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.