Susan G Komen's Rebranding Efforts Open to Mixed Reviews

PJ Hamel Health Guide February 19, 2007
  • “If you’re going to stare at my breasts… you could at least donate a dollar to save them.”

    This advertising slogan (soon to come to a T-shirt near you) is emblematic of the newly renamed Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the erstwhile Susan G. Komen Foundation. This organization, begun 25 years ago by one woman who vowed to mark her sister’s death from breast cancer with more than tears, as of this year will have raised $1 billion for breast cancer research and support of breast cancer patients. And they’ve pledged to raise another $1 billion over the next 10 years.

    Till now, the Komen’s branding and advertising efforts have focused mainly on their Race for the Cure®, the largest series of 5K runs/fitness walks in the world; and their Breast Cancer 3-Day®, “a 60-mile walk for women and men who want to make a personal difference in the fight against breast cancer.” You may have seen print ads featuring a woman bending down to tie her pink-laced sneaker; or an advertising poster for the 3-Day with its logo: a line of silhouetted walkers. Calm, sweet, a bit old-fashioned; like its former foundation logo, a cameo captioned with "The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation," written in pink.

    "We only focus on one thing. Or, depending on how you look at it, two."

    As of late January, times have changed. Print ads in People magazine and USA Today feature the tagline above. And Komen for the Cure has launched a $1 million rebranding effort, involving three different ad agencies, aimed to shift its focus to a different target group, as well as to update its aging persona. "We felt there were missed opportunities, opportunities to affect lives in a greater way and be more inclusive,” said Chris Orzechowski, the Dallas-based Komen’s director of brand marketing. “We felt like we weren’t serving younger audiences and more ethnically diverse audiences."

    "When we get our hands on breast cancer, we’re going to punch it, strangle it, kick it, spit on it, choke it and pummel it until it’s good and dead. Not just horror movie dead but really, truly dead. And then we’re going to tie a pink ribbon on it."

    Controversial poster ads, featuring a woman’s tank-top-clad torso over-written with the words above, are starting to appear in major markets around the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County in California, and metropolitan Washington, D.C.

    These ads have provoked an online outcry from bloggers who feel they’re violent and degrading to women. A blog on feministpeacenetwork.org notes, “There is so much to find offensive in the new Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation marketing campaign that it is hard to know where to begin.” The site’s blog focuses on the tank-top ad in particular, characterizing it as having been written in the “video game misogynist violence genre.” If one of the goals of Komen’s new campaign is to make the public sit up and take notice, it seems to be succeeding.

  • While Komen Race for the Cure continues to dispense information from its long-time Web site, komen.org, it’s also launched a new site in honor of its 25th year. 25komen.org features some cool technology, sign-ups for anniversary event updates, and a call for women to create an online “promise circle of friends” to raise awareness and increase motivation among friends and family around breast cancer issues.

    The site’s mission is characterized on komen.org as follows:

    “With plans to invest $1 billion in breast cancer research and community health and education programs in the next 10 years, we're putting our money where our mouth is. And our time. And our people. And our voices. 2007 will be a brash, bold, unforgettable year in the history of the breast cancer movement and Komen for the Cure will be leading the charge.”

    Indeed.