Given that October is breast cancer awareness month, there have been a number of articles centered on the issue of cancer awareness. But this one from the Boston Globe Magazine caught me a bit off-guard. It’s a good read as usual, but its central premise is that the “marketing of pink” has gone to such an extreme that it might be on the verge of having a negative impact on the cause of cancer.
I am not exactly sure where I fall on this camp. Research is critical, if something drives dollars toward a cure then generally I am all for it. But where is the line you shouldn’t cross as a marketing organization? And most importantly who is the brand steward for the cause of cancer research?
Here in Boston we are lucky to have not one but two world class cancer institutions, and they surely do their part. The Dana Farber – Jimmy Fund partnership is off the charts, and the annual Pan Mass Challenge is one of the most successful fund-raisers ever. But do they own the Cancer Brand?
How about the many pharmaceutical, healthcare, medical device, and research organizations literally on the front lines of cancer research? Their research efforts and drug discoveries and sophisticated machinery have dramatically transformed the state of cancer treatment in the past decades. It’s at a point now where an oncologist said to me today that they are actively thinking about survivorship rather than staying focused on treating the disease and hoping for the best. Do they own the Cancer Brand?
What about the major foundations such as Lance Armstrong Foundation? Lance has done so much with the simple LIveStrong message in such a short amount of time it’s truly amazing. I proudly wear my LiveStrong bracelet, the same one I put on my wrist in early May 2006. And when people ask if I cycle I merely nod and say no, I wear it for the cause. Does Lance own the Cancer Brand?
Or what about the countless smaller organizations that do little things to fill in the gaps in our system? Organizations like PlanetCancer, the SAMFund, and Next Step that devote their mission to helping patients and survivors with the acute issues they face? Do they own the Cancer Brand?
I don’t think so. I think we all do.
Everyone who has been touched by cancer, either as a patient, a survivor, a spouse, a doctor, a nurse, a healthcare worker, a fundraiser, a caregiver, a family member, or a friend: YOU own the Cancer Brand. I can promise you that none of us asked for it, instead the mantel of ownership was thrust upon us. Either because we were touched directly, or because we wanted to help in the fight against these horrible, horrible diseases called “cancer.”
And I think that represents the line. As marketers, we should all be sensitive to the various interests of our constituents. When a single breast cancer patient says they are sick of pink, we should take notice. When hundreds or thousands say they are sick of pink-related marketing it’s time for a change. That is what brand owners do, they reflect and then respond to the market as the dynamics change
It then becomes our mission as brand owners to listen. No one wants a backlash against fundraising due to “market saturation.” Just go to the new building at Dana Farber in Boston and see the steel girders with the names of children treated at the hospital spray painted on them by the workers. Or spend 5 minutes in a pediatric cancer center in any part of the country. Or sit next to your friend, your spouse, or your partner as they are “infused” with chemo therapy drugs, or get ready for their daily radiation dose. They desperately need our help, let’s give it them as best we can.
You owe it to the brand to listen, reflect, and respond.