Home > Cause, Digital, Marketing, Public Relations, Work > The Bra Color Meme: So What?

The Bra Color Meme: So What?

So this was me at 5:32 PM last night on Facebook.



If you’re a chick, I bet you had your own “what up with all the colors on Facebook statuses?” moment yesterday.  And, like me, you probably had your little moment of epiphany: 




As I think many of us now know, someone somewhere invited women to share their bra color on Facebook yesterday without public explanation, all by way of spreading breast cancer awareness (Mashable speculates on the origins of the meme here.)


I actually adore this idea – it does everything a viral campaign should. We saw, we questioned, we buzzed, we laughed, we passed it on. And it was a uniquely chick-ish “social object” to be passing, wasn’t it? Our bra color, for god’s sake. Intimate but not embarrassing, a way to express individuality (I’m talking to you, animal-print ladies) and sisterly solidarity at the same time. And kind of keep the boys out, except when the boys themselves started playing along. Which is hilarious and alarming in equal parts.


BUT. As a cause-related effort? Not as successful. Feels like there was a big missed opportunity here. I’ve done a bit of cause marketing in my time and subscribe to a cardinal rule: tell people what they can do to make a tangible difference.  The bra meme got the hard part out of the way – it got us buzzing. It just needed to connect the dots and give us the tools to make a difference.


Is it because this was a grassroots effort started by a woman without ties to one breast cancer organization? Possibly, and fair enough. Was it just intended to “create awareness” without any other call-to-action? Again – possibly (though breast cancer is hardly a disease which needs to be put on the map.) For me, if you gave me a shortened link to share along with my color on Facebook and Twitter which let people click through to make a donation or sign a petition or something else concrete – done and done. I would’ve shared it gladly and hopefully made a measurable contribution to the fight against a disease which has touched every single one of us.


So did you participate in the bra meme? If you’re a marketer or PR person, how would you have handled it as part of a cause campaign? 

Thanks to my Twitter pal @karinatweedell for sending the Mashable post and holding my hand as I struggled to understand what all those damned colors meant.

  1. January 8, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Hey Stephanie! I agree with you – what if we did it and promised to donate $5 to x or y organization for cancer? What a difference that would have made!

    So aside from posting “pink” and giggling in solidarity with other ladies, it really does nothing. I said a prayer for my loved ones I have lost to cancer, but that was a personal thought. It was fun, made me smile and connected us. Sometimes that is ok and enough for me.

    Amy Lyn

  2. January 8, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I apparently am not hanging out at FB enough 😉

    All joking aside this kind of awareness spreading with no tangible upside does seem very common among NFPs. While great for ‘new’ problems for the actual purpose of spreading awareness, everyone knows what breast cancer is, etc. (or at least I would hope the audience on FB would).

    Now that the knowledge is out there, it’s definitely time to keep that stream going (which is done quite effectively with Awareness month, etc.) and move on to the action items.

    Great post again SS 🙂

  3. Jess Greco
    January 8, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I completely agree with everything you said. It had all the right elements of a viral campaign, but I feel like it did absolutely nothing for breast cancer awareness and failed to support any specific cause.

    Thanks for the great perspective on yesterday’s hot topic 🙂

  4. January 8, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Stephanie – your post brings up an interesting, tangential point. In all likelihood, this probably wasn’t an organized effort by a breast cancer-affiliated NFP. It was probably just one or two women who thought it would be fun and started spreading it among their Facebook friends (which is why it has all the characteristics of a good grassroots viral campaign, as you pointed out).

    While we’d hope (and expect) that a planned marketing tactic from a large organization (NFP or not) would have a little more strategy behind it, including a call to action or other way to induce a behavior change among participants, this underscores that through social media, ANYONE can start a viral campaign in the name of “breast cancer awareness” or any other type of cause they’re passionate about.

    That leaves the NFPs and organizations formally associated with these causes in an interesting position. In some cases, these homegrown campaigns will be fun and harmless (if not effective). But what if a similar meme were to spread that included incorrect information about a cause/issue? While one of the great aspects of social media is that your customers/stakeholders are empowered to market for you and spread your message across their networks, the drawback is of course that you’re not in control of your brand anymore.

