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A Word is Not What it Signifies, And a Pink Ribbon Is Not an Emotion

As of yesterday we are 1/3 of our way through National Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2012 and conspicuous by its absence is the one thing that separates cause marketing from every other kind of tactical marketing, namely genuine emotion.

Too few cause marketers get this right during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That is, they use the symbols of the month…pink and pink ribbons… as a short hand for the real emotion that surrounds the diagnosis.

It’s a simple semiotics problem, in fact. Semiotics, says Merriam-Webster, is “a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics.”

Here’s an example using an English cliché from the American idiom: dumb cause marketing is ‘easier than falling off a log.’ The noun ‘log’ is not actually a log. It’s not even a facsimile of a log like a photograph of a log would be. Instead, it’s an abstraction of the idea of a log. I won’t go any further because semiotics can be a real mindbender, but you get the point.

Likewise, we utilize the pink ribbon as a symbol of breast cancer and the fight against the disease. But in North America the marketplace is saturated with pink ribbons to the point where the symbol doesn’t often point us back to real human feelings, those emotions that help forge our humanity.

That’s why I applaud Kroger’s use of the personal narrative on this case of its house brand of bottled water and in support of its Giving Hope a Hand. Printed on the plastic wrap are stories of women in the ‘Kroger family’ who have fought back breast cancer. Pictured is a story from ‘Rebecca.’ On the flip side is a narrative from ‘Jamie.’

The wrap is pink, but it doesn't just call on symbols of breast cancer. Instead, we hear the first-hand accounts of human triumph from living, breathing people.

Good for Kroger for bringing us back to basics of cause marketing.

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