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Research Translation Emily J. Kelechi-Kelly Queens University November 14, 2011
King, S. (2001). An all-consuming cause: breast cancer, corporate philanthropy, and the market for generosity. Social Text, 19(4), 115-143.
King discusses cause-related marketing from two perspectives – to illustrate the historical convergence between cultural preoccupation with philanthropic solutions to social problems, the need for corporate philanthropy to be profitable, changing psychological perceptions of the consumer and consumer demands for ethical capitalism producing the transformation of corporate philanthropy. Secondly, she shifts focus to the symbolic effects of cause marketing, citing a case study of the National Football League’s (NFL) “Real Men Wear Pink” breast cancer marketing campaign. King kick-starts the article by describing notable moments in corporate philanthropy history, from the 1950’s through the start of the millennium, and then moves into discussing the rise of breast cancer marketing, detailing partnership between the NFL and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s Race for the Cure and “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign. She takes a more cynical tone, suggesting the partnership between Komen and the NFL resulted from a survey that found 40% of the NFL’s weekly television viewers are women, the desire to revamp the NFL’s public image (after a string of NFL player arrests) as well as align with a “compassionate, yet strong” perception of masculinity rather than serve strictly altruistic purposes. King concludes by suggesting a pairing of the masculinity the Real Men Wear Pink campaign produces gains its legitimacy and appeal from implicit difference from a demonized masculinity
developed through criminal behavior and low moral character. While she states her point is not to suggest compassionate masculinity is a myth, she argues that the campaign is part of a discourse in which a player’s character is assessed based on his involvement in volunteerism – suggesting volunteerism is synonymous with good character and understood, like race, to predict a player’s propensity to crime. Further, she suggests by aligning cause-related partnerships with a consumer’s desire to create depth and meaning to their lives through consumption, that these partnerships serve as “another yardstick against which the capacities of individuals to become proper Americans are measured.”
This article was presented to Tom Kelechi, President and CEO of the Alcohol and Chemical Abuse Councils of Butler County. As a CEO with 30 years of experience leading non-profits, an avid football fan and history buff, I felt this article provided rich, dialogue-sparking content and cited examples that would be of particular interest both on a professional and personal level. We had three engaging conversations as well as an email exchange in which article specifics were discussed and shared thoughts on whether there is detriment or saturation in nonprofit/for profit cause-based partnerships. His thoughts, obtained through notes and our email conversations, are provided below. On whether cause marketing relationships could border on exploitation or saturation of a cause: “Most people use relationships to further self interests. When it is of mutual benefit it cannot be characterized as exploitive, but symbiotic. Examples are not exclusive of the business world. At an early age children recognize the value in being on the select team, the cheerleaders, and many more affiliations that advance the self interests from popularity and athletic prowess.
The perspective of the article is primarily from the business (ex: NFL) as, for lack of a better characterization, “the exploiter” in its relationship with the Susan G. Koman Foundation. This grossly underestimates/under credits this nonprofit specifically and other nonprofits generally. With certainty, the Koman Foundation knows exactly what is in its possession: an issue with much exploitive firepower. It is at the pinnacle of sympathetic and empathetic causes. It represents motherhood…the source of life itself. Victimhood. A savage disease stripping of beauty and life. Komen was no unwitting partner in its relationship with the NFL. Most likely it auctions itself off knowing its marketable value of association. The NFL and Komen is a wonderful symbiotic partnership of great benefit to both parties.” Regarding the partnership between the NFL and Susan G. Komen: “Much discussion was given to the relationship between the NFL and Komen. It is worth noting Komen is only one of many charitable activities of the NFL (see: youth fitness; former player financial assistance and medical research). Arguably all of these have degrees of symbiotic benefit to the league interests and cause. Perhaps for business the need is to recognize the premise of “you’re known by whom you associate with” and engage in a mutually beneficial relationship. However, recognize bottom line concerns are not necessarily directly linked to the relationship and in fact may be rather loosely connected. Obviously, a poor product cannot be saved by a great cause based relationship. Nor can the relationship greatly weather the industry through poor economies. Those in the nonprofit world understand this last statement quite well. They are often near the top in sacrifices in all cost cutting. And lastly, if the connection were
so strong, these relationships would be highlighted more furiously during poor economies as methods of correction.” Regarding the subject of alcoholism, the disease for which his agencies seek to prevent, treat and provide education: “Years ago, alcoholism (a less warm, fuzzy cause) was declared a disease. This created an opportunity for image improvement and more positive responses to the contributing public. It conjures images of less self-inflicted and more victimized. It brings it out of the low rungs of causes and into the medical community, its hierarchy and all its attractions…doctor, hospitals, etc. It opened doors for unit-driven reimbursable medical treatment and status. And when MADD, the government and citizens demanded reduced drunk driving, youth prevention and other drug prevention opportunities for symbiotic relationships were apparent for alcohol companies to donate to community events to “insure responsible drinking.” In time this has grown to “know when to say when” and fond, fuzzy feelings for a beer company and its responsible citizenship.” Thoughts on corporate social responsibility and cause marketing initiatives: “What should be encouraged is more dialogue between the private and nonprofit worlds seeking further opportunities of mutually beneficial relationships. Citizen donations, government grants and foundation support are not enough to address the insatiable appetite of worthy charities dealing with immense causes. We must find our common ground mutually satisfying to further the overarching need for remedies and solutions to societal troubles and concerns.”
I greatly enjoyed this exercise – learning my father’s thoughts on the subject proved insightful as a researcher and was a nice opportunity to learn from wisdom gained through 30 years of leading nonprofit organizations. I was also surprised to hear his thoughts regarding perceived cause exploitation; that he wasn’t critical of exploitation, rather, embraced it for the betterment of both the nonprofit and corporation. Serving as a counterpoint to the author’s touch of cynicism, he concluded his thoughts by emphasizing responsible partnership between corporations and nonprofits; relationships resulting from thorough research, fostered over time for the betterment of both entities.