Let me start by saying that I absolutely believe in the search for a cure for breast cancer and all harmful diseases and I support any woman, family, friend, affected by breast cancer. This post is merely to discuss whether or not marketers should be involved in the process.

For my Masters in Advertising, I had to take a course titled, “Advertising and Society.” The textbook we used was “Advertising and Society. Controversies and Consequences” edited by Carol J. Pardun. The book was set-up with a point and counterpoint for every argument. At first, it struck me as odd that there would even be a counterpoint to cause marketing. “Of course cause marketing is a good thing,” I thought to myself. But, the counterargument, “The adoption of social responsibility through cause-related marketing as a business strategy is unethical” by Peggy Kreshel changed my perspective.

Why is breast cancer such a popular sponsorship choice?

One of the most popular causes to sponsor is breast cancer. Everywhere you look, particularly in October because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are pink ribbons, pink shirts, pink products, etc. Kershel points out that there are three main reasons breast cancer is the end-all, be-all of organization sponsorship:

  1. Breast cancer is a safe bet when it comes to corporate sponsorship. Who really is going to be against curing breast cancer? Pretty much no one. But, another cause, such as AIDS, is not such a safe bet. There are a lot of sexual connotations about AIDS and what lifestyles contract AIDS. So, by supporting AIDS research, corporations risk offending some of their consumer base who have negative views about AIDS and those that contract AIDS.
  2. Breast cancer has an easily recognized symbol and color. Everyone knows it and knows what it means to attach a corporation’s name to it.
  3. Women have significant buying power when it comes to their families and their home. Breast cancer sponsorship is an easy way for a corporation to show middle-aged women that they are their friends.
breast cancer pink ribbon pin and reflection

“Breast cancer reflection” by Williami5, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What’s controversial about corporations sponsoring breast cancer?

Two of Kreshel’s answers are the following:

  • “…decisions regarding resource allocation in some of the most vital arenas of public welfare – health, environment, education – are made by marketing professionals and corporate executives focus on corporate needs and objectives, rather than by professionals in the relevant areas…Do corporate decision-makers have the knowledge base and experience to weigh the efficacy of these approaches to solving the social problem?” (198). Basically, what we have now, through corporate sponsorship, is millions of dollars going to causes based on what will be best for the corporation vs. what is best for society. And, it’s encouraging us to only focus on causes that have marketing and sponsorship opportunities rather than those causes that need the funding the most.
  • “The fact that the disease [breast cancer] is increasing in industrialized nations suggests the possibility of environmental factors” (198). But, “[feminist] emphasis on ecological factors…is not shared by groups such as Komen and the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate American if it’s complexion changed from pink to green” (Ehrenrich as cited in Kreshel, pg. 198). This is a tough pill to swallow, but it brings up a good point. Causes that are sponsored by corporations want to stay on their good side and stay neutral so the corporations see no risks and all benefits when sponsoring them. So what if, as suggested, breast cancer was linked to environmental factors? The environment is a hot political issue right now and, if Komen and the American Cancer Society were to give those environmental factors their proper emphasis, they risk loss of sponsorships because they will be seen as swinging to one side politically. In this way, corporations are shaping the path to the cause. If true, it also creates an ethical issue for researchers of breast cancer. Will they tell the truth and risk their corporate funding or will they remain silent?

Overall, I’m glad that corporations give money to causes and I do support corporations and businesses who give money to charity. However, reading Kreschel’s full argument really has made me less-likely to jump on any cause-marketing bandwagon. Perhaps we need to find another solution that allows corporations to give money in a way that shows social charity/responsibility, but still allows the money to be distributed to where it truly needs to go while also allowing causes the freedom to do what is best for their cause.

We’ve all faced tough situations where we weren’t quite sure what to do or we’re struggling to see the other side of the argument.

When this happens, one effective technique is to change the details or change the scenario to try to gain a new perspective.

Change the scenario

This is changing the setting of the situation. Think of it like a play where the plot and the script are basically the same, but the setting is different.

This can be especially helpful if you are emotionally involved in the situation.

