Beginning at Night of Champions back in September of last year the WWE publicly announced their partnership with the well-known breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The campaign would continue into the month of October, which serves as Breast Cancer Awareness Month each year.
There are two significant aspects of WWE’s partnership with the Komen foundation that call for analysis. The first is the reasoning behind it, and the second is the effectiveness of the campaign. Before tackling either of these, let us first refresh on what actions the WWE took to promote the cause.
The company’s poster-boy John Cena adorned himself in new pink attire with his “Rise Above Hate” slogan coined into “Rise Above Cancer.” These pink caps, t-shirts and wristbands would move a significant amount of merchandise during the campaign.
The WWE decked out their arenas with the pink ribbon Komen logo on the entrance ramp and a pink middle rope in the ring. On-air personalities and superstars wore Komen pins, and week after week apparent breast cancer survivors were shown sitting in the front row.
Weekly television episodes featured public service announcement videos promoting the cause and the commentators regularly reeled off statistics on the amount of people affected by the disease to reinforce its scope. The campaign ended on Raw on October 29, where an in-ring ceremony saw one million U.S. dollars donated to Komen.
While a significant figure, it is also an inconsequential amount for a company as large as WWE. Cena’s ability to move the “Rise Above Cancer” merchandise was surely far superior to the mere million-dollar donation.
In business, nothing is ever done without a reason and so, are we to believe that the WWE solely ran this campaign out of the goodness of their hearts? Could it be that WWE management holds breast cancer close to their heart due to experience and loss? Why is it that the WWE went so overboard in their support of Komen? Surely, there were ulterior motives other than seemingly pure altruism.
The WWE’s rival promotion, TNA, made a brief mention of Komen during October as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A.J. Styles of TNA personally chose to wear the pink ribbon in the design of his wrestling attire for the month, but TNA did not get anywhere near as carried away as the WWE did. In fact, no one was quite as involved as the WWE.
The timing of the campaign is extremely interesting as it directly preceded the 2012 U.S. Senate Elections, where WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s wife Linda, once again, unsuccessfully ran for the seat of Connecticut as part of the Republican Party.
McMahon’s campaign for the Senate has often been besmirched by the media due to both her past employment in the WWE and her continued involvement with the company through family ties. Already, many have accredited the family-friendly PG product of the WWE since 2008 to McMahon’s political agenda, which now has been unsuccessful through two elections.
Based on the timing, it would seem that the whole partnership with Komen was a last-minute attempt at obtaining a positive public opinion of the WWE heading into the election. However, those who observed the partnership likely saw nothing, but the oversaturation of media propaganda that was so overdone has to be an obviously transparent ploy.
Beyond just the Senate campaign the WWE likely jumped upon this opportunity to do something charitable to further build their perceived goodwill and to improve their standing in the public eye. With events like CM Punk striking members of the crowd last year getting media attention, the WWE will do almost anything to get some positives in the media.
Just consider how they promote Cena’s Make a Wish Foundation work, or their support of the US Troops.
While the timing of the Komen campaign fitted with the timing of the election, it also has a specific relevance to the WWE’s target audience. Generally speaking, it is extremely biased to focus on breast cancer while ignoring the impact of prostate cancer in males, or cancer as a whole.
However, once again, it was about clever targeting. Breast cancer affects mothers and the whole family that is built around the mother. Mothers and families are precisely who the WWE aims to impress.
The Komen foundation has largely been criticized for the for action of “pinkwashing.” The term refers to using the pink ribbon as a marketing tool in partnerships with major corporations. In return for a donation, such as the WWE’s $1 million, the company gets to use the pink ribbon logo in media and marketing campaign that is beneficial to the company.
Whether Komen or the WWE benefits the most from the partnership is debatable, but “pinkwashing” is an accurate word to describe the WWE’s involvement.
Regardless of initial motives and intentions, the second aspect for analysis is the overall effectiveness in promoting breast cancer awareness. Despite how good the cause behind it may or may not be, the WWE’s promotion of Komen was nothing short of an annoyance for viewers tuning in for a wrestling product.
Just like the WWE’s obsession for promoting Tout, the Kowen campaign was all-show and nothing but an irritation. For weekly statistics were reeled off, but it was not until the WWE utilized a personal story that the message of what they were truly supporting hit home for the viewers.
In her personal and emotional testimony video, Layla spoke about the experience of losing her mother to breast cancer at 48 years of age. In a one-minute direct message Layla managed to put cancer over far more than the whole rest of the campaign with lines such as "my mum has never seen me wrestle...never got to know what I obtained…she’s never gonna see me get married."
Perhaps, if the WWE had simply focused on the truth of what supporting breast cancer relief is all about—human lives and emotions—then they might have had a more successful campaign.
The whole partnership calls for cynical analysis, and given that we really cannot gauge the benefits reaped by the WWE in relation to their donation and the community awareness generated, we are always going to be left suspicious.
In the end, it came across as just another passing phase of the WWE, like Tout. Next time the WWE should consider that instead of putting on this whole charade, simply making a donation directly to charity would get much more positive attention. A simple direct donation would not be lost in the over-the-top self-promoting charade that we witnessed last year.