The American Cancer Society is selling its name to two corporate giants, offering exclusive endorsements to NicoDerm anti-smoking patches and Florida orange juice for at least $4 million.
Ethical watchdogs protested the deals announced Friday, saying the society may seriously hurt its credibility."If they want to endorse products, they should do it in the spirit of an educational agency, not as a paid shill," said Paul Root Wolpe of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
The deals - part of a rising trend of partnerships between nonprofit groups and companies - will provide the society with needed cash to boost its cancer-fighting programs and meet a $427 million annual budget at a time when donations are stagnant.
They also give the marketers of these products instant credibility through their association with one of the nation's most respected health groups.
But if the trend accelerates, Wolpe predicted medical organizations will someday be endorsing everything from tires and chewing gum to sneakers.
"We're going to end up with the health equivalent of the Olympics," he said, adding "On the other hand, I deeply understand the temptation."
That temptation snagged its last big medical association two years ago when the Arthritis Foundation signed a $1 million deal with the makers of Tylenol to sell painkillers with the foundation's name on the boxes.
Corporate executives call it cause-related marketing, something that got their attention in a big way in the 1980s when surveys showed most people would switch brands - and even pay more - if the companies making those products advocated causes with which they agree.
American Express Corp., the Stroh Brewing Co. and others accelerated the trend when they racked up higher sales by donating a portion to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, said Daniel Borochoff, president of the watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy in St. Louis.
Friday's deal was announced in conjunction with the national introduction of NicoDerm CQ, the second nicotine patch to be made available as an over-the-counter drug.
SmithKline Beecham PLC, the big British-based drug manufacturer, will pay the cancer society at least $1 million per year in sales royalties for three years. In exchange, the society's logo will appear on NicoDerm CQ boxes and advertising, along with a reference to the two as partners in promoting smoking cessation.
In a similar deal, the Florida citrus marketers association agreed to pay the society at least $1 million for one year.
"After very serious consideration and review we determined that companies that are producing products that support the missions or programs of the American Cancer Society would be acceptable business partners for us," said society spokeswoman Elizabeth Bridgers.