Ideally, using your business to promote a good cause like breast cancer awareness is a win-win: charities rake in more support in the form of extra donations, and your business gets an image boost.
There’s no doubt that “paying it forward” pays back in spades. According to the 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, 80% of the consumers surveyed for the study were “likely to switch brands, similar in price and quality, to one that supports a cause.”
However, as Etsy recently found out, it can also backfire. The company recently came under fire for “pinkwashing,” attempting to associate itself with Breast Cancer Awareness Month without actually supporting breast cancer-related causes.
As Mashable reported, the furor started when Etsy released a Breast Cancer Awareness-themed “shopping guide” consisting of a collection of pink handmade items. While some of the items in the collection displayed the omnipresent “pink ribbon” for breast cancer awareness, only 8 of the 24 featured in the collection claimed to donate to a breast cancer-related charity. Many items had no connection to breast cancer at all; they just happened to be the right color.
Blogger Acacia of Pink Goose ( a woman living with Stage 4 terminal breast cancer) didn’t hesitate to call out the company in a post titled, appropriately enough, “Of for F#%! Sake, Etsy!” Other bloggers quickly picked up the story.
Don’t want this to happen to your business? Learn from Etsy’s mistakes! Here are 4 takeaways:
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
One of the biggest issues with Etsy’s breast cancer-themed newsletter is the fact that, while it may generate additional revenue for the company and for the featured sellers, it won’t generate much additional money for breast cancer research, since only a few of the featured sellers appeared to have plans to donate.
As a commenter on Ill Seen, Ill Said (another blog covering the issue) noted, “[Etsy] could also commit to making a contribution themselves, as they too profit off the transactions of these “pink” products.”
“Spreading awareness” is one thing if you’re an individual. If you’re a company using a cause for marketing purposes, “awareness” isn’t enough. Put your money where your mouth is.
Think Before You Market
Etsy ought to have thought about a couple of things before they jumped on the “pink” bandwagon. First, they ought to have considered whether or not the cause was appropriate for their business. People have become so accustomed to supporting breast cancer-related charities by looking for the pink ribbon and purchasing accordingly. If Etsy doesn’t have any mechanism in place for ensuring that buying breast cancer-themed items on their site actually generates donations to breast cancer-related charities, “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” may not be the most appropriate cause for them to promote.
Second, they ought to have thought about whether or not the tone of their marketing was appropriate. “Tickled Pink” might seem so lighthearted as to be insulting if you or a loved one were actually suffering from breast cancer. Chemo, radiation and surgery do not “tickle.”
If you want your cause marketing efforts to generate lasting good will, be conscientious about how you use the cause. Vet whichever charities and organizations you’re working with to ensure they have a good reputation and the money actually goes where it should.
Try to anticipate any potential negatives: you don’t want it to seem like your business is profiting off the misery of others!
Here again, if Etsy had at least carefully screened the items it was featuring to make sure the sellers were donating to cancer-related charities, their email newsletter might not have prompted such a counterproductive response.
Apologize If Necessary
Finally, if you screw up, apologize. As an example of what NOT to do, see Etsy marketer Nicole Smith’s non-apology on Twitter:
“Hi @seenandsaid. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. Always appreciate the feedback on how to improve and grow.”
Instead, try “We’re sorry. We’ll do better.” And then do that.
We can all learn from Etsy’s mistakes. They may have had the best of intentions, but their intentions didn’t protect them from the resulting backlash. It’s far easier to learn from others than it is to clean up an unexpected mess. Next time you’re marketing for a cause, take a step back. Have an outsider review your plan and wording, so the spotlight remains on your cause instead of your blunder.