• Bill Petrie

Pink Power

How a colorful promotional product created a movement

As September turns into October every year, thoughts turn to many things: the proliferation of everything pumpkin spice, the crisp fall air, meaningful football games, and the color pink. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and pink is the color of choice. Perhaps it’s because my marketing brain works differently than others, but when I see pink in October, I not only think about breast cancer, I think of the genius of the pink ribbon as a branding tool to raise money to fight the disease.

Most people identify the “pink ribbon” with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This charity was started by Nancy Brinker as a promise to her dying sister, Susan, that she would do everything within her sphere of influence to end breast cancer. The cause had very humble origins, starting with $200 and a shoebox full of potential donors. However, that cause has blossomed, and through 2020, the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure raised over $2 billion, which has contributed to reducing death rates from breast cancer by 34 percent since 1990. It truly is a fantastic success story.

How did a tiny nonprofit blossom into a leader in cancer research? It was the use of a promotional product: the pink ribbon in 1991. October became National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and a manufacturer of several anti-breast cancer drugs. At the time, the purpose of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was to promote mammography as the most effective weapon against the spread of breast cancer.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to participants in a fundraising walk in New York City for breast cancer survivors (the precursor of Race for the Cure). From there, the color pink – and the ribbon itself – became synonymous with breast cancer research and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The proliferation of the pink ribbon has become a powerful marketing and branding tool. Buying, wearing, displaying, or funding pink ribbons signals that a person or organization supports National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Today, some of the world’s most recognizable brands are part of the pink ribbon campaign every October: American Airlines, Bank of America, Ford Motor Company, Walgreens, and General Electric. These companies know their brand is strengthened by supporting Susan G. Komen.

If you ever doubt that branding and marketing can make a positive difference, think pink. By leveraging a simple promotional product – the pink ribbon – lives have been dramatically and positively impacted. Quite simply, branding matters regardless of the type, size, or mission of the organization. A targeted and relevant promotional product can play a large part in moving your target audience to action.

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