Wrist bands, walks, walrus mustaches all for good causes — but which one?

     Robert Cucugliello is growing a mustache for

    Robert Cucugliello is growing a mustache for "Movember'," a campaign to raise awareness for men's prostate and testicular cancers. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Raising awareness and funds for health causes makes for a crowded marketplace these days. Races, walks and runs compete for participants. A dizzying array of colors represents any illness under the sun. And if you’ve seen some strange facial hair sprouting up around you — yep, that’s related to a good cause too.

    Is the message still getting through?

     

    Robert Cucugliello works in corporate America, for Comcast Corp. Right now, though, he’s sporting a big curly mustache and fat side burns that make him look more like a slightly shady 1970s private eye.

    “Mustaches are just fun,” he said.

    But Cucugliello’s mustache is not for merely for fun or looks. It has a cause: Movember. In a nutshell, in November, men grow mustaches — hence “Movember” — to start conversations about men’s health and raise money for men’s health issues such as prostate cancer.

    Cucugliello says it’s working.

    “Because, not only is it on my face, it is in everybody else’s face, anybody who knows me and they see me with a mustache, they ask why,” he said. That question gives Cucugliello a chance to talk about men’s health, and the fact that he is raising money for a good cause.

    Emblem of private behavior helps trigger public recognition

    “Anything that makes it more public helps,” says Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger.

    If you want to get the word out about a health issue, and draw out wallets, you need a signal to make a private behavior — such as donating money or getting screened for cancer — visible, he said.

    In his book “Contagious,” Berger describes how the ever popular yellow “Livestrong” wrist bands became a huge success that quickly spawned many imitators.

    “Soon there was a blue wrist band, and a black wrist band for this, and a polka dot wrist band for that,” said Berger. “And when you start getting the striped wrist band, you know there are no colors left, and the meaning is really lost.” (By the way, did you know that the pink and blue cloud design wrist band and ribbon stand for diaphragmatic hernia awareness?)

    It’s important to find something new and unique, added Berger, to cut through the clutter. Just adding a slight tweak or change to an already existing idea doesn’t work.

    The hair idea is growing quite quickly already, with other organizations advocating “no shave November” or shaving one’s head to raise funds for childhood cancer research.

    So, Berger says find something new and, as he puts it, “Don’t let the sizzle overwhelm the steak.”

    “When people care more about growing a mustache than the cause, or initiatives like ‘Save the Tatas’ which is funny and gets attention, but it’s not clear that it’s driving awareness, or behavior change.”

    “Movember” started 10 years ago with two guys in Australia, and has since spread to 21 countries. About 3 million participants have raised more than $446 million for causes such as prostate cancer research.

    Robert Cucugliello, who gathered a team of mustache-growing co-workers, has raised close to $4,000 so far. His efforts will end at the end of the month, when he’ll shave his mustache.

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