One of my favorite ways to utilize this technique is to think what the situation would look like on an elementary school playground.  This isn’t because I think two adults having conflict are childish; rather, it helps me get to the very basic issue of the problem and name it in a simple way.  For example, I might see two adults in conflict and use this technique to identify the fundamental problem. Such as “person a is bullying person b” or “person a is purposefully excluding person b.” Identifying the problem in such simple terms also usually makes the solution very clear.

Other ways to change the scenario:

  • What if we were having this conversation at the family dinner table?
  • What if this conversation were happening at another company? How would I advise them?
  • What if we were on a stage in front of others, would this conversation be ok? Or look the same?
  • What if a friend came to me with this problem?

Change the details

Another way to see a situation from a whole new light is to change the details.

In this exercise, you leave the setting and people alone, but change various details of the situation. So, the play scene is the same, the actors and actresses are the same, but something about the situation has changed.

Ways to change the details:

  • If the situation involves something you are emotionally passionate about, change it to something you aren’t emotionally passionate about. This can be especially helpful for anything political.
  • Or the opposite, if you’re not emotionally passionate about the subject, substitute in a subject you are passionate about.
  • Remove various elements of a situation and then ask how you’d solve it. For example, “If money weren’t a factor, how would I make this decision?”




If you’ve studied marketing and advertising, you’ve very familiar with the analysis of potential and current customers.

When analyzing our target market, we ask:

– Who are they?

– What products are they most likely to buy?

– What messages are they most likely to respond to?

– What motivates their purchases?

– What causes them not to purchase?

Using this same framework, you can analyze your own spending habits and find what motivates you, what messages work on you, and how you might be able to change your spending habits to save money.

Two ways to get started:

Analyze your Amazon suggestions/purchase history

Amazon (or any other major online retailer) spends significant resources to understand your spending habits and predict what you are most likely to buy next. Why not use this to your advantage?

For example, a quick skim of Amazon’s suggestions for me indicates that I’m most likely to buy beauty products and kitchen gadgets from them. This makes sense, as I’m very particular about wanting a specific beauty/kitchen product and unwilling to go to 10 stores to find it. At the same time, beauty products can be more expensive on Amazon than in retail. I could save a significant amount of money by going to a brand’s website and finding the products locally in a store. Or, I could save money by being less particular with my purchases.

Analyze your debit/credit card statements

Take look at your debit and credit card statements from a third-party perspective, as if you were analyzing someone in a focus group for your product or service.

What are you spending your money on and where? What’s the repetition of your spending habits? Where are the patterns? What percent of your money is going toward various purchases or categories of purchases?

For example, after I gifted him The Total Money Makeover book by Dave Ramsey, a friend of mine analyzed his own budget from a third-party perspective and what he found was shocking: “The family” (aka him and his wife) were spending $1,400 per month on eating out!

So dedicate some time this week or weekend to taking a look at yourself as a target market and see where you spend your money and how you might change that for the better. 

A man listening on the phone

“Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

In my first marketing directorship at a community college, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the switchboard for the college. When the original member of my team who filled this crucial role announced her resignation due to a family move, I asked to spend a few days doing her tasks with her so I would understand the role and know more about the personality and skills we needed to fill that role.

And that’s when I noticed it, several times per day, we would get phone calls that replicated this script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22

Caller: Ok (long pause) Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Was I providing good customer service?

In actuality, no. What I quickly realized was, these same people were calling back a few hours or days later and asking questions about how to enroll, how to register, etc. They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then. And I wasn’t giving them the information or assistance they really needed.

So I changed the script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22. Would you like me to connect you to someone who can work with you to get you set-up to start then?

Caller: Yes! Thank you, that’d be great.

Me: You’re welcome. Hold on one moment while I transfer you (transfer to Admissions)

After a few days of this, the Director of Admissions called. They had noticed the significant increase in calls and noticed that the calls were all potential students. They were curious what had happened.

This led to the Director of Admissions and I working together to identify other areas in the our communications and processes where we weren’t answering the question behind the question.

