CauseTalk Radio Ep28: Pink Ribbon Author Questions Value of Pinktober

Today on Cause Talk Radio, Dr. Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc., shares her take on Pinktober and the overflow of corporate support for breast cancer "awareness".

Samantha, Megan and I navigate the history of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (you might be surprised who is behind this effort), whether the "awareness" created is doing any good and what an ideal "Pinktober" might look like.

Also: how consumers should be vigilant in selecting pink protducts this month and what alternatives exist to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

You know where I stand on at least one Pinktober nonprofit: Take the Pledge: No Pink for Brinker in October.

Take the Pledge: No Pink for Brinker in October

October is such a busy month for breast cancer fundraising that it's called Pinktober because of all the pink ribbon products and events that benefit breast cancer causes.

No other breast cancer organization is more wired to Pinktober than Komen for the Cure, which raises tens of millions of dollars from cause marketing promotions with such well known brands as General Mills, Old Navy, New Balance and Walgreens.

But the fact that Komen founder Nancy Brinker sits atop this pyramid is a disgrace, and we need to ratchet up our calls for her to quit Komen for good.

Here's how you can help.

  1. Sign a petition that calls for her resignation. It already has 2,000 signatures, but we will need a lot more before the Komen board will take us seriously. Sign it now.
  2. Don't support Komen in any way this month, especially at the register or with your purchases. There are plenty of other good breast cancer causes to support during October. My organization of choice here in Boston: The Ellie Fund.
  3. Let's help each other find and support other breast cancer causes. The best way to motivate the Komen board is to hit them where it hurts: in their bank account. I've created aPinterest board called No Pink for Brinker. I'll be pinning alternatives to supporting Komen and I need your help. Add your alternatives to supporting Komen to your own Pinterest boards with the hashtag#NoPink4Brinker and I'll repin them to my main board.
  4. You can also leave your suggestions in the comments section of this post and on Twitter. Again, use the hashtag #NoPink4Brinker.

Nancy Brinker must go. And Pinktober is a perfect time to send the Komen board a powerful message. Take the pledge NOW.

Why White Castle's Cause Marketing is Better than KFC's

It was only a matter of time before it happened. In some ways I'm surprised it even took a week. It began with this tweet from fellow cause marketer Steve Drake:


White Castle is selling a hamburger and onion scented candle in their restaurants and online for ten bucks with proceeds (good luck finding out how much, but they say the promotion will raise $50,000) going to Autism Speaks. The candle has been a huge hit. It's sold out online and sales at restaurants have been brisk as well.

Shortly after Steve's tweet, Estrella Rosenberg said what a lot of us must have been thinking:

So should White Castle too be plucked clean and boiled as KFC was?

I don't think so. Despite some shortcomings, like a basic lack of information on the program and specific numbers on how much of each candle sale goes to Autism Speaks, this smelly candle is no Buckets for the Cure.

There are the important differences between the two programs.

The White Castle promotion doesn't try to cure an ill by contributing to it. It's just candle. A gross smelling one, in my opinion. But White Castle isn't trying to help those with autism by selling a product that just might contribute to their condition in the first place. While I did see a tweet or two about the connection between autism and gluten products that WC carries (or rather the gluten-free products it doesn't carry), the link isn't as offensive and distasteful as the connection between KFC and cancer.

The White Castle promotion is for loyalists. If you're not already a White Castle customer that loves the smell of hamburger and onion, how many of these candles will you buy? WC's latest cause marketing effort for Autism Speaks is for existing burger fanatics. Conversely, KFC's Buckets for the Cure with its major television and online advertising campaign is working hard to bring "pink" supporters into the chicken coop. White Castle is simply giving their most loyal customers a chance to support a good cause, and they're not asking them to eat another hamburger--and even go into one of their restaurants--to do it.

The scale is modest. As mentioned above, KFC's Buckets for the Cure is a huge promotion. White Castle's isn't. It appears that most of the candles are sold online and supplies are limited at stores. And with a goal of raising $50,000, WC's ambitions are modest compared to KFC, which hopes to raise over $8 million for Komen. Which donation will do the greatest good? It may appear KFC. But many, many millions more will be spent by cancer organizations educating consumers on preventing cancer through proper nutrition. And how many more millions in donations and partnerships will Komen lose because of the KFC fiasco? Who really did help their cause more?

