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What Comes After ‘Pink Pledges’ in Cause Marketing?

More pink ribbon cause marketing, this time from retailer Dress Barn.

For every 'Lilac' plush toy animal sold for $6 through Dec. 31, 2011, Dress Barn will send “the entire net profit of at least $2.50 to support local and national breast cancer initiatives” at the American Cancer Society.”

Lilac was featured on the inside front cover flap of the “Late Fall 2011” Dress Barn catalog.

I much admire the clear language in this appeal. The American Cancer Society will receive the entire profit from the sale each plush toy and naming a specific dollar figure. Would that more sponsors were as transparent.

The bottom portion of the flap encourages people to ‘Take the Pink Pledge.’ Point your smart phone at the QR code or go to yourdressbarn.com/mypinkpledge and you can post online your cancer story or Take the Pink Pledge. As of this writing they had 3,413 pledges.

Variations of Dress Barn’s ‘Pink Pledge’ have been around forever. Dress Barn’s asks you for your name and email address and prompts you with “I pledge to take care of myself by…” Then, for who knows what reason, limits your response to 500 characters.

As of that last paragraph, I had spilled approximately 918 characters, right around a half-page of text. Perhaps Dress Barn’s IT people are worried that people would be so verbose that the company might have to spend an extra $50 a month for another terabyte of server-space.

But never mind all that.

I think it’s time that we found a call to action that is a little substantive than those like the Pink Pledge. Ultimately, pledges are about changing behavior, getting that dreaded mammogram, for instance, dropping a few pounds, starting an exercise program, doing self-exams more regularly, etc. A pledge is a promise to do…or not do… something. But that’s all it is.

And while I believe that the behavioral psychology literature shows that writing something down dramatically improves your chances of actually undertaking it, because of the ephemeral nature of such pledges on a website that you’ll only visit once, I doubt it holds true in this instance.

Imagine instead that in addition to selling Lilac that Dress Barn offered a donation of money and/or volunteer hours to the Cancer Society based on actual behavioral changes. Lowered your fat intake 10%. Tell us about it and Dress Barn will donate $3 to the Cancer Society. Got that mammogram? Excellent! Tell us more and Dress Barn employees will donate an hour to the Cancer Society.

The telling part would create a sense of social proof, that phenomena of persuasion whereby people assume that if other people have done something it must be OK for you to do it too.

How would Dress Barn know what people might respond to? Well, as it’s currently constituted, the Pink Pledge will generate thousands of responses. Dress Barn could simply parse those results to get a sense of the kinds of behavior people think they need to change.

The result would really move the needle on breast cancer awareness and prevention, instead of merely pledging to do so.

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