    It would be great to see and organization like the Susan G. Komen Foundation jump on this meme to turn it from a fun diversion into an actual force of good. What about partnering with Hanes to donate $1 toward breast cancer research for each color status update posted? Or creating some fun visual graphs of the breakdown of colors being reported and have people try to guess which is most popular (after making a donation or watching a short video on the importance of mammograms, e.g.)?

    A lot of grassroots cause marketing like this meme probably won’t be as sophisticated and strategic as if an organization had thought through it as a campaign and defined goals for behavior change or donations or any other metric. But these “campaigns” can still draw a lot interest and participation and are a great opportunity for nonprofits and cause-related organizations to leverage the buzz created and transform it into community action.

  5. January 9, 2010 at 12:45 am

    why are you so smart?

  6. January 9, 2010 at 11:27 am

    I was completely curious about the bra color facebook status. I actually received a message telling me to do it. However, nowhere in that message did it mention the cause. I had no idea there was a cause related.

    I can totally see how they missed their target.

    What would I have done?
    -Created a one sheet website discussing breast cancer the mission and what we were trying to accomplish.
    -Created a contest where women “support their color” We would have women vote for their color and the color that got the most support would win. (possibly tie this in with a brand that would donate $ to the cause)

    This went incredibly viral and what did they accomplish?

    • ssmirnov
      January 10, 2010 at 11:57 pm

      All good, Cassie! Just toss a bra sponsor into the mix with the right charity and boom–awesome campaign. Thx for commenting.

  7. January 10, 2010 at 12:53 am

    I didn’t even know it was for breast cancer awareness until I read your post. One of my friend’s post comments said it was to see if guys could figure out what it was about. Yesterday, some men were sharing their boxer/brief/thong colors.

    We should’ve been encouraged to add a breast cancer donation link. Try again?

    • ssmirnov
      January 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

      Hi, Theresa. I’m afraid I’m too traumatized by the image of men in colorful thongs to respond to your comment coherently.

  8. January 10, 2010 at 1:21 am

    I signed on to fb and everyone had a color for there status. At first, I felt so left out but after posting a comment and someone telling me to check my messages I too was in the loop…then I was able to post nude!

    • ssmirnov
      January 10, 2010 at 11:55 pm

      Alyssa, your bra color was nude or you….eh hem….posted nude? 😉

  9. nonsequiteuse
    January 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    I missed the call to action, so am trying to start my own.


    I’m asking women to join The Army of Women, a group aiming to recruit 1,000,000 potential participants in medical studies leading to a cure, then change their FB status to say “I’m in the Army now” while also linking to The Army of Women website or their own explanation so other women can join the Army as well.

    We’ll see if this slightly more complicated meme can take off.

    • ssmirnov
      January 10, 2010 at 11:54 pm

      Sounds promising (and worthy) to me. You’re already one step ahead of the bra ladies by providing the link. Good luck with your campaign.

  10. January 10, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I didn’t participate in the meme.
    wouldn’t it be more fun if we posted our cup size? No? Ok!

    • ssmirnov
      January 10, 2010 at 11:53 pm

      Cup size, Marinka? No sweat. It’s the number that goes with the cup size I’ll never share, the one that reveals how…uh…big-boned I am.

  11. AW
    January 12, 2010 at 2:26 am

    At best it was slacktivism at its worst. At worst, which we are now coming to know it was, the meme had nothing to do with breast cancer and did nothing for it. Until it failed so big there were stories about the failure that mentioned breast cancer. Maybe those helped. Moral of the story: if you are going to do this, you must fail very big to succeed.

    As a cancer advocate, the whole thing offends me.

    • ssmirnov
      January 12, 2010 at 8:54 am

      Thanks for commenting, Anita. You’re not alone in your feelings. Though it’s interesting to note the big spike in traffic to the Komen site which they themselves remarked on and which coincided with the status meme. Silver lining in frivolous meme cloud, perhaps?

  1. January 8, 2010 at 5:51 pm
  2. June 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

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