The Komen Branding Debacle

by Halisi



Every year, during breast cancer awareness month I would marvel at the different products sporting pink ribbons.  I was amazed at the partnerships the Komen development and marketing team were able to secure.  I mused that, “Komen’s marketing team is top notch”, at least I believed that until last week.

Unless you’ve been asleep for the past week then you’ve heard about Susan G. Komen Foundation deciding to defund Planned Parenthood.  If not, here’s a summary.  About a week ago news came out that the Susan G. Komen foundation will cut ties with Planned Parenthood.  The Komen foundation’s $600,000/year grant helps fund cancer screenings for low income women and women with no health insurance.  100% of the foundations grant is spent strictly on screenings.  (I emphasize that because there is a segment of the population that is opposed to abortion in any situation)  However, it is unimportant whether you are pro-choice or anti-abortion last week’s decision was a brand-damaging debacle.

If you are a regular reader of Jaw Dropping Marketing than you know I write often about protecting your brand.  Komen thoroughly underestimated the effects of their decision.  Perhaps they looked at the 2009 Gallup polls that show a trend towards pro-life.  However, as a marketer, we must take polling with a grain of salt.  In other words what is true for the nation and the responders to the Gallup poll in 2009 and what is true for Komen constituents is not necessarily the same thing.


Whether you are considering a policy change, as was the case with Komen, or a change to your restaurant’s menu; you must consider your audience.  How do they view the brand?  How much of their feelings towards the brand is tied to specific products, services, or policies?  Why do they support the brand?  If you don’t know the answers to those questions, then you are not equipped to make a decision on changes.  The Komen foundation did not know the answers to those questions, obviously.  They did not do any or enough internal marketing research nor did they do enough external research.  When key members of your board and executive staff resign over a decision – then you know that the research was not done.


For small non-profits and businesses, it is not necessary to hire a marketing research firm to conduct marketing research.  Simply ask your customers and/or advocates.  For questions that are non-controversial, put the poll on your facebook page and your website.  Offer customers a discount card for taking a quick (3-5 questions max) survey.  Komen could have easily asked 2-3 questions on their website to their constituents on their donation page.


The term frame the argument is normally used in politics; but as marketeers we need to adopt the practice of setting the tone for a campaign before the audience sets it for us.  And that is exactly what happened in the Komen debacle.  Apparently anti-abortion groups have been pressuring Komen to stop funding Planned Parenthood.  So, Komen decided to defund.  They only heard the loudest voices at that time.  They had a few choices on how they could’ve moved forward.  If they decided to defund Planned Parenthood then they should’ve had an alternative organization that caters to financially challenged women.  If they decided to stay the course then they could’ve gotten in front of the situation with commercials that let everyone know that their money is solely used for screenings and that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s business is abortions.  Instead they made the announcement and had the audience frame the argument by labeling Komen, the leading organization on women’s health, an anti-women’s health organization.  Ouch!


  • Protect your brand
  • Know your audience – how do they view your brand, what do they value
  • Do your homework – ask your customers why they identify with you brand
  • Frame your argument – whether you’re making a case to eliminate something from your menu or defunding a partner non-profit.  You decide how you want your audience to view your decision then communicate it well




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