In my recent online travels I came across a great article by Suzi Sosa on Inc. that caught my eye because its photo featured breast cancer advocates standing on a football field in the shape of a large awareness ribbon. I, like the rest of the planet, know that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I read on and am pleasantly surprised by what I find. The article questions the role of the social entrepreneur as it pertains to traditional marketing principles. Sure, the dark art of traditional marketing professes the ability to sell more, more frequently, for more money regardless of the purpose (or sometimes even the quality) of the product, but do these same dark art principles apply when it comes to a social initiative?
Case in point: The Susan G. Komen for a Cure organization. Being the social communications marketer that I am, I “like” the cause on Facebook and notice that it has 407,408 fans as of this moment. As I refresh the page, the number jumps to 407,417. A fan writes on its wall about every hour, sometimes a lot more frequently. I won’t even bother with the other forms of social media—you get the idea. Outside of cyberspace, the organization had our New England Patriots (and the rest of the NFL) wearing pink apparel and using a pink coin for the coin toss. They are making strides like no other global social awareness campaign has before. Even if you wanted to, you can’t avoid the reach of their breast cancer awareness initiatives.
And that’s just the point. Because the truth is, Susan G. Komen for a Cure is doing such a good job, that most women think that breast cancer is the number one killer of woman. You might be surprised, however, to know that it’s not. In fact, heart disease is six times more likely to kill a woman than breast cancer. When it comes to cancer, it’s lung cancer that is the most prevalent in women, not breast. And so, the question isn’t whether Susan G. Komen for the cure is doing a stellar job at making a difference and educating our society as a whole regarding breast cancer (because they undoubtedly are), but, rather, do we, as a society that promotes social entrepreneurship, have a responsibility to devote the same attention to other awareness causes—ones that theoretically affect and threaten the lives of a greater percentage of our population?
Susan G. Komen for the Cure has got it down. They are “selling more, more frequently, for more money,” except, in the case of social marketing, it’s “achieving more awareness and donations, from more people, more frequently.” So you can’t help but ask: Is it permissible to pursue this dark art of marketing even when the focus is public awareness and saving lives? Can they simply allow the breast cancer cause to trump other equally or more imperative causes, or should they be leveraging their marketing power to raise awareness for other social initiatives? When it comes to an awareness and advocacy organization, is there such thing as falling to the dark side of marketing?