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Walgreens and the American Diabetes Association

Scared Pointless

When it comes to cause marketing the disease charities have potential conflicts of interest that other causes probably don’t. For example, if the American Heart Association does a cause-marketing campaign with Bayer’s 80mg ‘baby aspirin’ then there’s an implied endorsement of both Bayer and the 80mg dose, whether or not the AHA offers an explicit endorsement of either or both.

About 10 years ago, the attorneys general of several States gave the single disease charities a good scare when it comes to cause marketing by drafting a document about the legal and ethical use of the practice for certain kinds of charities. However, the document never received the support of the full membership of the National Association of Attorney’s General, according to their communications director.

Nonetheless, in the wake of that unwanted attention, many of the single-disease charities developed strict policies about what they will and will not do when it comes to cause-related marketing campaigns. The Heart Association, to name one, splits the baby by allowing certain cause marketing campaigns, but by also offering a licensing arrangement whereby if a company’s product meets certain specified criteria they can buy the rights to use the American Heart Association’s seal.

I couldn’t find a cause-related marketing policy for the American Diabetes Association, but I presume they have one. How else to explain the absurdity of this page from the Walgreens sales flyer in June 2007? The headline reads: “Walgreens and the makers of the items on this page salute the American Diabetes Association. We’re proud to make a contribution of $287,500*.”

That asterisk refers us to a sentence in mice-type on the bottom left of the page which reads, “The American Diabetes Association does not endorse any of the products featured.”

Aside from the CYA legalism of the statement, there’s something very prissy about all this. I mean I get Walgreens’ role. It’s their flyer. They want to look like good corporate citizens and sell some product. The vendors want the same. But what is the ADA is doing here? That disclaimer makes it seem like they’re saying, “thanks for your money, but don’t stand too close when you hand us the check.”

The ADA’s participation would make more sense if the ad celebrated “National Diabetes Awareness Week,” or some such. Or if the diabetes magazine mentioned in the ad was prepared in part or whole by the ADA. Or, if the ad featured someone from the ADA’s stable of celebrities. Or if, need I say it?, the ad featured some honest-to-Pete cause marketing!

The standoffishness is silly. As near as I can tell, the ADA has existing relationships with all or most of the companies featured in the ad.

Given that it seems plain that the lawyers are getting too much purview when it comes cause-related marketing at the American Diabetes Association.

Listen, I like lawyers. I admire their training. I’ve worked with one closely at Operation Kids. I put myself through my early college years working for a law firm. You can’t swing a garden hose in my suburban neighborhood without hitting one. But if they’re still practicing law then they’re almost certainly not business people. The occasional exception proves the rule (before he ran for mayor of New York Rudy Giulani was appointed to manage a Kentucky coal company in receivership, for instance). It’s instructive that in the United States we call lawyers ‘counselor.’ You go to them for advice and counsel, not to make your business decisions for you.

This ad is so careful as to be pointless.

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