In a Sea of Pink, Only the Strong Stand Out

By Oct 18, 2010

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a fact that’s hard to miss. Walk into almost any store this month and you’ll be awash in pink products—pink clogs, pink vegetable peelers, pink cleaning products, even pink food—all part of the effort to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer detection, treatment and research.

Starting with the first appearance of pink ribbons at a New York City race for cancer survivors in 1991, pink has become the symbol for altruism and
activism in this important mission. The pink ribbon itself is a ubiquitous branding device, and many advertisers reflexively stick it onto packaging, advertising and Web pages as a way of declaring their noble intentions—sometimes without a lot of thought about how or why it connects to their brand. This ends up doing a disservice to both the advertiser and the cause.

Unlike a typical money-saving coupon or sweepstakes, “pink ribbon” promotions are concerned with matters of life and death. The most successful efforts show a combination of boldness and sensitivity, and give consumers a clear, valid and relevant reason to pay attention.

Take a look at how two brands constructed campaigns that stand out:

National Football League

Considering that 99% of breast cancer occurs in women, the macho world of professional football doesn’t seem the most natural connection. But guess what? The NFL has put together a program that is both focused and thoughtful –a well-integrated effort that creates a meaningful connection between the sport and the cause, and uses proven tactics in unexpected ways to engage the audience.

In collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the initiative, called “A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives,” is designed to encourage women 40 and older to get an annual mammogram. The theme is a relevant and, yes, catchy way to emphasize the need to spot cancer early, when it can be treated most effectively.

Even for an organization with deep pockets, this program is remarkably thorough.

On-field presence includes game balls with pink ribbon decals, pink equipment and uniform elements for players and officials, field stencils and even pink goal post padding. The incongruity of pink in such a rough-and-tumble environment helps it stand out all the more.

The program extends off the field into engaging digital integration. Game-worn garb and game-used footballs will be autographed and auctioned at www.nfl.com/auction, along with NFL experiences such as a VIP trip to Super Bowl XLV and a Pro Bowl Spa Retreat in Hawaii.

Consumers can also text the word “TEAM” to donate $10 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer treatment and research. And on Oct. 3 and 4, fans were able to go online to donate $1 for each point their favorite team scored.

Even national landmarks are part of the program. With the support of The Buffalo Bills, Niagara Falls was lit pink on Oct. 1. New York’s Empire State Building was illuminated with pink lights on Oct. 3, the evening of a Chicago Bears / New York Giants game.

Many NFL teams are extending the national program with local efforts, including the distribution of 650,000 pink ribbons and education cards by volunteers from the Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity for women. Teams will also designate home games in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and plan special in-stadium or pregame events with local organizations. Letters to every high school coach in the country encourage participation from hometown teams.


A longtime supporter of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Energizer has gone far beyond the eye-catching pink battery package to make a true human connection.

Energizer is the Presenting Sponsor and the Official Battery of the 2010 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, a series of 15 events across the nation, where participants walk 60 miles over three days this month. The brand’s “Keep Going” platform is perfectly linked to the idea of supporting walkers and to Energizer’s well-established brand equity.

To kick off this year’s sponsorship, Energizer has signed up Keep Going bloggers, who will participate in Komen events and blog about their experiences. By embracing new media, Energizer is creating deeper connections and spreading their influence well beyond three days.

Throughout the event, Energizer will provide rest areas for participants to recharge their equipment, bodies and spirits, while staying connected to family and friends along the way. Energizer will also provide laptops to let participants share their experiences and will rent out portable cell phone chargers, flashlights, lanterns and battery-operated games, further integrating the brand throughout the event. (Read what Energizer has done in the past with its Komen sponsorship).

Many, many brands are participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month—and all their hearts are probably in the right place. But the NFL and Energizer back up their altruism with programs that are well planned and powerfully executed. Good for them. Good for women.

Fran Greenberg is senior vice president, Source Marketing. Antidote 360, is an integrated marketing agency focused exclusively on health and wellness marketing solutions.