Mixing politics and health can be a losing proposition. For example take the recent spat with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The pink ribbon carries a lot of associations—women’s health, breast cancer, all types of runs, pink clothing on football payers etc. But in a prominent fight this week between breast cancer charity the Susan G. Komen Foundation and women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, the ribbon is suddenly associated with controversy in an area which makes no sense except in the fanatical right-to-life world in the USA where the anti-abortion movement is very strong especially in the GOP.
What happened was the breast cancer charity decided to pull hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Planned Parenthood, citing a congressional investigation over whether Planned Parenthood uses federal funds for abortions. Planned Parenthood in turn accused the Komen Foundation of having “succumbed to political pressure.”
The move immediately incited backlash in the media and online, but the charity’s communications strategy and response have also been roundly criticized. Komen was slow to respond online — and when it did, it changed its message numerous times. First, it cited a policy stating that it doesn’t provide funding to organizations under investigation. After critics were quick to equate that to a political move aimed at appeasing right-wing donors, Komen changed tacks and said the real reason was actually related to the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t actually administer screenings but hands out referrals for mammograms. Source
Then today, in a surprising about-face, Komen decided to “continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood.”
From a branding and positioning perspective, this may cause serious damage to the Komen brand, especially their fund raising efforts.
The Komen Foundation does not deal in politics or even controversy that is until they hired a prominent right to lifer in their organization. Source .Many detractors had criticized the organization’s methods, such as what some call “pinkwashing” campaigns: emblazoning pink ribbons on yogurt, kitchen mixers, fried chicken, baseball bats, football sneakers in an effort to generate funds but also helping some companies to better move their products. But those arguments seemed to be mainly about Komen’s fundraising process, not its ideology—”cancer is bad” being a generally inarguable concept.
“They’re kind of the market leader in breast cancer charities,” says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, but the recent controversy will cut into its market share, so to speak. “In marketing, we use the word ‘segmenting.'” In the Planned Parenthood debacle, says Kahn, Komen is “dividing the market into people with political affiliation—right-to-lifers versus Planned Parenthood supporters.” Source
This is a very sad day for women’s health and for the breast cancer movement.
For further information See How Susan G. #Komen For The Cure Torpedoed Its Brand
Postscript: September 21 2012
Six months after igniting severe backlash for pulling Planned Parenthood funding, nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure is betting on a national ad campaign that features survivor stories to rally supporters. But as the organization preps for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, it’s still fighting an uphill battle to restore its tarnished brand. In fact, industry insiders are wary about whether the nonprofit can restore its image, drum up donations and retain corporations’ support when their contracts run out.
Donations are down about 30% compared to a year ago, according to multiple executives familiar with the matter. When asked about that figure, Ms. Rader said it’s difficult to determine how much donations have declined. Participation at some races, which serve as Komen’s prime source of funding for community programs and research, has fallen from 1% to 35% in certain regions, she said. source
And although Komen hasn’t lost any corporate partners since the February uproar, there’s talk of defection among PR players.
Komen did power the breast cancer movement, but this [misstep] was so visceral for people on the left and right. And while Komen used to be the big cause-marketing opportunity in town, (pink was a dominant colour in October) they are clearly in serious trouble.
There’s still hope for Komen, even if it’s “much diminished. The lesson here is once you seriously hurt your brand by mixing politics into your organization you pay a big price . I hope those who work in the non profit field will learn from the the folks who created the `pink movement`and breast cancer