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Breast Cancer Awareness Month Shines Spotlight On Cause Marketing

October 05, 2004: Popularity of pink ribbon programs focuses attention on rise of cause marketing activity but also fuels backlash from anti-commercialism activists

Chicago, Ill. Once again, October will be the month to “think pink.”

With hundreds of companies rolling out cause-related marketing programs in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the issue of businesses linking with charities for mutual gain will be the topic of much media coverage and water-cooler conversation.

Ties to breast cancer causes account for much of the overall increase in corporate spending on causes and cause-related marketing programs. Companies are expected to spend $991 million on cause marketing programs this year, up from $922 million last year and $630 million five years ago.

While cause marketing has for years been a key marketing program for many companies, interest in organizations that support breast cancer research has skyrocketed in recent years to become the cause du jour, said William Chipps, senior editor of IEG Sponsorship Report, the world’s leading authority on sponsorship.

“In addition to supporting a good cause, marketers are increasingly aligning with breast cancer organizations to reach women, a key target audience that makes the majority of household buying decisions,” Chipps said.

The popularity of cause marketing programs is reflected by the growing number of diverse categories aligning with breast cancer and other types of nonprofits. Recent deals include Mobile Edge, which is selling a line of laptop computer cases to benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and online automobile marketer Autobytel Inc., which recently became an official sponsor of the Komen Orange County Race for the Cure, as well as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Backlash Unwarranted

For the past few years, anti-corporate and other activist groups have taken advantage of the publicity opportunity created by Breast Cancer Awareness Month to advance their own agendas by questioning whether cause marketing exploits charities for the sake of corporate profits.

“Attacking companies and organizations that are committed to helping in the fight against breast cancer and other causes is just plain wrong,” said Lesa Ukman, IEG founder and president.

Noting that some groups have taken out ads asking “Will your purchase make a difference?” Ukman responded: “The answer is absolutely yes. While the individual donation of 10 cents or $1 dollar may sound small, the total commitment of each of these companies is significant. The key to cause marketing is that it harnesses the purchasing power of hundreds of millions of consumers and turns everyday transactions into opportunities to generate critically needed funds that support research, education, prevention programs and other worthwhile efforts.

“Would these activists prefer that companies not use the sale of their products to raise money for causes and instead put their resources behind offering trips to Cancun or free DVDs?”

One of the misconceptions of cause marketing is that it is a tactic undertaken by companies who want to whitewash corporate misdeeds. “That misnomer gives no credit to the nonprofit organizations involved in cause marketing who vet potential corporate partners to ensure that their commitment to the cause is real, significant and transparent to consumers,” Ukman said.

In an era when consumers say that corporate social responsibility is more important than ever (89 percent according to the 2002 Cone Corporate Citizen Study), it is irresponsible to accuse cause marketers of exploitation, Ukman said.

“Certainly, corporations hope that their ties to causes will have a positive effect on their bottom line in the short and long terms; that is simply being responsible to their employees and other stakeholders. When a for-profit company chooses to build its business through a method that also benefits society, they should be commended, not condemned.”

For More Information Contact:
William Chipps, IEG, LLC, Tel: 312/944-1727; Fax: 312/944-1897;
E-mail: or visit IEG's Web site: