The NFL’s Pink October: Brand Positioning Gone Wrong

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Green Bay Packers v Baltimore RavensIf you’ve managed to catch an NFL game this October, you may have noticed the “pink-washing” of the game, the uniforms and even the take-home merchandise offerings. For those who don’t know… October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast cancer is a disease that primarily affects women, and particularly now, there are a lot of reasons for the NFL to charm women.

What was perhaps once a respected partnership with the American Cancer Society to raise money and awareness, is at this point a pretty obvious brand positioning tactic gone wrong. The most recent domestic violence allegations against Ray Rice, the subsequent mishandling of the punishment and the entire media fiasco around it all has led many women to finally ask the question amidst all of the pink cleats and helmets: does the NFL really care about me?

And a lot of those same women are coming to the conclusion that, no, it really doesn’t. The NFL has donated $7 million to the American Cancer Society since they began the “A Crucial Catch” campaign back in 2009. While it’s no small chunk of change, that amount is only about 12.5% of the entire revenue generated from pink retail items sold in October. The NFL, along with retailers and manufacturers, keep the remainder. When you look at this in the context that the NFL generates upwards of $8 billion a year in revenue alone, that amount seems hardly generous.

The NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” is a marketing campaign centered on a special cause (breast cancer) that many, many people can appreciate and respect. The NFL, in creating this campaign, hoped to align themselves as a friend of women, as an organization that looks out for women and the challenges they face. But with the mishandling of the Ray Rice case and the spotlight on how the NFL has handled past domestic violence cases against its players, it is pretty clear that the NFL is no ally of any woman. And with that, the credibility of any other marketing campaign they hope will appeal to women, is dashed.

Because at the end of the day, “A Crucial Catch” is a marketing campaign. It ties in (very high paying) corporate partners, advertisers, promotional materials and merchandise. Its intent is to align the NFL’s brand with the American Cancer Society and all breast cancer research and awareness organizations. It aims to reach those of whom breast cancer is, or could be, part of their daily lives.

The NFL certainly could have, and most likely would have, continued on their way with this marketing campaign had the domestic violence issue never been raised. The pink October campaign began very shortly after the Ray Rice situation and all of the fallout from it. There was an immense wave of backlash against it the campaign itself – it now seems insincere and manipulative. The NFL has certainly begun to lose the female fan, and it is going to be challenging to win them back over with anything less than a purely altruistic positioning campaign.

What do you think the NFL has to do to get back into the good graces of the female market?

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