Marketers think pink for breast cancer awareness

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To mark October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marketers want to remind consumers to stay in the pink -- with a pink ribbon in every shopping bag, pink lighting on New York's Empire State Building and a one-mile stretch of New York's Fifth Avenue painted pink.

Women's magazines and fashion and beauty companies have long championed the cause of breast cancer awareness. But other marketers such as General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Mills' Yoplait, also have picked up the banner to raise their profile among women.

Although many marketers maintain their involvement in a high-profile cause is not aimed solely at boosting sales, it is an effective way to create a tight connection with the customer, said Debby Goldberg, U.S. director of marketing at consultancy Interbrand Corp.

"You're triangulating to your ultimate consumer. . . . You're saying, `I care about the things that are important to you and I'm doing something about it,' " Ms. Goldberg said.

Cause-related marketing -- especially around the issue of breast cancer awareness -- also cuts across generational barriers, Ms. Goldberg said. Very often, the events will include mothers, daughters and grandmothers together, she said. "This cause in particular has lasting implications. It's about building your brand across generations," she said.

REVLON

Revlon, one of the most active marketers on this issue, since 1993 has sponsored the Revlon Run/Walk for Women benefiting breast and ovarian cancer causes. Lee Apparel Co. since 1996 has sponsored National Lee Denim Day, which offers employees of participating companies a chance to wear jeans to work in exchange for a donation to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Each year, the promotion is backed by public relations efforts and print ads featuring a celebrity spokesman. The effort is handled in-house.

Avon Products, which bills itself as "The company for women," sponsors a non-profit group, the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, to fund research and educational programs and medical care for disadvantaged patients. Avon's nonprofit raises money via a nine-city series of three-day charity walks, and an annual "Pink ribbon" product promotion, where all the proceeds from the specially produced items are earmarked for the crusade's coffers. The group also sponsored a public service announcement airing in local TV stations during October encouraging women to take care of their health, and sponsored the event that painted a pink median strip along a milelong stretch of Fith Avenue. Avon's push is coordinated in-house with the help of Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, New York.

"The obvious [reason] is that you do this to give back to the consumers who have supported your company for years," said Kathleen Walas, group VP-public relations and corporate affairs. "If people think of us as the company they got information from . . . I think we've done our job."

ESTEE LAUDER COS.

Estee Lauder Cos. also resists tagging its annual product-promotion fund-raiser as marketing, since the effort is backed only by in-store signs and handouts. But Estee Lauder does sponsor events and public relations efforts -- such as lighting the Empire State Building in pink -- to encourage coverage of the issue.

The company has broadened its annual Pink Ribbon fund-raiser from the core Estee Lauder brand to include eight other makeup lines in its stable: Aramis, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Donna Karan, Origins, Prescriptives, Stila and Tommy Hilfiger. Each brand will donate proceeds from the sales of certain products to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1993 by Senior Corporate VP Evelyn Lauder. "It's our way of giving back. We don't use the words `cause-related marketing,' " said Teruca Rullan, VP-global communications at Estee Lauder Cos. "We would never use it as a marketing tool."

Even so, a strong association with a cause does build sales, which is why a growing number of marketers are taking up the breast cancer awareness banner.

GENERAL MOTORS

GM is now in its fifth year as a breast cancer research fund-raiser with Concept: Cure, a designer-created concept car program created by Harris Marketing Group, Ann Arbor, Mich., which also handles advertising. In past years, four or five vehicles from different GM divisions were involved as the carmaker tried to build awareness, raise money and humanize GM's brands.

This year, the Chevrolet Cavalier is the only GM car tied to the program, in a pink version by designer Betsey Johnson. The focused push with one car is aimed at creating Cavalier awareness and build relationships with women ages 20 to 39.

GM research found 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase a vehicle from a marketer linked to a relevant cause, a spokeswoman said. The research also revealed breast cancer topped the list of health concerns of the general public.

FORD MOTOR CO.

Ford started its drive in 1994 to educate women about the disease and the importance of mammograms, said Lisa Owens, marketing communications manager overseeing the program. The division also runs ads from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, to promote its sponsorship of the Race for the Cure.

Separately, Conde Nast Publications' staff created a Ford-sponsored insert that broke in October magazines urging women to take action via early testing procedures. The insert also promoted an essay contest offering breast cancer survivors a spa weekend. "When you're a big company, you have a lot of assets to do the right thing," Ms. Owens said.

Ford's research found the effort has given the brand a more positive image with women and increased their interest in considering buying a Ford. But the program isn't tied to selling vehicles, and no Fords appear in ads, Ms. Ownes said.

While the charitable efforts have succeeded in raising funds -- the Avon Crusade claims to have raised more than $80 million since 1993 and Estee Lauder claims its fund has raised $13.5 million since its start -- companies' efforts have multiplied like, well, cancer cells. When does a good cause turn into charity overkill?

"It's not overkill," said Avon's Ms. Walas. The company is not interested in promoting itself through its breast-cancer efforts, she said. "When we find a cure is when everybody will be happy."

But once so many companies are linked to the same cause, it can become difficult to differentiate between them, and latecomers will have a hard time standing out among the crowd, Interbrand's Ms. Goldberg said.

Companies such as Avon and Revlon, which have sponsored large breast cancer awareness efforts and involved key players -- including Revlon's use of spokesmodels such as Cindy Crawford in the Run/Walk events -- make their efforts much more more effective.

`EMPOWERING WOMEN'

"Avon brings something to the table, too. They've always been about women, they've always been about empowering women," Ms. Goldberg said. "What adds the value is your history, your leadership and who's calling the shots."

An effective cause-related marketing program also needs to be a concerted effort that reaches audiences through various means, such as local fund-raising walks, ads and other media, Ms. Goldberg said. Co-sponsoring one event or donating prizes doesn't make a very effective impression, she said.

"Are they just putting their logo on a T-shirt and then walking away?" Ms. Goldberg said. "Unless you've been into it for a while and you've shown some leadership, you're not going to get much of a benefit from it."

Contributing: Jean Halliday.

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