“Pinkwashing” Doesn’t Work with Consumers. Will Movember?

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What makes a cause marketing campaign, such as breast cancer awareness efforts, successful? It’s up to the consumer’s interpretation, and our analysis of several brands’ breast cancer awareness (BCA) campaigns in October identifies two key traits that set successful cause marketing campaigns apart: clarity and authenticity.

First, brands need to make the impact of their involvement clear:

Brands such as Loft and Purell that partnered with official breast cancer organizations and clearly stated how their involvement helped breast cancer research experienced the greatest lift in brand conversation. For example, Loft donated $1 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for everyone that retweeted their BCA post. The campaign resulted in a 65 percent lift in brand conversations.

Brands that promoted pink BCA products without specifying their involvement with the cause created much less conversation among consumers. This is likely because consumers were unclear on the connection.

Top 5 Brands Associated with Breast Cancer Awareness: October 2014

  Loft Purell Lands’ End NFL Nike
Total Brand Conversation (posts) 17,447 31,005 28,142 7,816,734 2,612,787
Brand w/BCA Conversation (posts) 6,904 6,838 5,708 32,123 6,127
Brand w/BCA Conversation (%) 40% 22% 20% 0.4% 0.2%

Source: Networked Insights online conversations sampled from Twitter posts (Tweets), blogs, forums and Web publisher comments, 9.28.14 – 10.30.14

Second, brands should ensure that their involvement feels authentic to their brand image:

Brands shouldn’t assume that cause marketing will automatically lead to improved brand health or positive reactions among consumers. If the message doesn’t match current perceptions of the brand, cause marketing can even lead to backlash.

The NFL, for example, is the top brand associated with BCA, but it produced more negative sentiment among consumers than other brands’ BCA campaigns. Consumers reacted negatively amid accusations of the NFL not donating proceeds to breast cancer research organizations, calling the pink-themed jerseys and products a scam. Furthermore, in light of the recent domestic abuse charges against NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the organization’s support of women was scrutinized as well.

Consumer Sentiment:  Breast Cancer Awareness Marketing Campaigns Among Select Brands

NFL Loft Purell Nike Lands’ End
Positive Sentiment 17% 1% 1% 10% 22%
Neutral Sentiment 54% 99% 99% 86% 78%
Negative Sentiment 29% 0% 0% 4% 0%
Net Sentiment -12% 1% 1% 6% +22%

Source: Networked Insights online conversations sampled from Twitter posts (Tweets), blogs, forums and Web publisher comments

On the other hand, Lands’ End’s campaign had much more positive reactions. The brand shared breast cancer facts, discussion around their #PinkThread product line and encouraged followers to share their own stories on social media. This felt more authentic to consumers and led to positive 22 percent net sentiment.

We’re half-way through Movember, and I’m seeing similar results in consumer conversations. Brands that clearly state their involvement with the Movember organization and do so in an authentic way are getting the most brand lift and positive sentiment. Keep up the great work, PlayStation UK, Barbasol and TOMS!