Skip links


Cause-Related Marketing: The Ribbon Reigns Supreme

Posted At: November 21, 2011 12:34 PM
by Jaley Cranford, editor

Ribbons have become a symbol of hope for many diseases and disasters. Almost any disease or tragedy carries with it a loyal following of colored ribbons. Whether discussing pink ribbons for breast cancer, yellow for military troops, red for AIDS awareness or houndstooth for Tuscaloosa tornado relief, a ribbon can be a powerful marketing tool.

Cause-related marketing can be found in many nonprofit organizations. One of the most recognized and powerful organizations that utilizes this marketing is the Susan G. Komen foundation.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure initiative is a marketing marvel. Not only do events like the Race for the Cure help the organization spread awareness and raise donations benefiting breast cancer research, but they are also marketing tools that create a positive image about the organization.

Though the pink ribbon is a marketing tool instantly recognized for breast cancer, Andrea Rader from Susan G. Komen marketing communications said that the pink ribbon was not the first ribbon initiative.

“Actually, the red ribbon preceded the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness,” Rader said. “We think that without the red ribbon and the very aggressive campaigns of the AIDS community, we would not have treatments [for] HIV/AIDS and the outreach programs that grew from the public movement.”

Rader continued that the red ribbon, and the pink ribbon of the breast cancer movement, serve as visual triggers to the public.

“We aim to raise funds to fund our research and community health programs, while at the same time, continuing to spread education and awareness about breast cancer, which is the leading cancer diagnosed in women and the leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide.” Rader said. “With one in eight women facing a breast cancer diagnosis during her lifetime, we are working very heard to ensure that women understand the disease, understand the symptoms and take steps to reduce their risk.”

Rader said that Komen for a Cure uses public relations, marketing, advertising, social media, third-party influencers, partnerships and events to engage people in the breast cancer movement.

Though October is breast cancer awareness month, hundreds of pink ribbon products can be found in stores nationwide year-round. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization utilizes cause-related marketing in an unprecedented way. But other foundations are beginning to follow.

In a similar effort to generate donations, MAC cosmetics has been offering products dubbed the VIVA GLAM line since 1994. Special products with red cases go to the MAC Aids Fund. The red ribbon, much like pink and breast cancer awareness, has become synonymous with AIDS awareness.

MAC donated every cent generated by VIVA GLAM products to the MAC Aids Fund. Celebrity endorsers for the campaigns include Ru Paul, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Fergie, Eve, Dita Von Teese, Lisa Marie Presley, Pamela Anderson, Christina Aguilera, Sir Elton John and Mary J. Blige.

Ribbons seem to be a marketing tool for many different causes. After the April 27, 2011, Tuscaloosa tornado, an abundance of houndstooth ribbon memorabilia can be found across the state. Car decals, pinned ribbons on shirts and a painted ribbon on the University of Alabama football field announce support for the city of Tuscaloosa.

Merchandise pours out of sites such as All revenue generated from sweatshirts, T-shirts, coffee cups and everything else on the website is donated to programs supporting Tuscaloosa tornado relief efforts.

Another example of cause-related marketing using a ribbon is the yellow ribbon for American troops. Mark Robbins from the Yellow Ribbon Fund said that the yellow ribbon has been a symbol of welcome to returning troops since 1973.

“In modern times the yellow ribbon has come to symbolize a welcome to those returning from war. It wasn’t always this way,” Robbins said. “Today’s use and meaning of the yellow ribbon comes from a song in 1973 by Tony Orlando.”

Robbins said, “The yellow ribbon has become a universal symbol of being welcomed home. While it wasn’t always associated with service members, current use has transformed it to focus on them.”

Whether red, yellow, purple, pink, green or blue, the ribbon and the marketing initiatives of it as a cause-related marketing strategy have become a constant. In efforts to bring people together for causes, the ribbon reigns supreme.

Return to top of page