Starbucks and the NFL Awash with Pink

With the beginning of October also comes the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so the color pink starts popping up everywhere.  Even the cardboard sleeves around Starbucks coffee cups have turned pink.  But what you won’t see on your tall Pumpkin Spice Latte is a pink ribbon, or any mention of breast cancer for that matter.  If you examine the sleeve, you will see that it sports the phrase “We warmly welcome La Boulange delicious pastries, now served warm at your neighborhood Starbucks.”  La Boulange is Starbucks’ new pastry line – also being débuted this October.  How convenient that its pink hue appears as if the company is supporting breast cancer.

starbucks pink sleeves

Technically, Starbucks has done nothing wrong.  After all, they are not lying about donating proceeds to cancer research.  They are merely playing off the association of pink in October.  No one really “owns” the color pink so Starbucks isn’t violating any ethical guidelines, but where is the line drawn?

Starbucks is taking advantage of what is called “pink-washing”, a form of cause marketing.  Pink-washing is when an organization spends more money and resources on promoting their support of a cause than is actually donated to the cause.  Even though Starbucks isn’t intentionally promoting breast cancer research, their customers are interpreting their pink theme that way.  We believe as communication scholars that the message is determined by the receiver, not the sender. Therefore, Starbucks is guilty of pink-washing.

The NFL is another organization that has been a prominent offender of pink-washing.  Their entire organization has exploded in pink gloves, pink cleats, pink sweatbands, and even their logo has a pink ribbon on it this month.  They call their campaign “A Crucial Catch”.  It is a partnership with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness for breast cancer research and the importance of annual screenings for women.  All of the pink items being worn by players and coaches will be auctioned off at the end of the season.

nfl pink cleat and glove

But what we need to evaluate is just how effective this campaign is.  Nearly everyone knows about the dangers of breast cancer and how to prevent it as best we can.  It seems to me, that the NFL turned pink as more of a charitable statement than to promote the cause.  Business Insider did the numbers and figured out that for every $100 in sales of pink gear, only $3.54 is going towards research while the NFL is keeping approximately $45.

What do you think? Do you think that advertising for a cause is a good thing, no matter the reasoning behind it?

-Christine Schulze

37 thoughts on “Starbucks and the NFL Awash with Pink

  1. I think advertising for a cause has to begin with the organization’s DNA. If the message (or association) is not genuine and part of the organization’s core values the action will eventually backfire. This potentially creates more harm to the organization’s reputation than if they had done nothing at all.

  2. I think advertising for a cause has to begin with the organization’s DNA. If the message (or association) is not genuine and part of the organization’s core values the action will eventually backfire. This potentially creates more harm to the organization’s reputation than if they had done nothing at all.

  3. Susan Willetts. My first reaction when I read this, was that this is wrong. After giving it some thought, I feel that Starbucks using the pink sleeves can have a positive outcome. The color pink, especially in the month of October represents Breast Cancer to most people. Starbucks is not claiming that they are supporting any particular organization or donating money. There are many people that purchase Starbucks everyday. If a woman goes in and see’s the pink sleeve, it could be a reminder to schedule her mammogram, potentially saving a life.

    • Thank you for your comments. Everyone had an interesting take on this post, but many of them seemed to frown upon the advertising field as a whole. This post was not meant to make advertising look like a deceptive area to work in. Yes, there are ways that advertising can be misused, but only if ethics are completely thrown out the window. These companies followed the law, just not the moral standards within their industry. Neither one of these organizations are advertising outright lies. The NFL is giving a percentage of the sales to breast cancer research, just like they said they would. And Starbucks never promised to give any money to the cause; that was just our assumption. The part that angers me about these campaigns is that they are giving consumers an incomplete description of their campaign; a form of unfair advertising. These established organizations should know better than to partake in deceptive practices such as this one.

  4. I do not think Starbucks has done anything wrong. Yes, they have pink sleeves but maybe that is because it goes well with their new pastry brand. The NFL has also not done anything wrong; even if they are only donating a small portion of the money from the auctioned gear. I do not agree with it, and it is deceiving to many, probably including the people who end up actually purchasing that gear. However, the NFL has not ever announced that they are donating all of the profits and the information about the money they are donating is accessible.

