In this episode, the guys talk about the balance between marketing and working dollars in charities and the importance of addressing things that might make you uncomfortable head-on. Chad talks about Jigsaw Puzzles and Nico talks about what it means when organizations go nuts with competitive litigation.

Quick disclaimer: we are not going to have a point of view on this organization. We discuss some facts about how foundations (and this one specifically) think about marketing. We would like all listeners to form the opinion themselves. 

Komen and Legal Battles

In 2007 the foundation’s name changed to “Susan G. Komen for the Cure” and they trademarked the running ribbon and the phrase “for a cure” as part of their branding. In Pink Ribbon Blues (2010) by Gayle Sulik, Komen says they protect their trademarks as a matter of financial stewardship to prevent confusion among donors. Others would suggest that their trademark issues are more about dominating the pink ribbon market.

In a 2011 interview with Star Tribune, Komen spokeswoman Andrea Rader explained that “There is a potential for donors to make assumptions. We want them to be confident that if they want to donate to Susan G. Komen, that their money is going to Susan G. Komen.”

One such organization Komen employees like Rader worried might confuse donors is “Mush for the Cure.” A small dog sledding fundraiser for breast cancer, “Mush for the Cure” was started by Sue Prom in 2006.  For a small fundraiser in Grand Marais Minnesota, it was doing pretty well, raking in a total of about $30,000 in 2010.  Until Prom received a letter from Susan G. Komen attorney asking her to not only resend her request for a Mush for a Cure trademark but to stop using the phrase “for a cure” altogether.
In fact, since 2007, more than 100 small charities have received legal opposition from Komen for use of the words “for the cure” in their names. It begs the question of how much money Komen has spent in the last decade or so not raising awareness, but “raising awareness” against other, smaller charities in court.  Suing not just smaller companies but smaller charities isn’t just mean – because it is mean, isn’t it? – but it’s indicative of what the bigger guy’s priorities really are. 

If Komen really cared about funding breast cancer research then wouldn’t it be the more the merrier?  In the words of Sue Prom, “People are donating money to this organization [Komen] to fight cancer — not to fight another organization fighting breast cancer.”

Komen and Perception

They’re promoted as a research-first organization rather than a foundation that, according to their budget, is more focused on raising awareness.  Regardless of how much money the leaders take home annually, how many times they sue other, smaller charities, and what percentage of donations go where, what else keeps the most popular cancer research charity from being one of the best?  Is it simply that donors feel misled?

At Komen fundraising races, CureKomen members recorded on video the reactions of racers and other supporters when told that only about 19 cents of every dollar they donated went toward research.

Komen and Marketing 

Komen has teamed up with multiple water bottle retailers for marketing campaigns “for the cure.” The problem with water cooler bottles is that many of them are made of polycarbonate which may contain BPA which according to a 2014 study from the University of Texas at Arlington, has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth.

In 2008, just a year after Komen set the stage for their years-long trademark-infringement-suit-palooza, Komen partnered with Ford Motor Company.  They built 2,500 limited edition Ford Mustangs that came with a “Warriors in Pink” package with an additional 1,000 models to be offered the next year. What’s equal pats unfortunate and ironic about this is that a longitudinal study found that women employed in the automotive plastics industry are almost five times as likely to develop breast cancer before menopause. 

In 2010, Komen partnered with KFC. KFC contributed over $4.2 million to Komen, the largest single contribution in the organization’s history. “Buckets for the Cure” was a promotion in which fried and grilled chicken was sold in pink, branded buckets. 

Cute, but according to numerous sources like Care2Causes, the Daily News, the Colbert Report, and NBC News, KFC chicken is known to contain carcinogenic (kar-sina-jen-niek) chemicals. Komen’s partnership with KFC has since ended. 

We knew that Komen’s lawsuits started a year after they acquired their trademarks. We also know now that at the same time those suits were going on, Komen was making poor choices when it comes to marketing campaigns. Now we know that Komen’s public perception, lawsuits against other charities, and harmful (if not also ironic) marketing campaigns might contribute to keeping it from being one of the best charities out there. 

What Can We Learn?

  • Make sure how the public perceives you and how you’re advertising yourself matches your actions. If they don’t match, consider what needs to be fixed – the marketing of the company- then do what you need to do.
  • Marketing isn’t a selfie – it isn’t enough to take one good photo from one good angle.  Campaigns like “Warriors in Pink,” “Buckets for the Cure,” and “Promise Me,” might have looked good on paper or sounded alright as a pitch, BUT it’s best to take your time and consider every angle, perspective, and point of view in order to begin figuring out all the different ways your marketing might be perceived or interpreted. 
  • Ask yourself, “is this what the company believes? Or is it what this individual/I believe?” There might not always be a distinction between the two but when there is it can make a big difference.

We talk about

[05:14] Susan G. Komen needs to make a change
[06:50] Susan G. Komen finances
[14:50] Trademarking and Legal Battles
[18:50] Komen and Perception
[26:20] Komen and Marketing
[29:30] Importance of authenticity

Episode Script Writer: Grace Wall
Research Analyst: Gertruda Gilyte

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