From ‘Liked’ To Loathed, Komen Blinks
by Sarah Mahoney, Yesterday, 7:43 AM
Just days after sparking one of the biggest brouhahas in social media, pink-ribbon pioneer Susan G. Komen Foundation issued an apology, and promised to restore funding for breast-cancer screenings to Planned Parenthood.
While the news is clearly being viewed as a win for women’s health advocates who support choice and a loss for those who don’t, what is less clear is just how damaging the tempest will be to Komen — by far the largest brand in the cause-marketing world, not to mention the hundreds of companies that partner with it, and the dozens of other breast-cancer charities that benefit from cause relationships.
“The whole point is that you don’t politicize cause marketing,” Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, tells Marketing Daily. “It was so easy to give money to that cause, because it seemed so benign. Now, because of this, when consumers see the color pink, they won’t just think of breast cancer. They’ll have to think about what it says about their point of view on choice.”
The furor on Facebook and other social media sites has been intense, explains Lisa Joy Rosner, CMO of NetBase, a San Francisco-based company that tracks online buzz, including public posts on Facebook and Twitter, and in blogs. In its sentiment analysis, it found that 66.7% of the chatter about Komen is negative, while only 33.3% is positive.
Rosner says she was stunned by how quickly postings turned into a kind of online melee, “like nothing we’ve seen, really, since the “Motrin Moms” episode a few years ago.” (In that kerfuffle, Johnson & Johnson took it on the chin for a snarky ad it created, poking fun at overzealous moms.) “What we’re seeing is a new speed and ferocity to social media, strong enough to take down governments and [to] cause groups like this to reverse their position,” she says.
“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” Komen founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker says in a statement, announcing that it would continue funding its grants to Planned Parenthood, which uses the money for breast-cancer education and to provide screenings. “The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.”
While it’s clear the move alienated many of its core individual supporters, it’s too soon to say how the foundation’s corporate partners will react. That includes hundreds of American marketers; American Airlines, Bank of America, Ford, Walgreens and Yoplait are among the largest.
“This was really treading into dangerous territory,” David Hessekiel, founder of the Cause Marketing Forum and a contributor to MediaPost’s Marketing:Causes, tells Marketing Daily. “In the world of cause marketing, what marketers are looking for are causes they can embrace that will bring people to them, that will engender goodwill. What they don’t want is a cause that makes 50% of people love you, and have the rest of the people hate you.”
While only time will tell whether people will embrace Komen’s reversal, and go on to support it as before, he says, it’s hard to undo polarization: “It suddenly has associated breast cancer with choice.”
Still, he says, the whole uproar raises serious considerations. “It is very important for causes to be true to their mission,” he says. “And there are occasions in which it is the right thing for an organization to take steps that may not have the best outcomes for their corporate relationships. The key is to try and handle communications in the most delicate and proactive way you can, and that was not the case here.”