What started with red ribbons in support of fighting AIDS has quickly spread: pink ribbons for breast cancer, a yellow bracelet for LiveStrong, a red dress for heart disease, a royal blue bracelet for prostate cancer. The color parade just gets stronger.
"Now when you look at symbols and bracelets, you look at the items that people can show and wear and illustrate their connection to a cause and a brand, says Nikki Korn, VP-cause marketing of Cone, Boston. "With LiveStrong (a program for cancer survivors sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation), even kids can identify. It circles back to a more strategic way to engage consumers and for people to be proud to wear something to support the cause."
Now consumers can choose from a wealth of color-coded products from jewelry and cosmetics to clothing and personal organizing tools marketed by companies aligning with non-profit organizations. Since Nike created and pledged to sell the yellow wristbands in honor of Lance Armstrong last year, it has sold 47.5 million of the bracelets. Nike set a goal to raise $5 million for the cancer foundation through sale of the bracelets, which the LAF says continue to sell at a rate of 100,000 a day. Nike also contributes $1 from every piece of the 10//2 apparel and footwear collection designed in honor of Mr. Armstrong. Last October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cherry Pepto-Bismol donated $54,000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation-based on proceeds from sales and consumer donations.
For the "Go Red" campaign, American Heart Association partners with companies to co-brand products that offer a portion of their proceeds to benefit its effort to educate women about heart disease. Calendar marker Day-Timer offers a red planner that includes heart healthy recipes, activity and eating plan pages. Hanes offered a limited edition T-shirt that gave 70% of the proceeds and sold it through Macy's, a national American Heart partner along with Pfizer. Swarovski's crystal version of the organization's red dress lapel pin spawned a line of jewelry called The Power of Love.
The cause-marketing efforts leverage the assets of both the American Heart Association and the partner, says Kathy Rogers, VP-cause marketing. "A company won't have that much success if it is just relying on the non-profit" to spread the word by itself.
The organization says it received $1.2 million in February 2004 from a core group of cause-marketing partners: St. John Knits' select red dress clothing; Le Mystere select lingerie; Safeway; Day-Timer; Angel Wreaths; Swarovski's "Little Red Dress" pin; Pantene's "Condition for a Cause" conditioner. Macy's donated a percentage from sales of its sponsored Luv Pups and Gund Bears.
Bill Chips, editor of IEG Sponsorship Report, says that companies know their own demographic and that of the non-profit with which they align. "This whole world is growing and evolving," he says. "But I think companies are becoming more willing to use cause-marketing programs as a marketing platform vs. five or 10 years ago when companies were concerned about appearing to be exploiting the cause for financial gain. Most of these relationships now are win-win. "
In Cone's 2004 corporate citizenship study, 72% of those queried responded that Americans continue to feel it is "very/somewhat acceptable" for companies to involve a cause or issue in their marketing. By contrast, in 1993, 66% of those queried answered the same. In 2004, 86% said "companies should tell us the ways in which they are supporting causes."
Mr. Chips identifies breast cancer as "by far the leading cause that corporations flock to. Most people know someone who has it or are related to someone who has it. It is near and dear to women and these [partner] companies want to target women. A lot of companies play follow-the-leader."
Ms. Korn says although cause marketing is a relatively new space, at some point in October there are hundreds of companies supporting breast cancer because it is breast cancer awareness month. She notes Avon as a standout year-round.
"Historically, in the beauty world, Avon [has been supporting breast cancer in] meaningful, small, ongoing ways that didn't have a huge price point," Ms. Korn says.
In fact, Avon has the Avon Foundation-a 50-year-old public charity. The foundation has earned $65 million for breast cancer from `93 through `04 by selling lipsticks, mugs and pins via the Avon catalogs, says Susan Heaney, director- communications for the Avon Foundation. Ms. Heaney, who coordinates the foundation's marketing program, says the average price of the cause-related product is $7.
"We very carefully market and price the products so everyone can play a part. You may or not be able to be a walker, but you can pay $3 or $4 and do your part," Ms. Heaney says.
Avon now sells a $3 periwinkle bracelet to raise funds for an educational program on domestic violence. The Avon Foundation receives $2 from each bracelet.
But Ms. Heaney says Avon is not investigating return on investment data. "At the end of the day, research like that is hard to quantify. We are lucky that from the CEO on down we are not looking for ROI or for quantifying investment. Our own research says there are so many variables, it would be impossible to say."
At the same time, Avon is a company committed to making sure it is the best entrepreneurial marketer for women, says Lauren DeSanto, analyst with Morningstar. "If you look at what the Avon Foundation tries to do, it is so well-linked to Avon," Ms. DeSanto says. "It is inextricably linked to the health and wellness of women. [Avon] knows its demographic really well, and breast cancer affects its demographic." She says Avon marketing pushes down to the local level via the sales representatives and "the reps have a close relationship with their customers and these are things that affect a lot of families."
26 fashion houses contributed to the Red Dress Collection 2005, from Alia Khan to Donna Karan to Vera Wang