    Kierstin Geary

  5. I think that while it is a little sneaky for industries to associate with a cause they might not be totally honest about, I do have to say that seeing that pink sleeve or watching a game with pink uniforms is a constant reminder to others of what that color has come to represent. Hopefully it will encourage people to donate or raise their own awareness. It just might spark the idea for the next big step towards ending breast cancer.

  6. I think you bring up a really interesting point about the use of pink in the month of October. Because it is breast cancer awareness month you see pink EVERY WHERE. On campus, in the community, on TV, on the internet, and even when you stop in for a relaxing cup of coffee at your nearest Starbucks. I think it is a great way of getting the cause out there, but also wish that they would donate more to the direct cause, instead of just using their company funds to buy numerous items in the color pink. While it makes me happy when I get a pink sleeve on my Starbucks cup in October, it also makes me wish that they would take that money and give it directly to breast cancer research and finding a cure.

  7. Breast cancer seems to be the top cancer that our society pumps money into research. But what about pancreatic, testicular, or liver cancer? Why don’t these very potent forms of cancer seem to have as much publicity? October is full of events that promote finding a cure for breast cancer. The past few times I went to Starbucks I was taken back by the pink sleeve – at first I didn’t even think of breast cancer when I saw it. I thought Starbucks was just using it to promote the new pastries, but after reading about this whole marketing plan of “pink-washing” I began to analyze the sleeve a little bit more. I really liked how Susan said that simply the pink on the sleeve could remind a woman to schedule a mammogram that could possibly save her life.
    As for the NFL, this type of “pink-washing” seems very different than what Starbucks has done. I am a little confused about what you said towards the end of the article – you said that the NFL will sell an item for $100 and $45 will go to the NFL while only $3.54 goes to cancer research. What about the other $51.46 – where is that going?
    Overall, I think that it is great that certain groups and corporations help raise awareness and money for the various breast cancer foundations.

    • Anderson, thank you for commenting! My guess is that the other $51.46 would go towards production costs. The $45 mentioned earlier is the NFL’s profit from the sale. I apologize for not making that clear in the post.

  8. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that only a small portion of the money that is raised by the NFL is actually donated to Breast Cancer Research. Unfortunately, major companies and corporations have exploited every opportunity to market their products to different markets as positively as possible. Thus the concept of “pink-washing” goes without saying. The NFL and Starbucks can argue, they are doing their part in donating a portion of the profits they make in addition to, more importantly, raising awareness about breast cancer. The problem with this scenario is that it almost makes individuals buying their product guilty and donate more money to the company. However, not all the money that gets donated goes to the Breast Cancer Research that it should go to. It’s a problem with the system, but at least some money goes to the right place, and there is more awareness of the issue at hand.

  9. I do think that it is extremely helpful to have promotion and support to provide reminders for a cause such as breast cancer. I wish that starbucks and other organizations were using the power and influence that they have better. It’s extremely disappointing on how little money is actually being sent to help for breast cancer research. On the other side hopefully the pink can serve as a reminder to schedule a mammogram or feel that there is support for breast cancer survivors. In all, I just wish they could donate more of their proceeds to such a important cause.

  10. I can see this being ethically shady, but at the same time it’s not necessarily a bad thing. For example, the NFL wearing pink equipment and selling it probably doesn’t make all that much money for research in and of itself (even if they weren’t keeping the lion’s share). But them wearing pink all month reminds the millions of people watching them about breast cancer. I’m not just talking about reminding them to screen themselves; it also reminds them to donate to breast cancer research. I’ll bet the people who are reminded to donate give more money than the NFL could through the sales. So although its kind of crappy for the NFL and Starbucks to pull this stunt, it is having positive effects that are much harder to measure.

  11. I don’t think there is anything wrong with what Starbucks and the NFL are doing. It is breast cancer AWARENESS month, and the color pink when used in these cases is doing just that: raising awareness. I recently saw a commercial during the Patriot’s game that demonstrated this extremely well. A woman asked her husband why the players were wearing pink, and when she heard about breast cancer awareness month she found it advantageous to check herself for lump, since she had not been regularly doing so. Once she check, she noticed an abnormality and was soon diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. The fact that she caught it early was key to her survival. There is plenty of money being thrown at cancer research, but what is really saving lives is the information and education we can provide about life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. Flashing the color pink could save a life.

