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