Has Komen Lost Its Way?

I want to like Komen. I really do. But they’re making it harder and harder. They’re turning into a sad case study of how organizations, like people, can forget where they came from. Komen seems to be devolving from advocacy to corporate brand. And they’re every bit as protective of that brand as Disney or Pepsi; probably more so as evidenced by the recent flap over lawsuits.

In a way, Komen is a victim of its own success. It’s a PR truism that the bigger you are, the more tempting of a target you become. Komen has used this argument in their own defense, as Gayle Sulik reported in Poor Pink Goliath. But that doesn’t mean you have to shoot yourself in the foot.

No one has ever done awareness building better than Komen, and it’s a pretty safe bet that pink ribbons are as recognizable as the golden arches. So their awareness goals would seem to have been met. This is when marketers “evolve the campaign.” Given their founder’s stated desire to end breast cancer forever (I’m not making this up; it’s on their website)  research offers the best opportunity to do that. It’s where the rubber meets the road in fighting this disease.

Yet just the opposite has happened, as Anna Rachnel reported in her excellent two-part series “Komen by the Numbers.” Do we really need more awareness, when every October sees us drowning in an ocean of pink? Is their mission to find a cure, or is it to perpetuate the brand?

Let’s take the cynical view and say it’s to perpetuate the brand. If so, you’d think they would show far more discrimination in what they endorse. Most large corporate brands are selective about what their names and logos are associated with. Not Komen. Do we really need to see pink ribbons on buckets of chicken and vaccuum cleaners? How are we supposed to react, other than to think they’ve crossed over from awareness to anything for a buck?

On a related note, why is it okay for Oreck to team with Komen to Clean for the Cure, but not for someone to use Mush For A Cure without being threatened by Komen’s lawyers? Can it be because Komen isn’t getting a cut?

Does Komen really think anyone’s going to confuse Mush For A Cure with Komen’s Race for the Cure? Do they really think the $10, $20 or $50 someone might give MFAC will preclude these people from giving to Komen? Actually, it might. Not because of any confusion over where the money’s going, but because Komen has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d love to know how many people are turned off enough by Komen’s “Lawsuits for a Cure” strategy and lack of research funding to decide to donate their money elsewhere.

Komen is clearly at a crossroads. It’s time for them to decide who they want to be, an organization devoted to finding a cure for breast cancer or a corporate brand. I hope they decide to get back to their roots and give us a reason to like them again.

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15 thoughts on “Has Komen Lost Its Way?

  1. Great points Jackie. I have been hearing grumbling about the Komen Foundation for a while now and it really makes me sad. Something that started out as personal and altruistic as could be, a loving, grieving sister devoting her life to finding a cure, has turned into a stereotypical corporate box, complete with mean spirited lawsuits.

    But that is often what happens to these organizations as they grow. The National MS Society is no better.

  2. I agree with you 100%, there are a lot of other places that raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research, and my money will be going there – Amercian Cancer Society, National Breast Cancer Coalition, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation…..

  3. This issue really gets to me. Yes, I believe they have lost their way, even though they continue to do important and life saving work. I know that Komen funded the research that developed the treatments that helped me beat my cancer. So I want to support them. On the other hand, if the money I donate is being used to sue other organizations that are trying to raise money to beat cancer, I don’t want to support them. What to do?

  4. I think we all desperately want to believe Jackie. But I think the evidence is mounting that things are not as they appear. And we shouldn’t view Komen as an untouchable icon of all things breast cancer. Like any charity, transparency and accountability are our right as donors and stakeholders. Our continued questioning of Komen’s activities is not only necessary, but responsible. After all, our lives may depend on it.

  5. Thanks for posting this. I couldn’t agree more that Komen needs to decide whether it is “an organization devoted to finding a cure for breast cancer or a corporate brand.” Deciding on the “cure” focus will require a major shift in operations, but if eradication is truly the mission then this is what needs to happen, I think.

    • Gayle, thank you so much for your comments, and for all you’ve done to shine a light on this too. If enough of us continue to question it maybe we’ll have some impact. And it’s a shame it’s come to this, I think we can all agree they have done some very good things. It’s time they get back to it.

  6. Jackie, I agree Komen is at a crossroads. I think they actually might be forced to rethink a bit, partly due to voices such as Anna’s and many others. They still have opportunity to change, I hope they will be able to. Great point about sometimes this same thing happens to people – they forget where they came from!! Love that.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I have similar feelings about Komen, but wasn’t really doing my research, and didn’t know there were so many others who felt the same way.
    I participated in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day in 2008. It was one of the most up-lifting experiences of my life, and I’ll always treasure the unity and the comraderie I felt during that walk. It was a huge event then, but even since then, I’ve been shocked at the aggressive way that Komen expanded their brand. KFC, Oreck, the NFL–it’s hard to bring up without sounding like a jerk, but doesn’t the NFL have more pertinent and pressing health concerns to deal with, like brain damage resulting from concussions? And how has Komen bled into fried chicken, for goodness sake?
    I agree with you, no one has done more for raising awareness than Komen, but we’re more aware than ever, so it’s time to turn the page. More research, please!

  8. I gave up on Komen when someone sent me a Komen-labeled giant pink Darth Vader head. Yes, I’m totally serious. I was furious when I heard about the lawsuits as well. So unnecessary.

  9. During my own experience of breast cancer, I discovered A LOT of things that were not as they appeared, particularly mammography.
    And I have A LOT of issues with Komen and ACS fundraising as well. I just learned about Jackie Fox’s book today. I read the excerpts and plan to read the entire book as soon as it arrives.

    I wrote my own story a couple of years ago, which may or may not echo some of Jackie’s book. Reading my story could save your life. It is posted at

    http://mammogramsanddcis.blogspot.com (mammograms and dcis)

    You may be shocked about what you don’t know.

  10. And the fact that Komen gives MILLIONS of dollars to Planned Parenthood makes me even more nauseated when I see the pink all over everything in October.

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