'Pink' Products Raise Funds and the Bottom Line

Pink may not be a traditional fall fashion color, but it's hot with retailers every October as companies encourage shoppers to buy their products and help raise funds for breast cancer research.

But their efforts may not be entirely altruistic. Some cancer research advocates urge consumers to "think before you pink," because not all the fundraising campaigns help the cause as much as a company's bottom line.

"Really and truly, the question is, is it really heightening awareness? Or is it just companies using this as a vehicle to promote their own sales?" said Karen Grant, a senior beauty analyst from the NPD Group.

In 2004, 3M, the company that makes Post-it Notes, budgeted $500,000 to unveil its pink campaign by hanging what it touted to be the world's largest pink ribbon in New York's Times Square.

The campaign definitely captured publicity and profits. By mid October, the company's sales had reportedly exceeded expectations by 80 percent.

"These pink ribbon campaigns often mean much more to the corporate bottom line than they do to people living with breast cancer," said Barbara Brenner, the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a national organization committed to helping those living with the disease.

Pink Soup, Yogurt

The Campbell Soup Co. has also worked to raise breast cancer awareness this year. For the first time, the company is selling a limited edition of its famed red-and-white cans in pink and white, with sales of the rosy colored cans going to breast cancer research.

The soupmaker expects to donate $250,000 from its campaign to the cause, which is roughly 3½ cents per pink can sold.

Yoplait is repeating its program, which encourages customers to mail back yogurt lids to help the cause, and will donate 10 cents to breast cancer causes for every lid received.

But advocates point out you would have to eat three cups of yogurt a day for four months just to raise $36 to fight breast cancer.

"I would love to see Yoplait's profits from the months of October to December, when they sell millions of pink-lidded Yoplait containers, when they give 10 cents a pop to breast cancer," Brenner said.

But a Yoplait spokesperson defends the strategy.

"Ten cents a cup out of a 69 cent or 79 cent cup of yogurt is about 15 percent of the cup of yogurt. We think that's very legitimate, and we're very proud of that," said David Fisher, Yoplait's director of promotions.

The company points out that in the last decade it has raised more than $15 million for cancer research.

And companies like 3M and Campbell's will tell you the same -- that that's the real bottom line here -- they are raising money.

Advocates say that may be true, but they're raising their profits too.