  12. The NFL wearing pink was started by a Carolina Panthers player, DeAngelo Williams. Williams mother, grandmother, and aunts were all diagnosed with breast cancer and his mother is the only survivor in his family. So as far as the NFL wearing pink, I think it is awesome! I think it shows other NFL players whose loved ones have also been affected with breast cancer that there ARE others in the same career and same lifestyle, dealing with the SAME things, they are not alone. It is also heart-warming to see the players show their pink support to us female football fans! They probably could manage to give more money I’m sure, but I think the intentions started as a support system, a brotherhood, for NFL players. It reminds them every time they step out on the field and see other players, brothers, in pink that they are not alone. I love it!

  13. While I think that both Starbucks and the NFL may not have honorable intentions in their use of the color pink, there is nothing wrong with it ethically. As you said no one owns the color pink. In my opinion, it is however selfish that Starbucks is using it during Breast Cancer Awareness Month while not supporting research in any way. At least because pink in October has become synonymous with support of breast cancer victims and survivors maybe it will encourage some patrons to get involved in some way.

  14. This post is really eye opening. As a consumer you just assume that companies and brands that act like they are supporting the cause, actually go on to do that rather than just put on the act that they do. Like with the NFL, you see athletes and teams wearing pink and assume that there are proceeds going toward the organization. While this is the case for the NFL, it is surprising to see how little is actually being donated. You could argue that if enough sales are made then there might actually be a good deal of money being donated, but couldn’t there be more? Susan Willetts makes a valid point in the above comments by saying that it could be to just raise awareness. Many people have not been directly affected by breast cancer so the cause isn’t always on their minds, but during the month of October we are constantly reminded of how big an issue it is. Just advertising the color pink could save a life and maybe these companies that are merely “pink-washing” think that this contribution is enough.

  15. I feel that if a company is going to advertise for a particular cause they need to be honest with their customers and actually support the cause. It is saddens me to read that company’s who campaign for a cause, one as big as Breast Cancer Awareness are making profit off of it. This should be against their own ethical codes. I do not agree with company’s profiting off false pretenses.

  16. When watching football and hockey during the month of october, seeing the sports equipment and gear decked out in pink kind of angers me. To me the NHL, or NFL does just not seem like they are supporting the awareness of Breast Cancer,but rather that the companies that sponsor them are just sponsoring them to make them buy their new pink equipment, and make some money. But I am still torn. I really think that any money to research and the helping of fighting Cancer is important, whether it be 1 dollar or 100. Regardless, I think that the pink idea is something for brand promotion, but still. Money to research is money to research.

  17. I think advertising for a cause no matter what reasoning behind it already makes it sound like a negative thing. However, I think as long as it is not impacting the cause in a harmful way this could be a good thing. Like you mentioned in the post, the message is determined by the receiver, not the sender. So, why should Starbucks be penalized for what we think? If there was something offensive written on the pink cardboard I could understand the problem, but pink is a free color and a popular one at that. I think that instead of creating a problem out of this, people should embrace the pink cartons as a personal reminder of what the color means to us. If someone needs to see the breast cancer awareness ribbon in order to relate the pink to the cause, then chances are the color pink alone won’t offend them anyway. In regards to the NFL pink gear, I can’t judge them on how to sell their gear or how much to give back to the cause. What I can say, however, is that for every dollar they donate to the cause it is one more dollar that a company somewhere else is keeping to themselves.

  18. Wow. I drink Starbucks almost every day, and I have drank one of their coffees wrapped in a pink sleeve. This whole time I have honestly thought that it was all for supporting cancer and didn’t even read the writing on the sleeve. The fact that they used advertising for a cause as a way to promote theirselves rather than actually support the cause, is horrible. I think that if a company or business is advertising for a cause then over half the profit should actually be given to the organization. Taking advantage of a cause can be a matter of life or death for a person that actually needs the money. So no, I do not believe advertising for a cause is a good thing when a company does it for its own benefits.

  19. I feel like they aren’t doing anything wrong. I don’t think they are trying to pretend that they are huge breast cancer research supporters. I think they are just raising awareness and going with the theme of the month. Customers shouldn’t (and probably don’t) get angry about this.

  20. I feel like in more ways than not, what the NFL is doing is wrong. I had no idea that they got to keep the majority of the money that they got for the football gear being auctioned off. I think that there is nothing wrong with advertising a cause, and raising awareness. However, if it is not fully clear what is actually going on with the amount of money being donated it makes the organization (NFL) look worse than if they didn’t donate to the cause at all. This whole thing makes me think that they care more about raising money for the NFL rather than for cancer research.

