The Pink NFL

Oct 08


The NFL’s promotion of breast cancer awareness has stirred up quite a bit of discussion within the social marketing and cause marketing communities (  I’ve heard applause for the impact that the pink cleats and footballs have made in raising awareness.  And I’ve heard complaints – many complaints – that the NFL’s effort was too shallow and focused only on awareness. 

“Everyone already knows that breast cancer is a significant health risk.”  Really?  Before Sunday, I’m not so sure that statement was true for my nieces and their friends who are in their teens and twenties.  They are typically more focused on shorter-term concerns. 

“Our objective needs to go beyond awareness.”  I agree completely.  But why does that mean that maintaining awareness isn’t still important?   And, couldn’t it be possible that the NFL’s media blitz, even if it was light on on-air behavior change-related messaging, caused some women (and the men who love them) to remember to schedule their mammogram or get back on track with their diet or exercise routine?

In fact, for those who were motivated by all the pink on the field to check out the NFL web site, there’s a link to a pretty complete section ( that encourages plenty of behavior changes:  schedule your mammogram and sign up for a yearly reminder; eat right; stay active; donate to the cause, etc.

The NFL is in the entertainment business; they are not a public health agency.  They chose to use their tremendous marketing influence to help make some noise about breast cancer.  Could they have included more behavior change messaging in the broadcasts?  I’m sure they could have.  Breast cancer is a complex issue, and there’s always more that can be and should be done.  But I think it’s more productive to be grateful for this very successful promotional program that has gotten the country talking about breast cancer prevention and early detection once again. The NFL provided a big spark for continued action, and the smart public health and advocacy organizations will look at how they can build off of and complement this effort with additional behavior change-focused initiatives. 

This entry was posted on Friday, October 8th, 2010 at 11:57 am and is filed under Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “The Pink NFL”

  1. Ashley says:

    Being part of a family that has been impacted by breast cancer, I only recently have realized the huge ramifications of not catching this disease early. I’ve always thought of breast cancer as being highly curable, but only if you are aware of it early. I think keeping this disease awareness in the public eye is a great reminder to everyone that breast cancer is still a really serious disease and that you have to be vigilant. I applaud the NFL for supporting awareness.

  2. Kat Friedman says:

    It isn’t possible to just ‘achieve awareness’ and then stop. It needs to be constantly maintained. So, an awareness effort has value. A big pink splash from the NFL clearly got attention, and perhaps increased awareness to new people: younger women who may not have retained the message in the past; men who might be more apt to hear the message when from sports influencers, or rabid sports fans who don’t use many other information sources.

    If the goal was to get us talking, it clearly worked.

    If the goal was to influence behavior and motivate donations to the cause – we’ll have to wait and see.

  3. Linda Weinberg says:

    I, too, read with concern the snubbing of the value of raising awareness in behavior change campaigns. While we cannot stop at raising awareness as a goal, we cannot even begin to motivate people to adopt new behaviors (and thereby trade in their old ones) if they are not aware of the issue, the need, the problem. They must also be convinced that the problem is indeed theirs. But there are already numerous behavior change theories that explain the complex systems that go into moving people through behavior change. As far as the NFL goes, the campaign does a wonderful job of awakening men (who love women) to the importance of breast cancer screening. In effect, the campaign creates a shared sense of ownership of the threat of breast cancer. The more engaged we, as a society are, the better chance we have of saving more lives. My hat’s off to the NFL and their partners. I think getting professional football players to wear pink cleats (and all the rest) is inspired.