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Puma Project Pink, Feel Free Not to Repeat in 2013

Today is the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2012 and I devote this final pink ribbon post to Project Pink, from Puma, the shoe and apparel company.

Project Pink is a contest of the sort made popular American Express’s Member’s Project and Pepsi Refresh. That is, causes nominate themselves to receive a large cash prize then rally their supporters to vote them through the rounds, usually via social media.

Beginning on July 6, 2012, Puma accepted nominations for a single prize worth as much as $120,000. The donation was based on the profits from the sale of Project Pink merchandise, mainly branded shorts and t-shirts, and by the number of tweets with a promotional hashtag. Promotion extensions included a celebrity soccer match with actor/singer Ashley Tisdale.

Project Pink had a verification phase in September and the voting began on Sept 24 and ended on October 5, 2012. Puma announced the winner earlier this month; the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation.

I never really liked these kinds of cause marketing efforts, notwithstanding the fact that they can generate crazy social media exposure for the causes involved. But as they keep cropping up, I’ve begun to actively dislike them.

First off, I loathe the idea of pitting charities against each other for a public vote. Every adult knows that Komen and the pink ribbon charities compete fiercely against each other for supporters, racers, sponsors, etc. But there’s especially naked about the way that competition takes place in these kinds of contests.

People would like to believe that charities and causes can work together to improve society and the world. You and I know that’s sometimes na├»ve, but that doesn’t mean we have to put the competition between causes in such sharp relief. 

Second, these contests have had a real problem with people gaming them, notably Pepsi Refresh.

Third, the phase where the public votes can turn into the most desperate kind of beg-a-thon. Charities send out ever more fraught communications to their supporters trying to get out the vote.

Fourth, like all cause marketing, these contests favor causes that know how to position themselves before the public and have existing large networks of supporters.

It ends up being a very public demonstration of the ‘Matthew Effect.’ The Matthew Effect is drawn from Matthew 25:29 in the New Testament: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” In application it means that the rich tend to get richer and the poor tend to get poorer. Think about it. Two pink ribbon causes both have good, if different ideas, about how to spend the Project Pink money. Only one of the organizations also has a database of 150,000 names and the capability of easily reaching out to them. Which pink ribbon charity is likely to get more votes?

I genuinely hope Project Pink didn’t meet Puma’s goals so that they don’t feel compelled to repeat it.

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