New York AG issues best practices for pink-ribbon campaigns

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New York’s attorney general has issued a guide intended to promote transparency and best practices for charitable campaigns, including the billion-dollar-a-year "pink ribbon" drive.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released the guide during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when more than a few people might be confused about how to best invest their money for breast cancer education, research, treatment and prevention.

The pink ribbon is now used to promote the cause and as a marketing tactic to make revenues – a billion dollar a year industry.

The attorney general’s office spent a year looking at the pink ribbon and other campaigns of nearly 150 companies.

A news release said, “while these campaigns have resulted in substantial donations, the attorney general’s review found that consumers often do not have sufficient information to understand how their purchases will benefit charity.”

Schneiderman said, “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues to increase our understanding of breast cancer and raise funds for the charities fighting it. Consumers who intend to support this worthy cause deserve to know that their purchases do the good promised by the pink ribbon campaigns.

“These best practices, agreed to by the nation’s largest breast cancer charities, will help ensure that cause marketing campaigns provide the benefit that’s expected, and that consumers, charities, and above all, the women and families affected by this devastating disease are protected.”

For New York state, the best practices for “transparent cause marketing” include:

• Having companies clearly and prominently disclose key information about each campaign, including the specific amount that will be donated to charity from each purchase.

• Having companies using ribbons and similar symbols on products make clear to consumers if a purchase will trigger a donation or if the symbols are used merely for awareness of a cause.

• Ensuring more transparency in social media campaigns in which companies promise donations if consumers agree to “like” or “follow” them or their products.

The attorney general’s office said Susan G. Komen For The Cure, which became embroiled in controversy earlier this year over a move to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, are adopting the best practices.

The president of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance said the best practices proposed follow “the BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability, consumers will now have the disclosures they need to make informed purchases.”

The New York Attorney General’s Office best practices for charity marketing…

• Clearly Describe the Promotion.
 Consumers should be able to easily understand before purchasing a product key terms such as: the name of the charity; the specific dollar amount per purchase that will go to charity; any caps on the donation; whether any consumer action is required to trigger a donation; and the start and end dates of the campaign. The Best Practices also encourage companies to use a “Donation Information Label,” akin to a nutrition label, that will include this information in a clear and uniform format.

• Allow Consumers to Easily Determine Donation Amount. In marketing their products, companies should use a fixed dollar amount - such as 50 cents for every purchase – rather than generic phrases like “a portion of proceeds” will go to charity.

• Be Transparent About What Is Not Apparent. Companies should disclose what might not be obvious to consumers, including if there are contractual limits on the campaigns, if charitable contributions will not be made in cash, or if a fixed amount has been promised to charity regardless of the number of products sold.

• Ensure Transparency in Social Media. Companies conducting cause marketing through social media should be equally transparent as in traditional campaigns, and clearly and prominently disclose key terms in on-line marketing.

• Tell the Public How Much Was Raised. At the conclusion of each campaign, the website should clearly disclose the amount of the charitable donation generated.