The key is that White Castle maintains its distance. It doesn't connect its unhealthy food with a health cause as KFC does. Nor did WC choose to highlight its calorically dense food, as KFC did with the Double Down, the same week it promoted its involvement with a health cause.

Perhaps WC took a page from McDonald's play book. As kid I remember McDonald's raising money for charities like the Muscular Dystrophy Association. But later it wisely stepped back from directly supporting health causes and focused instead on its own charity, The Ronald McDonald House, which offers families a place to stay together when a child is receiving medical treatment.

Fast food restaurants can and should be involved with causes. It's all about fit and execution. Mike Swenson, a mentor of mine at the cause marketing consultancy Barkley in Kansas City probably summarized it best.

What do you think? Is White Castle's cause marketing really a symbol of  "purity" and "strength" as its founders intended when they chose their name? Or does this promotion belong in the bucket of fast food cause marketing programs that didn't work?

Komen's Cause Marketing Program Isn't "Finger-Lickin' Good"


I want to love Komen's new cause marketing partnership with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Buckets for the Cure. I really do.

  • The partnership is a cause marketer's dream with 5,000 stores participating. Cause marketing programs work best with lots of locations and lots of foot traffic. KFC has both.
  • 50 cents of every bucket ordered by restaurant operators (interesting how the donation isn't triggered by customers buying buckets but by operators ordering them) during the promotion period (now through May 30th) will go to Komen.
  • Komen is guaranteed a cool million. But KFC is hoping to raise over $8 million, the largest single donation to a breast cancer cause.
  • The program also has lots of extras too, like pink buckets you can't miss and lids with calls to action to get involved.

Bear with me while I collect myself...heading toward the light...too beautiful, too wonderful.... ZZZAAAPPPP!

That's Scotty Henderson prodding me back to reality with his eye-opening post on Buckets for the Cure.

Sigh. It was lovely while it lasted. But, alas, Buckets for the Cure is a horrible promotion full of cause dissonance that strips it of charity and authenticity.

The Komen/KFC debacle is a warning to all cause marketers that money should never cloud our values, our goals or our common sense. As Scotty points out, the conflict between the fight against breast cancer that Komen champions and the fat-infested food that KFC sells is simply irreconcilable.

It's like Deadliest Catch sponsoring Sea World or Smith & Wesson funding a rifle range at Columbine High School.

With 2400 calories and 160 grams of fat, a bucket of extra crispy KFC should include the wig you'll need for cancer treatments after eating this crap for years.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on KFC. After all, they do offer a grilled version of their chicken bucket that has fewer calories.

Chicken shit.

The same week as the Buckets for a Cure began, KFC rolled out the Double Down. Bacon and cheese wrapped in two fried chicken breasts. 540 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium.

Come on, KFC, are you really saying you care about the well being of women with this beast? Not true, retorts the Colonel. The target demo for the Double Down is men! So we should feel better knowing that the Double Down is a widow maker?

Perched on my soapbox, let me conclude.

Why did Komen do it? For the money, of course, which will never be enough to educate women and others on the perils of fat-farms like KFC. Komen knew they would ruffle a few feathers with this promotion, but soon all will be quiet in the hen house.

This is America where money can justify any crime, wash away any guilt, sanitize any reputation and rationalize any bad idea.

As a cause marketer who loves to win and close deals, I understand why Komen wanted to work with KFC. The lure of seven-figures. The promotion. It's intoxicating. You talk yourself into it. Would I have advocated a similar partnership within my organization? Maybe. But thankfully my colleagues and superiors have better judgement than I do. Komen, at least in this instance, has been blinded by its ambitions.

It's a story as old as humankind. It's when fool is most consumed by success that a fox steals in to the hen house.

Check-Out-Line Charity a Perfect Fit for New Balance, Komen

New Balance and Komen already have a great partnership. But Chris Mann (@chrisrmann), Associate Manager, Brand Marketing for New Balance, wanted to make it even better by involving New Balance's 134 stores.

But how? 

That's how our conversation began a year ago when Chris asked my advice on creating a pinup program for New Balance's stores. It was a lot of fun working with Chris, and he knew a lot already thanks to his fundraising work at The Jimmy Fund, his job before New Balance.

Chris obviously wanted to raise more money for Komen. But he also had some other good goals, which he wisely knew could be accomplished through pinups.

To further educate customers about New Balance's support for breast cancer awareness. The pinup was a starting point to talk to customers about New Balance's ongoing support for Komen. If they didn't know about the partnership and Komen's great work already, they would now.

