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The business ties in Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A man rides a breast cancer-awareness-inspired motorcycle.

By Flickr user B Garrett

Pink is everywhere and it’s not even October yet.

Forget orange-and-black, autumn leaves, Halloween and stock market crashes.  October – also known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month – has gained a decidedly rosy hue.

And aside from raising our collective consciousness about this important public health matter, the month-long-plus visibility of pink promotions makes for some interesting fodder for business writers.

Take this article from The Packer, an industry trade journal, about a produce company that is touting breast cancer awareness on its new fresh onion packaging.  Like many other firms that co-opt the pink ribbon, the company plans to donate some proceeds from the sale of its specially-marked packages to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

This week’s circular for Meijer Inc., a regional grocery/mass merchandise chain in the Midwest, includes pages of pink-beribboned items, from Pilsbury Grands canned biscuits to Wanchai Ferry frozen dinners to Energizer batteries.  And that’s just one example of the many retail and consumer-goods companies involved in what’s now known as “cause marketing.”  Looking at past years’ press releases, companies as diverse as Yoplait and Dress Barn have participated.

It makes sense that firms marketing to women, who comprise the majority of breast cancer patients, might hope to generate goodwill and sales from a tie-in.  But one does wonder what’s in it for construction companies like Emcor,  which last year spearheaded a “Protect Yourself” campaign and outfitted its workers in pink hard hats.   Or for the small businesses that pay $15 a year to be listed in the MyMommyBiz.com pink ribbon directory.

Breast cancer awareness month is a good time to take a look at similar efforts underway by companies large and small in your area.   As this Bloomberg / Business Week article from 2006 points out, participation is a way for companies to raise brand awareness and burnish their images as socially responsible corporate citizens.

No doubt there is a great deal of altruism behind most of the tie-ins.  But skeptics abound, too.  “Cause marketing that makes you go huh?” is just one of the pithy and pertinent entries in the Cause Marketing blog operated by Alden Keene & Associates, a marketing firm.

Take a searching look at the companies in your area and how they ally themselves with cancer awareness and other causes.  Is the money spent on sponsorships, events, special packaging, promotional items and related expenses derived from the corporate contributions budget, the marketing and advertising budget, the HR/employee team building budget or some other pool?  Learning more might help you discern the root of a company’s motivation.  Do executives have personal ties to the causes companies choose to support?  Do high-profile charitable events double as tax writeoffs?

Most important, are consumers really doing any good by purchasing pink-badged products?  This 2009 article from The Atlantic raises some important questions you’ll want to ask local participants,  as does this Newsweek essay.

Results. If you don’t want to tackle the marketing angle, talk instead with financial managers and researchers at your region’s universities, biomed companies and medical centers about the practical effects of these national campaigns.  Does public awareness translate into progress toward preventing, curing or ameliorating cancer?  What’s the economy’s effect lately on funding, grants, corporate underwriting and other big-money support of anti-cancer work?

Personal finance. This would be a good time to do a package on the financial plight of breast cancer patients.  Locate two or three women (or men) who are being treated, or have completed treatment, and paint a picture of the financial ramifications of paying for medical care, the effect on employment and health insurance availability.

Cover the costs of “incidentals” like rides to chemotherapy or other treatment; wigs and prosthetics, new wardrobes for changing bodies, time lost at work by family members and other caregivers, special food and nutrition items, and the myriad other costs of a life-threatening disease.

In Beats, Featured, Health care, Media | Advertising, Retail | Lifestyle, Story ideas.

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