Save the Ta Tas: The Susan G. Komen Foundation and The Importance of Identity

Posted by Simon on 2/3/2012


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Save the Ta Tas: The Susan G. Komen Foundation and The Importance of Identity

As a company, or organization, you have to know who you are; this is as important to the health of an organization as it is to the happiness of a human being. The intuitive sense of what you are, who you are, what you are doing and who you are doing it for are absolutely essential when it comes to connecting to your audience in authentic and lasting ways. The holy grail of marketing, brand loyalty, lies therein.

This week we have witnessed an organization learn this the hardest of ways as the Susan G. Komen foundation, an organization dedicated to women’s health and focusing specifically on preventing and curing Breast Cancer, created a policy to bar grants to “organizations under investigation” and applied it to a single organization: Planned Parenthood. Despite the Komen Foundation claiming, repeatedly, that political leanings or beliefs had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to cut the grant eligibility of Planned Parenthood the facts, two in particular, tell a different story.

The first of these facts is the controversial hiring of a former Secretary of State for the State of Georgia Karen Handel, who had called for cutting funding of Planned Parenthood while running for Governor of the State of Georgia, only months before the decision to do cut funding was made at The Komen Foundation. The second of these facts is that the policy under which this decision was made is widely said to have been created by Handel to target Planned Parenthood specifically. The new “no investigations” rule was applied to only one organization, Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that they also provide $7.5 million in grants to the University currently under investigation for very serious child rape allegations, Penn State, to which this new policy apparently did not apply. The legitimacy of the investigation given as a reason for this is highly questionable in comparison and is called a witch hunt by most. This was widely seen as an attack on Planned Parenthood which is, by definition of it’s mission, understood as a very direct attack on women and women’s health.

In this moment The Susan G. Komen Foundation made a fatal flaw: they forgot who they are, what they do, and for whom they do it. By cutting these grants, which funded nothing more than breast cancer education and lifesaving mammography for low-income women, they stopped providing a lifesaving service at the very core of their being, attacking the essence of their identity. By cutting these grants, seen widely as a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood, they undermined their relationship with their core constituency: women. The Susan G. Komen Foundation turned its back on a long history of non-partisan, and highly productive, action in the service of women’s health to very clearly pursue a counterproductive political matter having nothing to do with their core mission and which actually went against it.

This decision did not go well for The Susan G. Komen Foundation. Much like the decision to release New Coke in 1985 did for Coca-Cola, this decision immediately raised an unimaginable uproar of fury that spread across our world of social media with astounding speed and ferocity. Within moments a hashtag game on twitter began creating #NewKomenSlogans. Calls to completely cut off support for the Susan G. Komen Foundation came from friends on Facebook as well as members of Congress of all stripes.

Executives of the organization defended the decision rather weakly, making vaguely bizarre arguments about the need to have control over funding decisions and adhere to their mission. But it is impossible to defend a decision that subjugates the core of your identity and being, in this case the health and wellbeing of women, to a new and unevenly or disingenuously applied policy.

In the end, as I’m sure they saw fundraising numbers drop off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote, the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed it’s course. It was a good, if not inevitable, choice. You can’t raise money for something you are publicly announcing you won’t be doing; it is also a challenge when your core constituency feels you have sided directly against them. Regardless of how you stand on the issue of abortions politically it is clear from a business perspective, that is from a branding, identity and constituency point of view, this was the gravest mistake they could have made. Do not turn your back on yourself or risk the ground dissolving beneath your feet.

Know thyself, don’t stab thyself. Save the Ta Tas, nothing more and, certainly, nothing less.

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