I’ll admit that it’s a continual process, it’s just too easy to slip back into being busy and not thinking-through to the actual, or next question, so I have to remind myself of this often.

When a potential or current customer contacts your organization, are you answering the question behind the question? Are you answering the question that they will call with next? Do you provide them with the information they need to move along in the sales process?

Photo: “Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Do we disagree on the problem? Or the solution to the problem?

It’s easy to confuse the two. And, during contentious discussions, it’s easy to transition to thinking the disagreement is the problem, when it’s actually the solution.

The trick is to correctly identify and keep focus on which is the disagreement.

If you disagree on the solution, remind each other that you do have common ground on the problem and then explore each story.

If you disagree on the problem, explore each story as to how each of you came to the conclusion about what the problem is.



I originally picked-up Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, to learn more about ways I could positively impact my personal diet. But, in reading the book, I found it was also a very helpful guide to many of the food marketing tactics that we see used today. I’ve provided some examples below.

He discusses anchoring in terms of calories:

If you ask people if there are more or less than 50 calories in an apple, most will say more. When you ask them how many, the average person will say, “66.” If you had instead asked if there were more or less than 150 calories in an apple, most would say less. When you ask them how many, the average person would say, “114.” People unknowingly anchor or focus on the number they first hear and let that bias them. Kindle location 329

How packaging impacts our choices:

The bottom line: We all consume more from big packages, whatever the product. Kindle location 810

…they could cut the size of their meat and cheese in half, and as long as they added enough garden greens to make the hamburger look just as big, they’d feel as full as if they’d eaten the real deal. Kindle location 614

The power of timing:

At one point in the 1980s, Campbell’s developed a series of commercials for radio stations called “storm spots.”25 These radio ads referred to the rain and pointed out that soup is a cozy, warm, comfort food; that it goes so well with sandwiches that are easy to make; and that—not coincidently—the listener probably happens to have a number of cans of Campbell’s soup in the cupboard right at this minute. Radio stations were instructed that if it were raining or storming between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M., they should play these radio ads. The expectation was that people would dutifully eat their soup and buy more the next time they went to the store. Kindle location 1499

The power of smell:

Smell is big business. There are companies that exist solely because they can infuse (the word they oddly use is “impregnate”) odors into plastics. This is because odor can’t reliably be infused into food. Sometimes it doesn’t last; at other times it changes the shelf stability of the food itself. But if you infuse the odor into packaging, it’s a different story. Some day you might heat up your frozen microwavable apple pie and smell the rich apple pie aroma. Even if it’s the container that you’re smelling, you’re primed to enjoy that apple pie even before you put your fork in. Kindle location 1440

Expectation Assimilation and Confirmation Bias:

Psychologists call this “expectation assimilation” and “confirmation bias.” In the case of food, it means that our taste buds are biased by our imagination. Basically, if you expect a food to taste good, it will. At the very least, it will taste better than if you had thought it would only be so-so. Kindle location 1567

Consider two pieces of day-old chocolate cake. If one is named “chocolate cake,” and the other is named “Belgian Black Forest Double Chocolate Cake,” people will buy the second. That’s no surprise. What’s more interesting is that after trying it, people will rate it as tasting better than an identical piece of “plain old cake.” It doesn’t even matter that the Black Forest is not in Belgium. Kindle location 1604

…foods with descriptive names sold 27 percent more. And even though they were priced exactly the same, the customers who ate them consistently rated them as a better value than did the people who ate the same dishes with the boring old names. Kindle location 1636

And much, much more. If you are interested in learning about food marketing and research as well as learning about realistic ways to control your weight and eat healthy, I highly recommend this book.

Over the years, I’ve been asked by a variety of people in leadership positions as to what I would recommending terms of essential readings on marketing.

My response is always the same: if you read just one marketing article, read Theodore Levitt’s Marketing Myopia. Written in 1960, it may seem dated in today’s world, and some of the examples needed refinement (he has published updates over the years), but the fundamental points of the article and the strategies remain, in my opinion, the most solid, best marketing strategic advice you can read.

What would be the one article you’d recommend?