Band wagon

Good causes fuel a lively market for wristbands

September 27, 2005|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,SUN REPORTER

It's difficult to pinpoint why millions of Americans wear wristbands that promote or support a cause.

Perhaps, after Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, people want to feel a sense of community. Or perhaps, after years of robust spending on luxury goods, people are feeling a tad guilty and want to give back by buying a band that benefits charity.

Both developments likely played a role in the wristband craze, said Cheryl Greene, chief strategy officer for the New York ad agency Deutsch Inc. And it's clear that today's Zeitgeist is etched in silicone rubber.

"This thing is really huge," Greene said. "It lets the little guys show they care and that they're charitable without having their name on a wing of a hospital. It used to be nobody knew that but maybe the IRS and you."

While the current fad really took off with a yellow wristband promoted by cyclist Lance Armstrong's foundation, it can be traced to Vietnam POW/MIA bracelets worn in the 1970s. Now most every cause, including the fight against cancer and efforts to support U.S. troops, has a colored band. The trend has even spawned fakes.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer recently busted a ring that sold counterfeit LiveStrong bands, forcing it to turn over almost $112,000 to Armstrong's organization.

The wristbands have gone commercial, too. Companies get brand recognition by selling them for charity. Some, such as Spencer Gifts, sell them just for fun, and profit. In June, 7-Eleven introduced a scented "Slurpee" wristband with proceeds going to its foundation that grants college scholarships.

The total market for wristbands, for profit or not, has easily topped $500 million, said Daniel J. Howard, chair of the marketing department at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business.

"It's like the pet rock. It's the `in' thing to do," Howard said. "Is it meeting any long-term market need such that it will be around in three years? I don't think so."

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

FROM CHARITY TO COMMERCE

Livestrong

BENEFITS // Cancer research, support programs

MADE FOR // Lance Armstrong Foundation

When Nike Inc. approached Lance Armstrong's charity with the idea of selling wristbands, it decided to order a few million and hope for the best. A little more than a year and 55 million bands later, the campaign has raised more than $40 million. The color is a nod to the yellow jersey donned by the winning cyclist in the Tour de France. The slogan is a tribute to Armstrong, who won the grueling race seven consecutive years after recovering from cancer.

BELIEVE

BENEFITS // Civic pride campaign

MADE FOR // Baltimore

Aiming to boost the city's image, Baltimore officials decided to post the word "Believe" on billboards and buttons. "I was unaware of the wristband craze," said Israel "Izzy" Patoka, who helped design the campaign. That is, until colleagues clued him in. Now, he said, Believe bands are "one of our hottest items," and sold at citywide events. Proceeds are used to distribute free bands in distressed neighborhoods.

RAVENS

BENEFITS // Marketing

MADE FOR // M&T Bank Corp.

When M&T Bank used purple Ravens wristbands as a free promotional item this month, word got out and football fans flocked to local bank branches. In three days, more than 100,000 bands were handed out. The Buffalo, N.Y., bank, which acquired Allfirst Bank of Baltimore in 2002, wedded itself to the city and its football team by buying the right to put its name on the Ravens stadium in 2003.

ORIOLES

BENEFITS // Marketing Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, Robert Packard Center for ALS Research

MADE FOR // Benelogic LLC for Orioles

When Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record for the most consecutive majorleague baseball games played, the team and owner Peter Angelos used the occasion to raise $2 million for research into the disease that took Gehrig's life. This year, on the 10th anniversary of Ripken's achievement, wristbands - not a craze 10 years ago - are being used to raise more for research. They're sold at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and CVS pharmacies.

TROOP SUPPORT

BENEFITS // Some bands help military charities, others don't

MADE FOR // Various groups

Some wristbands in support of U.S. troops come in red, white and blue; others in camouflage. One campaign raised more than $1 million for the United Service Organizations, which helps military families, but officials warn of copycats.

ADIDAS

BENEFITS // Special Olympics

MADE FOR // adidas-Salomon AG

Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain used to wear rubber bands on his wrists when he played in the 1960s and '70s, which inspired superstar Kevin Garnett, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, to do the same. Adidas designs wristbands for Garnett and other athletes and sells its "wrist stripes" that sport motivational sayings, such as the company's motto: "Impossible is nothing."

KATRINA

BENEFITS // Hurricane Katrina victims

MADE FOR // Shanrene Inc.

Jason and Shannon McWilliams repackaged the wristband hey created last winter for victims of the South Asian tsunami and sold them as Katrina bands through their online jewelry business. The couple hopes to raise $100,000.

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