who have been affected by this devastating disease to go to great lengths to raise money, awareness and commit to personal sacrifice as a means of personally having a hand in eliminating breast cancer as a life threatening disease.

For three days in fifteen cities across the US, thousands of women and men, wear pink as a badge of honor. Pink wings, boas, wigs, cowboy hats, leg warmers, beads that leave your skin pink, tattoos and pink bras outside of their shirts. Most importantly, the mood is decidedly pink, as well. Not dark and somber as you might expect when dealing with an often fatal disease. At these events, pink has become the color of survivorship, hope, resolve, celebration, honor, gratitude, fellowship, commitment and love.

Thanks to Susan G. Komen, the color pink has become a powerful communication tool, the symbol of a great fight, profit generator and educator. As October comes to a close, many might be happy to see the pink products replaced with holiday items, but for this marketing professional and breast cancer awareness advocate, I will always be amazed at the power of the pastel and how it has compelled me to change.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking Forward

The end of an experiment

At the beginning of May this year, Estipona Group set out on a six-month virtual agency experiment. As we approach the end of the “experiment,” I have looked at the data and reached a conclusion. My business can flourish in a virtual environment.

As for proof of our success, I point to our efficiency rate as an agency. Prior to going virtual, we worked one month with the new web-based software. During that month the software measured the team’s efficiency rate at 100%. The software derived this number based on estimates compared to actual hours spent on a job. From the beginning of May to the end of September, our average efficiency rate has been 148%.

Another indicator of success is our collective improved quality of life. While I have no scientific numbers to support this, I can personally say that I spend more time with my family and feel less anxiety than I did five months ago. While I may find myself working the same amount of hours, I am able to better break up my time to accommodate my family. As for the other members of EG, I just noticed that Paige is no longer screaming at me everyday so I can just take that as a sign of improvement.

Finally, you can’t argue with the bottom line. In the five months that we have been away from the traditional office environment the company has been able to save $50,000 in office related expenses. This has definitely assisted in improving our margin during a time when others are seeing a decrease in margins.

So what have I learned during this experiment?

I’ve learned that clients don’t care where you do business as long as the work is on strategy, on time and on budget.

I’ve learned that to make a virtual environment work you must work twice as hard on your communication skills.

I’ve learned that technology does not always work the way you planned, so you better have a back-up plan.

I’ve learned that you don’t need a fancy building to do insanely great work.

Finally, I’ve learned that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the best people in the world – people who I am proud to have on my team.

This is not the end, just the beginning.

While the experiment has ended, I believe that this is only the beginning of a new journey for Estipona Group. The one common theme in this economy that I have notice is that ALL THE INDUSTRY FORMULAS ARE BROKEN. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work today. With that in mind, we have two choices, either sit back and wait while others create the new formula or be proactive and create a new formula that works for us. Obviously, we have chosen the latter.

While it is still early, we have seen others in the industry taking a similar approach. We know of at least one established ad agency that had decide to go virtual since our experiment began and we see others in other industries moving in the same direction. Last week, the RGJ reported Deloitte & Touche Reno, an established accounting firm, has announced that their 18 office staff will be moving virtual. While this may not indicate an overwhelming trend, it is evidence that perhaps we are on to something with larger implications than our own little agency.

So from this day forward, our blog will no longer be titled “the six-month virtual ad agency experiment.” Moving forward, our new title will be “EG Hatching – Ideas and observations about modern-day marketing”.