Every spring DISCOVER: Marquette University Research and Scholarship showcases some of the most interesting research happening on Marquette's campus. Learn more through the links below.
THE ETHICS OF PINKWASHING: Is pink the new black? From shoes to fried chicken and cars to toasters, consumers may notice more product packaging increasingly turning shades of pink. The hue has less to do with fashion than with marketers aligning with breast cancer awareness. But is this always a good thing? Dr. Kati Tusinski Berg, assistant professor of public relations, found in her research that some brands may be engaging in a process known as “pinkwashing,” or marketing that has more to do with the business bottom line than giving back. “Some companies take advantage of consumers’ concern about breast cancer,” Berg says. “In reality, they’re profiting from marketing pink products while donating little or nothing to the cause.” Berg noted a dramatic increase in the last decade for cause-related marketing, which attempts to gain customers by tying purchases of goods or services to charity. But not all pink products — which signify breast cancer awareness — carry an equal benefit. Specifically, Berg’s research critically analyzed the marketing ethics of Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade and KitchenAid Cook for the Cure. Berg’s methods applied a test that measures the marketing campaign’s fulfillment of truthfulness, authenticity, respect, equity and social responsibility. “The persuasive communication used in these campaigns fail to meet the five principles of the test,” Berg says. “We argue that consumers are particularly vulnerable.” In one example, Mike’s Hard Lemonade failed to disclose on its packaging that its donation to the Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation was not tied in any way to consumer purchase or action — which may have encouraged fewer sales. “Their message is deceptive because the packaging does not explicitly state that the donation is not tied to product sales,” Berg says. Unfortunately, most charities are reluctant to speak up against a business that donates money to them, Berg says. As a result, she recommends that communication practitioners and industry leaders should take a stand for universal standards for cause-related marketing. And in the meantime? Consumers should be wary. “Think before you pink,” she says. — TC WHAT’S THE VALUE IN A LEGAL BRIEF? As a practicing attorney, Chad Oldfather often wondered how fully judges engaged with the briefs he submitted on behalf of his clients. Now a professor at Marquette University Law School, Oldfather has devoted much of his scholarly attention to exploring just how focused on input from litigants judges should be. Most recently, he used computational methods to assess whether decisions issued by the court actually reflected the briefs submitted by the litigants in a particular case. “Legal scholarship has historically taken on faith that judicial opinions accurately reflect the facts of the cases they discuss because there was no alternative,” he continues. “This work can help us assess whether that is true.” It might also help inform practicing attorneys about whether certain features of briefs tend to resonate more with the court. In developing his methodology, Oldfather and his research partners, who include University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee computer science professor Dr. Joseph Bockhorst, employed three ways of analyzing a group of cases decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Two of the analyses involved computational methods, which allowed researchers to “read” large numbers of documents in a short period of time. The first, in effect, treated the briefs and opinion in each case as a collection of words and assessed the overlap among them. The second measured the overlap in authorities cited, such as statutes and prior cases, in the opinions and briefs. The third used a structured reading of the three documents, including a series of human judgments about the extent to which the opinions responded to the briefs. Marquette University 21 What he found in the preliminary data is, first, enough of a correlation between the computational and human assessments to support the conclusion that the computational methods are getting at what they are intended to measure. There was also a “relatively surprising lack of correspondence between opinions and briefs,” says Oldfather — suggesting that judges weren’t strongly influenced by the briefs that attorneys labored over. As the methodology becomes more sophisticated, it has the potential to provide payoffs to academics and practitioners alike. “We are trying to develop another way of assessing how courts behave, which may in turn be useful for assessing if they’re behaving as we want them to, and thinking about how we might respond if they are not,” concludes Oldfather. — BOM