    As far as Starbucks is concerned, I feel like I can’t technically be mad that they are using pink without actually mentioning breast cancer support. However, I don’t agree with their choice to use pink in October if they are not donating proceeds to cancer research. It is giving off a false impression, which just seems wrong especially when it comes to cancer awareness!!

  21. I was taken aback when I read Christine Schulze’s article “Starbucks and the NFL Awash with Pink”. I never realized what companies like Starbucks and the NFL were doing. My aunt is a breast cancer surviver. Luckily she caught the breast cancer in its early stages, but many people aren’t so lucky. It is selfish that companies are using the month of October to benefit themselves. People’s lives could be saved by the money donated to breast cancer research. There are many other ways companies could earn money, but this should not be one of them. It is awesome that companies are bringing awareness to breast cancer but that is not enough.

  22. I think that in these cases of advertising both Starbucks and the NFL are taking advantage of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Even though I love Starbucks’ delicious drinks, I think that they are more so in the wrong. I originally assumed that the pink sleeves around the cups at Starbucks were supporting Breast Cancer Awareness month, as I am sure a good amount of other people did. It was not until I actually bought a drink and read the wording on the pink sleeve that I realized this was a false assumption. I was disappointed when I realized that Starbucks was deceiving customers with their pink sleeves. As far as the NFL, at least they are donating some profits to Breast Cancer Awareness. This is still deceiving because they are only donating a small amount of money, but a little better than what Starbucks is doing.

  23. That’s a hard question to answer. I definitely think that advertising for a cause is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not being done with the wrong intentions. Everyone wants to say that they “support” breast cancer awareness, but what does that actually mean? Does it mean that they’re wearing pink to actually bring awareness to the public to check themselves? I think it’s more that they want to think that they are contributing to a positive cause, without having to actually put in any effort. That’s exactly what I think Starbucks is doing with the pink sleeves.

  24. It seems to me that organizations are using breast cancer awareness as a way to promote their own business and sell their products. I can’t say that this is necessarily a bad thing because they are still donating money to the breast cancer foundation (whether it’s a small amount or not). Any donation makes a difference.

  25. When I got my first latte that had a pink cardboard sleeve I automatically assumed that it was for breast cancer, until I looked at the sleeve. After figuring out that it was for their new pastry line, I thought that it was wrong. I knew that they were not doing anything wrong but it seemed wrong to take something that is used for a good cause and to turn it into a promotional pitch for a pastry line. Breast cancer research helps many women to realize that getting screenings and checks are vital. I think that the NFL has done a lot to help this. Even though the NFL might be keeping more of the money, they are creating awareness for the whole month at every NFL game.

  26. Whenever I see a franchise supporting a cause, I always think “I will buy this just because the money is going to a great cause.” That is not always the case. The Starbucks way of doing this is promoting themselves more. They are sending the message that money/donations will be sent to a cancer foundation just by adding the color pink to something. This makes people want to spend their money there and not somewhere else, causing Starbucks to make more money by just adding a color to their cups that goes along with a foundation/cause, event, etc. that month.

    Erin Fouhy

  27. Starbucks may help out with Breast Cancer Awareness, but the simple fact that they use pink to promote there products and not for an actual cause, other than there own way to benefit themselves is wrong. The NFL is also exploiting the month of October to cash in for themselves to make more money and not actually help as much as they could. While personally I do not see this concept of “using” specific situations such as breast cancer awareness as a way to only benefit yourselves as being ethical, that is unfortunately the nature of most advertising. Appealing to people’s logos is an effective way to gain business and companies will continue to do so whether their hearts are in the right place or not. On the other hand it is not necessarily the company’s fault that people merely “assume” that the pink sleeve represents Breast Cancer Awareness. Even myself as a customer will sometimes overlook the actual intentions of a company and take things as they seem, which could be different then what they really are, and is why advertising with such intent can be so successful.

  28. I personally think that Companies should spend the masses of money they spend on turning their products pink on donations to the charities instead. I feel like when it comes to marketing, many companies lose their ethics and obviously care a lot more about their image rather than what they actually do as a company. There is very little chance that Starbucks happened to randomly chose pink and debut the sleeve in the month of October, and i feel like this is borderline wrong by Starbucks because they are taking advantage of the breast cancer brand to further their own. All in all- Donate the money spent on the pink ink to research for cancer and it would do a far lot more good!

