The move a few weeks ago by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to stop providing grants to Planned Parenthood, the quick reversal after widespread backlash, recent staff resignations and ongoing controversy exposed a weakness in a brand many once thought unassailable. But women’s health may be better off for it.
As the self-described “global leader of the breast cancer movement,” Komen carries the weight of the breast cancer brand on itsshoulders. And women—the brand’s core constituency—took to the social media airwaves to decry what they perceived as hypocrisy by Komen. The breast cancer brand, many women argued, is built on supporting and improving women’s health and defunding Planned Parenthood flies in opposition of that mission.
Komen fell into the classic trap of seeming inauthentic to its audience. Despite pursuing an aggressive strategy to lay claim to the title of sole women’s health brand, thus allocating other causes and conditions to the margins, the foundation seemed surprised to find that it was viewed as representing the voice of women’s health.
Now that the dust is settling the question of damage remains. Will this misstep loosen breast cancer’s grip on its leadership position? And if so, is what’s bad for the breast cancer brand good for women’s health?
Make no mistake—breast cancer is the biggest brand in the history of disease. Everyone from the NFL to Yoplait to American Airlines attempts to get a piece of that brand equity each October by pink-washing themselves in solidarity. As the face of the breast cancer movement, the Komen Foundation is the main benefactor of all that attention raising an estimated $35 million each year from marketing partnerships.