Silent No More
IN AMERICA’S NOT-so-distant past, there was a time of blissful and quiet ignorance. Some would say the 1950s was the climax before the fall of this silent era. It was a homogenous time, when women were expected to be housewives and men breadwinners for the family. An individual’s role in this world was unquestionable and very clearly defined. There was charity, but primarily the kind that conjures up images of 1940s era black-and-white films, a women’s auxiliary and a cause that was to be triumphed from a distance, while wearing crisp white gloves. There were a great number of taboo topics, and if they were to be discussed, it was done in a whisper. Disease, poverty, human rights violations, reproductive rights, sexuality, hunger, abuse and addiction were unmentionables and the mere thought of wrapping an awareness message regarding any of these issues around a silicone wrist band would be enough to send an appalled women’s auxiliary running for cover.
Clearly, in the days of old, awareness was not necessarily a part of charity. Perhaps the silence lasted for too long because by the 1970s, almost everything was open for discussion, and by the 1980s it was open for discussion on TV and mass media. This need to speak has not dissipated over time and, in fact, has grown. Today, there is a deluge of discussion coupled with donation. The Giving USA Foundation reported charitable giving in the United States reached a record $248.52 billion in 2004. People want to band together, show solidarity for a cause, express the personal impact it has had on their lives and receive a gift for their donation and literally wear it on their sleeve, or perhaps on their wrist.
Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong bracelet campaign proved the great impact a promotional product can have in not only furthering a single cause, but in the fundraising sector across the board. Len Hornstein, CEO of Avaline, Parsippany, N.J., a supplier company which offers an array of awareness products, commented on what he believed the current upsurge in awareness and related promotional products could be attributed to. “I think the biggest influence was Lance Armstrong and his iconic yellow bracelet,” he said. “I think they [the fundraisers] realized how influential a popular athlete or musician can be for cause/awareness fundraising. More than anything, these actors are able to get youth involved in society’s issues. More than anyone, the young want to imitate what their idols do and wear.”
But in the awareness niche, ultimately youth is not where it’s at. Not far removed from our illustrious ‘40s era women’s auxiliary, modern women continue to lead the charge in giving and volunteering. An ongoing study by the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University reveals single women are 37 percent more likely to be donors than are single men. And when discussing awareness issues, one woman’s name quickly comes to mind: Susan G. Komen. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation began as a grassroots organization to help fight and find a cure for breast cancer. To date, the foundation has generated $1 billion for research, education and health services. With a new brand and updated Web site, the Komen foundation now boasts an online “marketplace” featuring nearly 70 awareness products, from T-shirts and key chains to jewelry and coffee mugs. This widespread success of the foundation directly translates into the “feel good” success of promotional product distributors who are willing to take aim at the cause. Hornstein explained what happens in the industry each autumn. “Around October, the world turns a rosy shade of pink. It seems that the entire promotional products industry literally turns pink. I’ve even seen pink tool kits. I have not yet seen that kind of attention paid to any other cause and would say that breast cancer awareness reigns supreme.”
Frank Rocco, vice president of Business Relations at Marathon/Prestige, New Philadelphia, Ohio, concurred with Hornstein, citing September and October as the busiest “awareness” months. But there are other causes that gain ground from time to time. At the moment, the “hot social issue” as Hornstein coined it, is a “green” one and it is giving “pink” a run for its money. Hornstein explained: “Currently, I think the ‘Save the Earth’ campaign has become a very hot social issue,” Hornstein explained. “Movies and concerts are being produced to raise awareness.” He also cited spikes in awareness orders in the winter months, coinciding with AIDS awareness in December, Blood Donor Month in January and American Heart Healthy Month in February.
In order to find success in this sometimes somber niche, distributors need to get the word out that they have the ability to complete these kinds of orders. “Advertise the products in flyers, magazines and at all trade shows, and also make sure that the reps talk it up,” stated Rocco. Hornstein’s final keys to success: “Try to offer them something that makes the fundraising item unique to their cause.” Lastly, he added, “Don’t forget packaging. Adding a card or brochure that describes the cause and explains its goals will ensure lasting impressions.”
In 1987, the “Silence=Death”/“Action=Life,” AIDS awareness and activist project was born. Looking back on it 20 years later, it seems to be an appropriate statement of the era. Not only in regard to AIDS awareness, but for so many other important social and health-related awareness concerns. The wall of white-gloved silence was officially torn down and a new “roll-up-your-sleeves, get-in-there-and-help” attitude was born. Awareness education now comes to the masses. Today, there are races to run, as well as auctions, award ceremonies, galas and dinners to attend. Even solace and solidarity are found in T-shirts, caps and bracelets.