Q20 pink campaign gives company the blues


A can of Q20 lubricant wrapped in the limited edition CANSA branding that was intended to raise funds for breast cancer awareness. CANSA has subsequently distanced itself from the campaign after it was revealed the product contains Group 2A carcinogens.


JOHANNESBURG- The company that produces the household lubricant Q20 said on Friday it never meant to mislead the public with its fundraising campaign for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), which involved relabeling its “limited edition” cans entirely in pink for a month.

Q20 contains two types of carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances.

Triton-Leo Group Sales Director Andrew Duncan said the campaign was simply intended to raise money for breast cancer awareness; and that CANSA never formally endorsed the Q20 product.

“It was a simple idea of putting together a fundraising campaign,” said Duncan, adding that the foundation has two different labels – one for endorsements and one for cause-related projects.

“We apologise for any incorrect impressions that may have been created,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Speaking to a guest on 702 talk show host Jenny Crwys-Williams show this week, Simon Smith, the Marketing Director of Triton-Leo Group who are the Q20 brand owners, admitted the product contains Perchloroethylene (PERC) and Tetrachloroethylene, both of which are classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR) as Group 2A carcinogens.

Group 2A carcinogens are defined by the IARC as substances that are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The category is used to classify substances in which there is “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.”

Campaign fail

The spotlight was placed on the Q20 pink campaign when Triton-Leo’s competitor, Herschell, wrote to CANSA to ask whether the organisation was aware it appeared to be endorsing a Group 2A carcinogenic product.

Herschell further brought an application to the Advertising Standards Authority that the Q20 campaign was misleading consumers and encouraging them to choose a safer, &39;cancer-friendly&39; product over a similar product on the market.

CANSA has subsequently distanced itself from the campaign and has turned down the R50,000 Triton-Leo raised from the 88,000 pink cans it sold in just over a month.

“Unfortunately, in giving approval to the campaign, CANSA’s normal processes were not fully adhered to, with a further error of judgment on our part regarding the classification of PERC being only 2B rather than 2A, which is the same classification as cell phones,” CANSA CEO Sue Janse van Rensburg said in a statement on July 30.

While PERC is found in many household items and usually comes with sufficient warnings by the manufacturers, it was suggested Tetrachloroethylene be banned entirely in 1977 by the US Food and Drug Association because of its potential carcinogenic effects.

“Someone should have researched it,” said branding and marketing expert, Michael Sharman.

“If I go to the hardware store and I see a pink can, I’m going to buy it because I think I’m supporting [the fight against] cancer,” he said.

“You need to be 100 percent certain as a corporate when you’re backing [a cause]. You can’t just turn things pink and deny you knew the implications,” he said.

Conflicting classifications

Smith said on Friday his company, the market leader in South Africa, was reviewing the classifications of all its products, after it was revealed Triton-Leo classified Perchloroethylene as a Group 3 carcinogen on its material safety data sheets.

“We want to make sure all our products are assessed,” he said, adding that Triton-Leo relied on the classifications determined by its distributors.

“I feel terrible for what’s happened,” he said. “I lost my mom-in-law and my dad to cancer.”

“We were trying to do something good,” he added.

Smith also said Triton-Leo “may have needed legal advice” before going ahead with the campaign.

The company has brought its own application to the Advertising Standards Authority.