  29. Although Starbucks is not technically doing anything wrong, the pink sleeves seem to be false advertisement. The majority of the population knows October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the color pink is the symbol used in it’s marketing. I have seen these pink sleeves and I automatically assumed that the coffee I bought was benefiting breast cancer research when it was actually not. I realize that this assumption is my fault for not actually reading the note on the sleeve. However, I believe that Starbucks, or any company, should not make it seem as if they are donating to an organization when in reality, they are not. This just violates the morals a company should have. The pink sleeve may harm Starbucks’ reputation as a company.

  30. I find it a little bothersome that Starbucks is conveniently choosing to have pink sleeves during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, it still in an indirect way may lead customers to thinking about breast cancer. In regards to the NFL and how they raise money for breast cancer research, I think that any help is beneficial. The organization could afford to donate all of the proceeds, but at least it is another source of income to research. I do think that advertising for a cause is a good thing, regardless of the reasoning. The goal is to raise money and if other organizations can donate money based off of their own advertising, I think it is still important.

  31. I think it is amazing that such big name organizations and companies are promoting awareness for breast cancer. I usually see it as them being supportive, however, when I hear that the NFL is keeping way more than they donate it makes me disappointed. People who buy the pink NFL gear are wanting two things, an item that was worn by their favorite player and to support breast cancer. That being said I believe that at least half of all proceeds should go to breast caner research if they are going to use it as a ploy to make money. As for Starbucks, I see it as a friendly reminder that October is breast cancer awareness month.

  32. I see the negativity in “pinky-washing” more so in Starbucks going pink versus the NFL. With Starbucks, they are using pink as a deceptive tool to promote their brand. Just yesterday a friend posted a picture of herself with her pink Starbucks cup with a caption that read, “Fighting breast cancer one cup at a time!” I am not sure if that relays Starbucks deception more than her lack of knowledge, but either way the pink in October is deceiving. With the NFL, I have mixed feelings about their “pink-washing.” At least the NFL has teamed up with the American Cancer Society to promote awareness. Even with the little amount of money that they contribute, they are not hiding behind the color pink with no association to the cause. The amount of people tuning into Sunday football and seeing pink all over their screen, it will remind them to get their mammogram.
    Tiffany Capps

  33. While at first it may seem that these organizations might be taking advantage of a good cause I do think it is a good thing that awareness is being brought up. The NFL is currently running commercials of women who claim to have gotten mammograms because they saw their favorite team or player wearing pink or heard a husband or coworker talking about it. Yes, it would be nice to have more of the proceeds go towards actual research instead of being pocketed but if these organizations can raise enough awareness to have women at least get checked out I do believe what they are doing is worth it.

  34. The initial reaction is that this is wrong. While Starbucks is not directly promoting breast cancer, it is a sneaky business move. I think that advertising for a cause is a great thing, the problem lies with where the money is going. As stated above, “…every $100 in sales of pink gear, only $3.54 is going towards research while the NFL is keeping approximately $45.” The money could definitely be more distributed, as the NFL is a huge lucrative business with more money than they need. The advertising side of the argument I would still consider a positive movement. Although the money may not be distributed as evenly as the public thinks, getting people aware can lead others to start advertising for a cause in a more ethical way.

  35. I find it atrocious that the NFL and Starbucks both which are billion dollar companies, are allowed to negotiate the amount they donate to Brest Cancer Research. The line is drawn when these corporations are allotted a majority of the proceeds raised from sales. These companies make more than enough to give back the majority of the money raised and still would be able to make a profit from just a small portion of the proceeds. I personally would not donate to any big corporation supporting any cause where they have contact to profit off charity. I find it unethical and it cheapens the brand to practice and allow such behavior. This reminds me of when Wal Mart would take out life insurance policies out on employees. Then the company would collect after they die. According to the lawsuit, the policies were for $50,000 – $800,000 and were taken out on any employee from 18-70 who participated in Walmart’s health plan. The employees were never notified and when they died their families were never compensated. Wal Mart kept all the money. Corporations are destroying the world with just one product at a time. Instead of using their awarded power to help mankind; they instead find loop holes to make them more money.

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