I’ve been on the fence about sharing this opinion for awhile because I realize that I’m opening myself up to a slew of name-calling and criticism, but I am sick and tired of all things relating to breast cancer awareness month. October’s onslaught of pink ribbon-emblazoned shirts, hats, water bottles, stand mixers, and even shoes on NFL players has left me all pinked out.
There, I said it. Go ahead, call me Booby Hater, Tata Traitor, insensitive jerk, whatever you want, but it doesn’t affect my fatigue on the subject. Do I think organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and others supporting breast cancer awareness are horrible and unworthy? Of course not. They provide research, support and comfort to millions of people in terribly difficult times, but why should one cause get so much attention?
It feels as if each year marketers just ask each other, “What are we doing for breast cancer awareness month?” The question seems almost as mundane as coworkers asking each other, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?” Have we lost sight of the fact that we don’t all have to support this one particular cause? Too often, the resulting efforts seem disingenuous. Instead of asking players to wear hot pink gloves and shoes, why doesn’t the NFL lend additional support to a cause more beneficial to its largely male audience, like prostate cancer awareness or its own Play 60 program? Instead of donating a portion of the proceeds from “specified” carpet sales for “Specify for the Cure,” why doesn’t The Mohawk Group do…I don’t know, just about anything else? These are examples that to me, show organizations that feel compelled to participate, without understanding how to do it well.
But rather than bash those who support this behemoth of a cause, which is largely led by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, let’s give props to the marketing geniuses behind it and try to learn from their success—which is really without parallel in the non-profit world. What does this cause do right?
1) Be identifiable. We all know pink is the color of breast cancer awareness. Most charitable organizations have an official color or symbol, but few have so clearly connected it with their cause.
2) Be flexible. By empowering individuals and groups to donate through fundraisers like 5K runs, 3-day walks, proceed contributions (think of all the products out there with little pink ribbons on them…like the shoes I’m wearing right now), and thousands of grassroots fundraisers, this cause makes it easy for anyone to contribute on their terms.
3) Be funny. Breast cancer-related organizations have created humorous support campaigns selling shirts, bumper stickers and more with phrases like “I Heart Boobs” and “Save the Tatas.” I think they are fantastic and probably got a lot of support from people who just thought it was funny, even if the cause wasn’t of personal significance. I’m sure some people think it’s crass or insensitive, but it was successful in getting more attention for the cause.
4) Be chatty. This year, Susan G. Komen started a social media movement that led women to post status updates like, “I like it on the table” or “I like it in a chair” on their social media pages. These were actually the answer to the question, “Where do you like to keep your purse?” Last year it had women posting their bra color. The idea? The innuendo gets people’s attention and when they ask what it’s all about, it opens up a conversation about the cause.
5) Be resourceful. Let’s face it, there are a lot of organizations that spare no expense to support this cause. Organizations that might even have stronger connections to other causes. American Airlines has aircraft co-branded with the familiar pink ribbon, KitchenAid has a whole line of pink products benefitting the cause, and Susan G. Komen has a list of nearly 200 other organizations pledging support for the cause. While I don’t always see a big connection between the organizations, their efforts and the cause, I recognize that Komen’s (and others’) marketing gurus have done a good job of inspiring and encouraging the groups to do more than just give money.
It’s easy to say that other non-profits should just try to emulate the success of organizations like Susan G. Komen, but that’s like saying, “Why can’t the mom-and-pop grocery store in my hometown beat Walmart’s prices?” It’s a matter of resources and connections, which we don’t all have. I think the people who can help most are the organizations lending support to these causes. Instead of creating disjointed efforts to support a bunch of causes and essentially diluting the effect, lend immense support to one or two organizations. Oh, and don’t get me started on the slew of D-list celebrities who all have their own charitable organizations that rarely do anything unique. Want to be charitable and generous? Lend your celebrity to an existing cause that could use a boost.
You may agree with me or you may not, but I know I’m not alone here. In fact, blogger Greg Flory commented on the dilution effect last week saying, “…the more I care about everything, the less I truly care about anything.” I’m not here to hate, I’d just like to see us focus our charitable efforts and share the love.