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Pinkwashing: Dos and Do Nots

October is upon us, and aside from the stereotypical colors of fall such as the oranges, reds, and yellows, as Marketers we must not forget the importance of pink during this month.  Pink, the color which represents breast cancer awareness, is often used as the driver behind strategies taking effect in October, the month dedicated to promoting breast cancer awareness.  Marketers have utilized “pinkwashing” for years now in an effort to remain connected to a philanthropic cause and give back to the community.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer (a disease that claims a life every 60 seconds), partners with thousands of brands this time of year who then slather their products in pink and donate a portion of the proceeds back to the foundation.  It’s a fabulous fundraising tactic; however, marketers must be careful in their implementation of the strategy.  Depending on the business a particular brand is in, pinkwashing can spark a serious controversy.

Take global fracking company Baker Hughes for example.  Despite evidence which points to the correlation between oil & gas exploration and cancer, Baker Hughes has still become engrossed in the conversation around promoting breast cancer awareness. According to the website of energy services firm Baker Hughes, “the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide” as a “reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures” for breast cancer.  In addition, they are also donating $100,000 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation in what they claim is a year-long partnership.  

Some may agree that any opportunity to fundraise is smart.  Money from an oil company is just as green as money from an organic snack food company; however, where the controversy arises is not necessarily at the partnership between xyz harmful company and Susan G. Komen, but rather just the harmful company in general.  When companies that contribute to a growing problem offer funds in support of helping to squash the problem, it puts the spotlight on them and gives the public a chance to lash out with negative feedback.  

If may be a wiser decision for brands to focus their efforts on bettering themselves for the overall betterment of society and then donate to causes that can not be directly correlated to the problems they may be contributing to.  They may just do themselves a favor in the long run.