Think Before You Fall For Cause-Related Marketing


Photo credit: festivefrog

Every October, we're assailed by a barrage of pink-ribbon products purporting to support breast-cancer awareness: Buy specially marked packages of frozen microwavable dinners and 50 cents goes to breast-cancer research, or pick up a pink blender and an unspecified portion of the proceeds will go toward advancing women's health. But are these companies fueling the cause or dragging it down?

"There are some products that have a pink ribbon on them, but might actually be contributing to the disease by producing toxins that have been linked to breast cancer," Katrina Kahl, a communications associate at the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action, tells TreeHugger.Cause-related marketing isn't a total wash—it generated $55 to $60 million for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 2006, according to Cindy Schneible, vice president of development at the non-profit.

But Kahl questions the impact of some of these companies' so-called largesse. She points out auto companies that encourage people to test drive their latest hot rods by doling cash to a breast-cancer group for every mile driven. "At the same time, car exhaust actually contains chemicals that are linked to the disease," she says. "So it's a little ironic to encourage people to test drive a car for breast cancer, knowing that what's coming at the other end of the tailpipe is actually contributing to people getting the disease."

Other "pinkwashing" culprits: Cosmetics companies that persist in including chemicals that are known reproductive toxins and carcinogens (look out for ingredients lists that include parabens, formaldehyde, and toluene), as well as dairy purveyors that source from cows treated with growth hormones. "We're asking those companies, if they really cared about women's health, to take a step further and look at their products to see if they might actually be [causing cancer]," Kahl says.

Before you open your hearts and wallets to pink-ribbon campaigns, Breast Cancer Action's Think Before You Pink campaign urges you to pose some critical questions:

1. How much money from your purchase actually goes to the cause?
2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
3. How much money was spent marketing the product?
4. How are the funds being raised?
5. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
6. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

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