Cause for Alarm?
It's been a rough year for Livestrong. Just months after the nonprofit organization severed ties with founder Lance Armstrong in the wake of Armstrong's doping admission, Nike announced it would cease production of Livestrong merchandise after 2013, effectively ending the partnership between the two organizations. While Livestrong has so far remained financially stable and indicated it will continue its cancer-awareness mission undeterred, it remains to be seen how the foundation will fare down the line without the backing of its two biggest partners in Armstrong and Nike.
That could mean uncertainty for the promotional products industry. It was Livestrong that popularized the silicone awareness bracelet, with cause marketers for foundations large and small co-opting the bands as a primary fundraising tool. Could Livestrong's partially tarnished image and uncertain future spill over to the awareness market, and if so, will demand for silicone bracelets drop off?
So far, the answer is no. "We have not seen an impact on our silicone bracelet sales after Nike cut ties with Livestrong," explained Katharina Piper, marketing manager for BamBams LLC, Woodbridge, Va. "Silicone bracelets have been and still are one of the most popular and cost-effective awareness products."
Ronna Rosenblatt, owner of Newburyport, Massachusetts-based Pinnovative Designs, agreed. "I think people still want them—they're wearing them and they're asking for them," she said.
Much of this is due to the way silicone bracelets have transcended Livestrong. They're no longer associated strictly with the Livestrong brand, but with awareness in general, shielding them from any negative backlash. In other words, even if the iconic yellow LIVESTRONG wristband loses its appeal, the blue ones and the red ones and the periwinkle ones will keep on selling.
Still, if your client isn't fully sold on the silicone bracelet's sustainability or just wants to change things up, you've got options. Ribbons and lapel pins remain popular, and just about anything can be serve as an awareness item if used correctly. "Whether people use stress relievers, car accessories, phone accessories, metal products such as lapel pins, or any type of jewelry or apparel, there is no limit when it comes to awareness products," noted Piper.
She described one instance where a Major League Soccer team wanted a giveaway for fans on breast-cancer awareness night. The team chose a pink soccer knit scarf, which fans could wear at the game and reuse after it. "This was especially effective because the soccer scarves are often collected by fans, and this was a one-time promotion and that particular scarf would never be available again," Piper said.
If your client is set on using bracelets, there are alternatives to silicone. Pinnovative offers a poly-cord bracelet that can be pantone-matched to any cause color and customized for a jewelry-like look. "The stock one that we offer is a circular one and you customize it with a message, but we also do custom charms," Rosenblatt explained. "Because of the price point not being so far out of reach out of the silicones, they're doing great."
More important than what you're selling, though, is how you're selling. Rosenblatt noted that nonprofits aren't the only companies that buy awareness products—many for-profit organizations can use them, too. "In a company, a for-profit organization, they would have a cause-marketing director," she said. "If you can find who that cause-marketing director is of that company, it could be a gold mine," she continued. "Usually it falls under a separate budget than just straight marketing. And they are looking for products that they can use in conjunction with their sponsorship with their nonprofit."
Meanwhile, Piper advised educating yourself on different causes before starting in awareness product sales. "It is important to learn about a specific awareness topic (texting and driving awareness, for example, or breast cancer awareness) and become an expert, then offer products that you are certain will be effective based on the target audience, types of events, etc.," she said. "In short, become an expert on an awareness topic, and then select products. Not vice versa."