Sunday, October 18, 2009

Did the Stormtrooper read the label?

I wrote a story last week for Daily Finance, a finance and business site owned by AOL, about pink-ribbon marketing. It's something that anyone who steps into a store during October is aware of: the masses of pink-packaged items (from toilet paper to chocolates) that appear this month in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Most consumers take it for granted that by buying one of these pink-wrapped products, part of the purchase will go to support a breast-cancer charity or foundation.

In researching the story, I interviewed the head of Breast Cancer Action, an advocacy group in San Francisco, who stated that if a product says "supports breast cancer" without details of how it actually does so, chances are the money does not go to any charity. (You can read her comment in my story.) Since I wanted to check out the validity of her statement, I stopped at a local Kmart and looked at their pink products, writing down exactly what each product said -- or didn't say -- about how the purchase would benefit a breast-cancer charity.

And what I learned is that what BCA says is absolutely true. One product in particular, made by a consumer-product giant (again, read the details in the story), depicted the pink ribbon and some words about how early detection saves lives, but there was no information on how the purchase would help a charity. And after contacting the company, I learned that the purchase would only donate 2 cents to a breast-cancer foundation if the buyer used a coupon issued by the manufacturer at the end of September. Otherwise, the pink packaging was simply there to remind consumers about the cause.

Hopefully the word is getting out to more readers: my story was picked up by Jezebel and the Atlantic magazine's Website later in the week.

Bottom line: donate directly to charities, or, at the very least, read the pink labels very carefully. Otherwise, your money might be going to a corporate bottom line without helping any worthy cause.