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Opinion pieces on business & economic issues

SHIN Hye-Jeong

Making Corporate Citizenship S-I-M-P-L-E

SHIN Hye-Jeong

Feb. 7, 2012

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Every year in October, the international breast cancer awareness month, countries are festooned with pink ribbons and lights to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer. In Korea, pink illumination festivals have been held every October at landmarks in Seoul such as Cheonggyecheon Stream and N Seoul Tower, and nationwide pink marathons have been held year-round for over ten years.

The first use of the pink ribbon, an international symbol of breast cancer awareness, was in the ‘Komen New York City Race of the Cure’ in 1991, where Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, gave out pink ribbons to breast cancer survivors and participants. However, the use of the symbol really took off when Evelyn Lauder, daughter-in-law of cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder and senior vice president of the Estee Lauder Companies handed out more than 1.5 million pink ribbons to customers at Estee Lauder stores in New York the following year, launching a global campaign for breast cancer awareness. To date, the Estee Lauder Companies has distributed 115 million pink ribbons worldwide, and hundreds of non-government organizations and companies in 90 countries have joined the campaign.

According to a survey conducted by USA Today newspaper in September 2011, 96% of Americans said the pink ribbon campaign has succeeded in raising awareness of the disease and 84% of them said they would purchase cause-related pink products, demonstrating that the campaign has been successful in benefiting both society and businesses.

The accomplishment of creating social and economic value from the campaign can be instructive to companies involved in corporate citizenship programs. There are six key success factors of the pink ribbon campaign that could help companies successfully plan corporate citizenship programs. And they can be summed up in a handful of words. 

The first key success factor is “Sympathy.” Companies with a large number of female customers have inspired sympathy and interest by delivering a relationship-oriented message that is befitting to women’s needs and one that they can identify with. The door-to-door sales women at the US cosmetics company Avon, who are in the age bracket at a higher risk to breast cancer, act as Avon’s goodwill ambassadors, not only selling products but also spreading the message of breast cancer awareness.

The second is “Icon.” The Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Global Landmarks Illumination Initiative, General Electric’s human pink ribbons, and Delta Air Lines’ and American Airlines’ pink airplanes are just some of the successful examples wherein powerful images were used to grab the world’s attention as well as establishing the companies as iconic supporters of the pink ribbon campaign.

The third is “Mutual benefit.” The pink ribbon campaign has helped corporations not only enhance their reputation and sell more products and services, but deepened customer and employee loyalty. At the same time, their support helps governments reduce national health expenditures on breast cancer, and non-government organizations receive higher recognition and increased funding.

The fourth is “Platform.” Pink ribbon events have become an annual fixture, bringing together people fighting for the same cause who can voluntarily participate and show their support. Moreover, the recent SNS trend has created another platform, increasing participation from the younger generation.  

The fifth is “Localization.” The pink ribbon campaign has transformed and spread as an entity that can be socio- culturally accepted and fulfill the needs of each country. The pink ribbon campaign initially developed through cause-related marketing in western countries as they are familiar with the concept and giving donations. The US’ Breast Cancer Research Foundation, for example, informs people of how their one dollar donation will be spent towards researching breast cancer. As a result, it gains customer trust. On the other hand, Koreans prefer tangible services so companies focus on activities that offer immediate results such as providing financial aid for breast cancer surgery and health education.

Finally, there is “Evolution.” The pink ribbon campaign encompasses familiarity but has avoided becoming banal. It has developed into a movement that wields strong and continuous social impact. The programs have been extended to include the prevention, early detection, treatment and recovery of breast cancer and become year-round events. Participants now not only include breast cancer patients and survivors but also their families and friends as well as many of the male population.

Although the unfolding of the pink ribbon campaign was complex, the key to its success is truly S-I-M-P-L-E. One small pink ribbon has raised the world’s awareness of breast cancer by drawing sympathy and through iconic images, and promoted participation among those who mutually benefit from the campaign on various types of platforms. And through its diffusion mechanism which is infuse d with localization and evolution, the pink ribbon campaign has created a successful, virtuous cycle.

According to Harvard University professor Michael E. Porter, the competitiveness of a company’s corporate citizenship lies in how well it mobilizes its human, financial and physical resources. Implanting the DNA of the pink ribbon campaign, S-I-M-P-L-E, into your company could be one way to make your corporate citizenship more effective and sustainable.

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