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 Esteé 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. Esteé 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.

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