Komen Campaign Kicks Off to Controversial Start

By Christine Cupaiuolo — February 1, 2007

As we noted last week, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is rebranding itself as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, complete with a new edgy marketing strategy.

The New York Times this week spotlights the $1 million campaign and talks with Komen and advertising executives about the branding tactics.

“The campaign is indicative of how nonprofit organizations are significantly revamping the methods they use to reach out to consumers, not to mention the tone of their messages,” writes Stuart Elliott. “Just as marketers of consumer products have had to rethink the way they pitch a new breed of restless, cynical, hard-to-reach shoppers, so too have charities, foundations and other fund-raising organizations.”

We get that times have changed, but take a look at the new tone:

Gone is a profile in silhouette, evocative of a bygone century, next to the words “The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation” written in pink.

In their place are a stylized pink ribbon, the symbol for breast-cancer awareness, next to the words “Susan G. Komen for the Cure” and an additional phrase, “We’re on a mission.”

The campaign also takes a far more modern and assertive approach. Gone, for instance, are ads that showed a woman tying a shoe to take part in a Race for the Cure, which carried this headline: “For over 20 years, we’ve operated on a shoestring.”

Contrast that with an ad appearing in newspapers and magazines and on posters, which declares: “We only focus on one thing. Or, depending on how you look at it, two.”

Or take another print and poster ad, showing a woman wearing a tank-style undershirt on which these words appear: “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.”

If that does not sufficiently convey the foundation’s new spirit, try the message that will appear on T-shirts to be sold to raise money for its work against breast cancer.

“If you’re going to stare at my breasts,” the T-shirts read, “you could at least donate a dollar to save them.”

Chris Orzechowski, director for brand marketing at the Dallas-based foundation, said, “We felt there were missed opportunities, opportunities to affect lives in a greater way and be more inclusive … We felt like we weren’t serving younger audiences and more ethnically diverse audiences.”

“What I love about the new name and logo is that they’re a call to action,” she added, “an opportunity to remind people what we’re about.”

It’s not clear to this reader why anyone not familiar with Komen’s work would take the organization seriously after this. And it’s difficult to imagine how focusing on the bodies of fit young white women — featured in the print and poster ads — is an effective way of reaching out “to more ethnically diverse audiences.”

The punch-cancer-out ad, which debuted Jan. 22, is disturbing on multiple levels for how it sexualizes violence. As Jessica at Feministing observes: “… I was driving and saw the ad on a bus shelter, and all you can really make out from far away is a picture of a woman’s torso with the words, ‘Punch it, Strangle it, Kick it,’ etc. So, ugh. Plus, the headless woman is yet another example of how the Komen Foundation always seems to imply ‘save the boobies!’ rather than ‘save women’s lives!'”

Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy has written a superb critique: “Thus it is through the narrowed eye of resigned cynicism that I view this pornalicious poster: the chest-o-centric pose, the decapitation, the mood lighting, and of course, the snuff film script. …” Go read the rest now.

The print ads are running in People magazine and USA Today. The posters will appear in the following major markets: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County in California and metropolitan Washington, including Montgomery County, Md.

Related Reading: When topics like this arise, we can’t resist pointing to Barbara Ehrenreich’s critical examination of breast-cancer culture and pink kitsch, “Welcome to Cancer Land.” Last year, we took a critical look at the think-and-buy-pink commercial messages that dominates the month of October. And for more resources, visit Breast Cancer Action, where “educate, agitate, organize” takes on real meaning.

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