The pink marketing machine

Julian Lee, Julie Robotham and Sandra Siagian 

Today marks the end of a month-long campaign to persuade us to support breast cancer charities by buying pink. But where do our dollars go?

You can pink your drink, drive a cricket ball into the boundary with a pink bat, slather yourself in sun cream bearing the pink ribbon, and smuggle those budgies in pink underwear.

Shopping has never felt so good, or that’s how the 150 products or services that have hitched their wagon to the world’s most successful charity marketing program want you to feel.

But the success of Pink October, which culminates in Pink Ribbon day today, has led some to question who’s getting more out of the deal – the marketers tapping an emotive vein as a way to sell their products to women, or the charities that license their logos.

Where does your pink dollar really go?

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The marketing would have us believe it is quite a lot but the contribution to breast cancer charities can be as little as 2 per cent of sales, an analysis by has found, while some of the largest companies cap their commitment so that extra sales generate no additional money for research or patient support.

IGA supermarkets donate 5 per cent of their revenue from Pink Lady apples to the McGrath Foundation, while Gillette’s Venus Embrace razors contribute nearly 7 per cent of recommended retail price to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).

But a pink version of Pilot’s Frixion ball pen levies just 2 per cent of sales for NBCF.

Guess does not reveal how much it hands over for each sale of a $359 pink watch, saying only it is a ”portion” of revenue, while Pandora pledges 15 per cent of all sales of a special edition $329 pink and gold charm to the same charity.

A spokeswoman for NBCF, which also hopes to raise $2.5 million from its Pink Ribbon Breakfast activities, says there was no minimum contribution from branded products. ”We do not prescribe an amount. This is negotiated,” she said.

And a McGrath spokeswoman says: ”As we see everything as a friendship [McGrath calls participating companies Corporate Friends] and one that needs to be mutually beneficial, there is no set percentage but one that is agreed with both parties.” But she said 3 to 5 per cent of RRP was ”a guide”.

Corporate sales accounted for about 20 per cent of the foundation’s $9 million revenue last year, she said. Both charities say about 80 cents in every dollar goes to funding research or supporting nurses, with the remainder covering the charity’s costs.

Cancer Council Australia, which aims to raise $10 million from Pink Ribbon Day and the related Girls Night In, sells mainly its own branded pink products, from which 71 per cent goes into research and support.

But when companies sell pink products on its behalf, the council suggests a donation of 5 to 10 per cent of the RRP, says a spokeswoman.

Escalating competition between retail brands and separate charities for the pink dollar this year have resulted in hard-nosed pricing negotiations at odds with the gentle, supportive themes of the month-long campaign that will culminate in today’s Pink Ribbon Day.

And the battle of hearts and minds as well as wallets is toughest in the $800 million bottled water sector.

Australia’s best-selling water brand, Mount Franklin, sets a limit of $250,000 each year rather than give a percentage of the 5.2 million bottles (it sells a bottle every six seconds) it sells each year to the McGrath Foundation.

But a smaller company – Snowy Mountain, which stepped in as the NBCF’s water brand when Mount Franklin defected to McGrath last year – will give $100,000 plus 10 cents for every pack of six or twelve bottles sold, and has pledged to do so throughout the year, rather than just in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Mount Franklin’s switch to McGrath is understood to have occurred after the NBCF pushed for a better deal from the company. An NBCF spokeswoman said in a statement that it had enjoyed ”a good relationship over four years” with Coca Cola Amatil and that such relationships, ”tend to have a natural lifespan”.

John Millionis the managing director of Snowy Mountain says: ”A lot of the major corporates do significant media pushes around about then [October] and they push them hard for about a month and then they [the bottles] are off the shelf. We want to maintain a presence throughout the year.”

Snowy Mountain Millionis doesn’t like comparisons between his brand and Mount Franklin. “It is like comparing David to Goliath,” Millionis says. ”Given the relative size of the two companies and the size of the donations being made by them ($100,000 from Snowy, $250,000 from Coca Cola Amatil) what becomes clear very quickly is the sheer size of the commitment that Snowy Mountain Spring Water is making to the NBCF.”

The lack of transparency over the contributions has led to calls for companies to donate more in return for the uplift in sales and goodwill they receive for their association with the campaign.

Some such as Todd Sampson, a panellist on the popular ABC show The Gruen Planet, even questioned the efficacy of the Pink Ribbon campaign.

“It’s easy to forget that breast cancer is a disease not a marketing opportunity and in some cases it can be seen that everything is okay with breast cancer because so many pink things are taking care of it or that shopping is the solution as opposed to prevention so I think it has some downsides as a result of being ubiquitous,” he said on a recent episode.

His co-panellist Russel Howcroft meanwhile took an opposing view, saying that “if every single thing that you purchase during the month of October is pink, and as a result of that there’s a percentage of revenue that goes to (the National Breast Cancer Foundation), what’s wrong with that?”

The CEO of National Breast Cancer Foundation, Carole Renouf says “all contributions” to breast cancer research are “meaningful”.  “These companies have multiple points of contribution to NBCF and a focus only on the contribution from sales does not give an accurate picture. For example, in kind donations of product for our events enable us to raise even further funds.”

Either way, Paul Harrison senior lecturer in marketing at Deakin University, and an expert on cause-related marketing, says that too much information for shoppers can be off-putting and that all consumers want is some clear signals about which are the ‘good’ products to buy.

“It’s a trade off. We like to think of ourselves as being conscientious but any more than a minimal amount of information is too much for us to deal with. In fact part of the plan [by the marketers] is to not get us  thinking too much about it and in that regard the pink lid on water bottles is a very good device.”

And, Harrison says there is some something of an art form into what information the marketers put on packs.

“Anything that requires more effort on their part to work out could put them off. People only have a finite amount of resources [when making a decision]. If you make them pause to question then they might be turned off.”

That is why putting a larger figure on the pack, or a percentage of profits rather than the percentage of the sale price works better. “People like a big number,” says Harrison. “And 15 per cent of the sale price works better than say 15 cents. We accept the maths [of that figure] as being truthful whereas we can work the dollars and cents out ourselves and that might even put us off.”

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