Consumer watch: Don’t be ‘Pinkwashed’

via Consumer watch: Don’t be ‘Pinkwashed’.

Go to the grocery store these days, and it looks as though a bottle of Pepto-Bismol has exploded. Pink is everywhere; it’s on yogurt lids, chicken buckets and paper towels. Even the National Football League(!!) is getting in on the action.

Behind this pink flood is a cause: since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good opportunity to focus on the need to raise awareness of this disease which costs thousands of lives each year. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, about 440 Mississippians die each year from breast cancer.

So, a few years ago, a few companies started a cause-related marketing campaign to bring attention to the cause and support some charities — especially at first the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. It took off, and in a big way. Komen and other organizations have raised millions using this strategy.

As with any good idea, a lot of people and companies want on the “pink” bandwagon, because getting on board with a good cause can mean big awareness…and big bucks. (Just think back a few weeks, when everybody was dumping ice-cold water on their heads; suddenly everyone was trying to get in on the action.) But all of this supposedly well-intentioned pinkage has also caused some concerns; how do consumers know whether a company is actually donating to the cause, and how much?

This phenomenon has taken on the title of “Pinkwashing” (implying that even bad companies can hide behind a veneer of goodwill). Groups have even sprung up to battle the hype. Breast Cancer Action, on its “Think Before Pink” website, claims that, although a lot of companies use pink in their marketing campaigns, some of those don’t donate a dime to breast cancer research. In addition, the group warns, it distracts from the true cause, building “shallow awareness,” spreading misinformation about the disease and even promoting products that might actually be causing cancer, not fighting it.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column warning consumers to be careful before jumping in on the “pink” bandwagon; it’s time for a refresher.

You might argue we are really just talking about a few cents here and there, but it adds up. Remember, it’s your money, so it’s worth doing your homework.

The Better Business Bureau has a lot of good information in this news release.Here are some additional tips:

First of all, take any claims with a grain of salt. Remember, anybody can slap a sticker on a product if it will make you more likely to buy it. So check out the claims before you buy. Any reputable company should be willing and able to tell you how much they have donated and when. If they won’t tell you, keep looking.

Don’t choose a charity based on a marketing promotion. If you’re basing your choice of a charity to support on the beauty of their packaging, many experts warn it’s probably not a wise way to do it. Without knowing the charity’s track record, what they do with the money, and how much they actually give to the cause, you could be throwing away your money. Instead, go to one of the charity watchdogs, such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has a list of 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, which examines the percentage of money a charity spends on programs, its governance, fund-raising, informational materials and effectiveness. AndCharity Navigator has a list of charities that claim to support breast cancer research, and how they actually stack up.

Keep it local. Just about every church, temple or synagogue knows people who are battling breast cancer. Many hospitals have support groups, and often, people who are fighting breast cancer have specific organizations they trust and support, so do your homework.

And how about this for an impact; instead of making a donation to a national organization, perhaps you could find one of these people and help them directly, or let them tell you where they would like you to help. One of the best compliments you can give someone is to support a cause they love. It’s just one man’s opinion, but that’s how to make a real difference

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