Most shoppers unswayed by the power of ‘Pink’ awareness campaigns

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 233 views 

October typically unleashes a flood of pink products, ribbons and signage across corporate America and retailers. Professional sports leagues, cities and businesses are awash in pink, with some raising money and others just promoting breast cancer awareness.

Consumers have most likely been desensitized to the pink, but that doesn’t mean companies necessarily have anything to lose from promoting awareness. New research from Fayetteville-based Field Agent found 52% of women surveyed this month said they have not made a purchase decision of one brand over another because one of them supported breast cancer awareness. They surveyed 250 moms on that question in mid-October, at the height of “pink” mania.

Rick West, CEO of Field Agent, said the study objective was to engage shoppers at the very moment of decision making. They did so using mobile technology to engage shoppers in various locations in 44 states during the “pink” promotional month.

“It’s a very different way to think about research, it’s real time data with expansive coverage collected at a low cost. At Field Agent we are able to get answers to questions  that brands want to know about a myriad of topics, even consumers’ attitudes toward breast cancer awareness campaigns and their effectiveness,” West said.

Field Agent’s research on the power behind “pink” brands began in late August with the first set of respondents who were asked if pink branding made the difference in their product purchase decision. In that first survey of 250 — 175 females and 75 males — they found 58% were not influenced by pink branding.

60% of men in the first survey said they were not influenced by the “pink” designation. The second survey conducted in October included 250 moms, with the average age of and a diverse income criteria. Again, 52% of them were not driven to buy a product because of its “pink” designation. Each of these mobile surveys showed that while pink brands do enjoy influence over consumers, the majority of shoppers remain unswayed when making brand selections, Field Agent noted in the research.

Field Agent also looked at less direct benefits to brands and retailers who openly support breast cancer awareness. The researchers want to know if pink ribbons and signage creates goodwill among shoppers toward the brands or perhaps taking a more cynical view that the pink marketing has been overdone.

There are critics who claim that going “pink” has become more of a branding opportunity than a public service or benevolent venture. Angela Eikenberry, researcher in philanthropy at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has written that cause marketing, which she labels consumption philanthropy can have dire consequences.

“From pink ribbons to Product Red, cause marketing adroitly serves two masters, earning profits for corporations while raising funds for charities. Yet the short-term benefits of cause marketing— also known as consumption philanthropy—belie its long-term costs. These hidden costs include individualizing solutions to collective problems; replacing virtuous action with mindless buying; and hiding how markets create many social problems in the first place,” Eikenberry noted in her report.

Field Agent’s October research found 54% of the respondents have a favorable opinion of products or stores that support breast cancer awareness. Of the 54% favorable, 22% strongly agreed and 32% agreed. Also, researchers noted that 38% of those surveyed were neutral on the issue. When combining neutral and agreeing numbers of some 92% surveyed, research suggests companies don’t have much to lose by promoting the breast cancer awareness cause. In fact, research suggests that companies may improve reputations among a minority of female shoppers. The number of respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed totaled 5% and 3%, respectively.

Field Agent researchers said they expected pink promotions to have a stronger hold on consumers — up to 70% — given the amount of attention businesses and brands give to breast cancer awareness. Their timely research does not support that assumption.

Attitudes strongly influence how consumers behave — what they buy, when they buy, how they buy. Companies have invested heavily in pink promotions but critics urge consumers to do their own research before they buy pink merely based on the label.

There are no regulations around using pink ribbons in advertising, packaging or labels. Companies from Avon to Lands End and even the NFL utilize pink branding.
Some of these companies and organizations have made generous contributions to breast cancer awareness and research over the years. For example, since 1992, Avon has raised $815 million for various breast cancer programs, Field Agent noted.

Other’s like the NFL give a percent of royalties on sales of “pink gear” products. Mainstream media has called attention to the NFL’s promotion of “pink gear.” For example, a tee-shirt deemed “pink” might retail for $30 but just $3.75 or 12.5% of that price will go toward the league’s partnership with the American Cancer Society. The NFL says it gives 100% of its royalties, which is 12.5% of the retail sales amount.

The nonprofit sector raises around $3 billion for breast cancer each year, and there are more than 1,400 breast cancer-related charities to partner with.

"It has extended into everything we see," says Larissa Jensen, director and industry analyst of the NPD Group. "On TV, the entire NFL franchise wears pink accessories. Have you seen the pink Dyson vacuum? Bottom line, it's been successful for brands in the past, and where there is success, many more brands and products will follow."

One vocal group, Breast Cancer Action, notes that more consumers are being turned off by partnerships between the Susan G. Komen Foundation and corporations that raise millions annually for the nonprofit. This year Komen made headlines partnering with Baker Hughes on 1,000 pink drill bits used in fracking in exchange for $100,000 donation to the nonprofit. The action group claims that fracking is believed to release carcinogenic chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

"Once you start to peel back the layers, it's quite insidious," noted Angela Wall, spokeswoman for Breast Cancer Action.

Field Agent said a couple of the respondents in its latest survey took the time to say why they didn’t support “pink” causes on face value. These respondents cited issues with actions of the nonprofits benefiting from the sales.

Advocates said promoting awareness by displaying pink or working toward local fundraising campaigns that promote screenings and other early detection programs are one way skeptical consumers can support the cause.

Springdale-based Everett Chevrolet wrapped its dealership in pink this year in support of the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” campaign of the American Cancer Society. The company’s connection to breast cancer is personal. Everett cofounder Susie Everett is a breast cancer survivor. This year the company set a goal of raising $6,000 among its three Northwest Arkansas Dealerships for the local “Making Strides” campaign.

Earlier this week the dealership cooked hot dogs and burgers for $5 donations — all of which went toward $6,000 goal. Marketing spokeswoman Jessica Hudson said they also sell custom designed $15 tee-shirts at the dealership and all proceeds go toward the corporate goal.

“We have been active in this cause for several years. It’s a personal mission for us and the community is largely supportive,” Hudson said.