Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry

On the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (2010) GoComics published the comic strip Non Sequiter by Wiley Miller. It explains the “Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry.” When approached by a dragonslayer, the dragon offers a rational explanation as to why sparing its life would be a win-win proposition. The dragon says:

“Look. You’re dead if you lose and out of a job if you win. So what I propose is a win-win that can be summed up in 3 words…Dragon-Slaying Research.”

Non sequiter? I think not. The conclusion easily follows from the mountains of evidence that companies within, and outside of, the cancer industry are profiting from the cause of breast cancer.

As I wrote in Thinking the Unthinkable, “revenues from the medical imaging equipment industry grew from about $3 billion in 1997 to over $9 billion 10 years later, and healthcare analysts predict that the market for medical imaging equipment (not including services) is expected to thrive at a 7.6 percent compound annual growth rate. Sales of oncology drugs grew from under $5 billion in 1998 to over $19 billion by 2008, and analysts predict that oncology drug costs will rise 20 percent each year for the next 5 years. Oncology drugs represent the largest share of the global drug market, and sales are projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 12 to 15 percent, reaching $75 to $80 billion by 2012.”

Outside of the cancer industry, companies use the pink ribbon as an integral part of public relations and revenue-production portfolios, (i.e.,”pinking”). There are many examples, but here are just a few.

Yoplait Yogurt of General Mills is the number 1 yogurt in America, and is as popular as GM’s other top brands: Cheerios, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury. Yoplait accounts for $1.1 billion of GM’s $11.2 billion in sales. In 1998, Yoplait teamed up with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to create the “Save Lids to Save Lives” campaign. Every October, the company manufactures yogurt (now without rBGH, thanks to Breast Cancer Action) with pink lids. Consumers send them to a collection center or log their serial numbers into a website during a specific time period and Yoplait makes a donation of 10 cents per lid. There is a guaranteed minimum donation of $500,000 and a cap that is now $2 million. In 2008, Yoplait received over 15 million pink lids, hitting what was then its $1.5 million cap. 1.5 million yogurts less the 10-cents-per-lid donation, yields about $5.9 million in yogurt sales. That fiscal year, GM reported a 14% sales jump for its Yoplait division.

In 2006 Ford launched its Warriors in Pink campaign, and in 2008 the company offered the Ford Mustang with Warriors in Pink package available on the Mustang coupe, convertible, and glass roof coupe. The package includes a pink ribbon and pony fender badge, pink ribbon rocker tape and hood striping, charcoal leather trimmed seats with pink stitching, and charcoal floor mats with pink ribbon and contrast stitching. The limited-edition 2008 Mustang with Warriors in Pink package donated $250 per sale to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, totaling over $500,000. Limited to 2500 units Ford would have to sell 2000 to make the donation. prices the special edition from $28,899 to $34,584 (Package adds $1,795 + Auto Transmission required $1,250). Since Ford’s sales were down 32% in 2008, expanding the consumer base with special edition vehicles could help to offset difficult financial times. How much would Ford profit from the first 2000 cars needed to make the donation to Komen? It’s hard to tell, but Ford continued the campaign the next year and overall Ford Mustang sales were up 62 percent in December 2009.

0165-fly-for-the-cureAmerican Airlines expanded its partnership with Komen in 2008 when the the airline faced near bankruptcy, with high fuel prices, low consumer demand, debt, and an aging fleet. The airline entered into a Promise Grant with Susan G. Komen for the Cure that would generate $8 million in 8 years, earmarked for the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic. American Airlines will more than cover the $1 million per year allocation with its “Miles for the Cure” program, American Airlines gift cards, proceeds from AA’s annual celebrity golf and tennis event, and other promotions. By July of 2010 the company’s performance was a “$440 million improvement over the first quarter, and the first operating profit since the third quarter of 2007.” Maybe the pink ribbons, pink planes, and publicity about the AA/Komen partnership have something to do with that. If so, the special feature in last October’s American Way magazine by Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey devoted to the AA/Komen partnership, titled “A Promise to Keep,” is a worthwhile strategy for the company.

There is a vital need for dragon-slaying research, but eventually we need to slay that dragon. Using the breast cancer brand to create ongoing revenue streams and spectacle while lighting buildings in pink may well be diverting us from that purpose.

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3 comments to Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry

  • The vested interests in my continuing decline in health are staggering and frightening.

    But if we’re talking about this from an economic perspective, here is my question. If all the people afflicted with breast (and other) cancers were magically cured, with no further treatment required, and were able to fully recover enough to go back to full-time work, would the commensurate increase in individual wealth, federal/state income taxes and the country’s overall productivity be enough to more than offset the loss of the pink profit centers for the corporates and healthcare industrials? If the answer is yes then we might have a chance at getting somewhere in the fight to eradicate cancer for good. Are there any economic studies out there that you know of that address this question ?

  • Jan

    This is perhaps way off to the side as far as discussion of pink fundraising goes, but I’ve noticed that many of the NFL players are wearing pink gloves, pink wrist wraps, pink shoes, etc. While the sentiment is nice, what will happen to these articles after October? I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think we will see them on the field any longer. What will happen to them? If they want to donate them, who will want them? Football players don’t tend to embrace bright pink. My guess is they will be discarded and end up in a landfill somewhere. Another negative, unintended consequence of “pinking?”

  • Mary

    I couldn’t agree more. You forgot one thing however, that the marketing and pink-centric society has left other cancer awareness and funding in the dust. All cancer patients deserve a lifetime – not just the pink ones or the ones that make American corporations like nice and feel good.

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

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