To educate sales associates. Let's face it, sometimes directives from the corporate mothership don't always trickle down to frontline workers. A pinup program was a great way to reinforce New Balance's commitment to Komen on every level, and to get employees talking (and learning) about the partnership.

While New Balance has 134 stores, the foot traffic is modest compared to other types of retailers. It's not like selling pinups at a busy supermarket or restaurant chain.  With a daily average of just 35 transactions, New Balance had to make the most of every single customer.

I told Chris that I faced a similar challenge with Valvoline Instant Oil Change, which averages  50 customers per store each day. In VIOC's case, we sold the pinup for $3 and added coupons to incentivize customers. Chris did just that. He sold the pinup for $5 and offered shoppers $10 off their next purchase.

The October pinup program for Komen raised $29,000.

A few things Chris learned from his program.

The ask is all. If you politely ask shoppers to buy a pinup at the register, not all of them will say yes. But a lot will. But if you don't ask, no one will buy a pinup. Period. It's that simple.

Take a top-down approach. Communicating effectively with store managers is key and will drive the success of the program.

Incentives work. I've had mixed results with incentives, but Chris reminded me of an incentive that always works: recognition. He created a friendly competition among stores with bragging rights in company communications.

Chris plans to repeat the October pinup program for Komen. He also plans to do another pinup program for Girls on the Run in May.

What is Cause Marketing?

***Note: Please see my updated post! But the comments in this post are certainly worth checking out!*** It's the beginning of a new year so let's start fresh by defining what exactly cause marketing is.**

Keep in mind that this is my definition of cause marketing. (There are other definitions out there.)

Cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit.

A few things about my definition.

First, my definition is focused on cause marketing, not the marketing of causes. CM for me is not about advertising campaigns for causes.

Just this year I've come to appreciate why some cause marketers still use "cause-related marketing" to distinguish transactional cause marketing from cause advertising. While I admire the precision of the phrase, the expression is so clunky I can't bear to use it!

Second, the word partnership means something. The relationship is work-work and win-win. No one is getting a free ride, an unexpected check, or a cursory thank you in the mail.

Finally, the profit in cause marketing comes in two forms, first for the nonprofit and second for the for-profit.

For the nonprofit, the profit is money AND branding/visibility. St. Jude's raised tens of millions this fall through Thanks & Giving. Last year, Komen raised around $30 million. Cause marketing also offers causes valuable branding and visibility. There is no better example of this than Product RED, which has built a top philanthropic brand through its pacts with partners like Gap, Starbucks, Apple, and now, Nike.

For the for-profit, the profit is greater favorability with consumers and, potentially, increased sales. The premise is a simple one. Consumers buy from companies they like and respect. Cause marketing is a conduit to earning their favor.

There are three tactical approaches for cause marketing:

Point-of-Sale. For those of you who know me, you know I'm all over this. Just do a search on my under "pinups." These are programs that happen at the register with pinups, paper icons, scannables, paper plaques, call them what you will. The MDA Shamrocks are the classic example.

Percentage-of-sale. These are products or services from which a dollar amount or percentage of the purchase price goes to a good cause. One of my favorites is the New Balance/Komen partnership. New Balance donates 5% of the MSRP of all items from the Lace Up for the Cure Collection with a minimum guarantee of $500,000. In 2009, Komen received a million dollars!

Licensing. This approach is dominated by the big charities and companies. A longstanding licensing pact is Arthritis Foundation's Ease of Use Commendation for the Advil Caplets Easy Open Arthritis Cap.

Three clarifications on cause marketing.

#1 - Sponsorship is different from cause marketing. But not in definition. I agree that sponsorship can involve a partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit for mutual profit. The difference lies in execution (i.e. point-of-sale, percentage-of-sale, etc.).

#2 - Cause branding is different from cause marketing. Chris Mann from New Balance makes an excellent point on this in the comments below. Read it and my response. But let me say: Cause branding, like corporate social responsibility, is a strategy. Cause marketing is a tactic that falls under cause branding and CSR.

#3 - Cause marketing is not pure, altruistic philanthropy (gasp!). Like the name says, it's, eh, marketing (which I define as the things we do to get and keep customers). One of the goals of CM, especially as I define it, is money for a cause. But it's not the only goal and it's certainly not given without strings attached, for both partners.

It's not giving. It's SELFISH GIVING.

Now that we're clear on that, what questions do you have?

**Hat tip to @grantgriffith for encouraging me to write this post!