Busted Nonprofit Brand, Part II: Anatomy of a Corporate Sponsorship Meltdown

kfc-komen-nonprofit-brandYour feedback by May 7 please!

Choosing a corporate sponsor for your nonprofit has tremendous potential to either help or harm your organization and its mission. And there are many great examples where such sponsorship has proven to be a genuine win-win.

But it can be a slippery slope once you step out. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching, sometimes mouth agape, an ill-conceived and poorly handled corporate partnership.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’m talking about Buckets for the Cure, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s® cause partnership with with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), launched via a huge TV advertising campaign. The campaign came on the heels of KFC introducing its mammoth-scale, heart-stopping Double Down sandwich.  I first blogged the Komen-KFC news here.

As I see it, Komen has undermined its own brand by partnering with KFC to market one of the unhealthiest foods there is — fried chicken in a pink bucket. And this to a nation struggling with a wide-spread obesity problem, a key precursor to breast cancer. The Colonel going pink? That’s absurd.

Read the complete Komen-KFC case study to learn how to stay out of this kind of mess when selecting corporate partners and how not to fail crisis communications 101.

Your feedback please: What’s your take on the Komen-KFC deal? What should be the standards for partnerships, particularly with corporate partners? And what should Komen do now to pull itself out of this hole?

Please share your thoughts by May 7. Just comment below or email me, and I’ll share your perspectives out with the Getting Attention community next week.

Some compelling recommendations have come in already, on both issues, and I’d like to add yours.  You can get an idea of the range of perspectives from reviewing these comments on the initial blog post. Thanks.

P.S. To follow the story as it develops, subscribe to the Getting Attention e-update.

Nancy Schwartz on May 4, 2010 in Branding and Messages, Cause Marketing | 11 comments
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  • Nancy, you’ve been doing a great, nuanced job covering this branding blunder. Well done. I’m sending all my readers over to this post!

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  • JoLisa

    Unfortunately, Komen supports planned parenthood and the fact that planned parenthood promotes abortion which numerous studies have shown increases a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer, has already undermined my view of Komen. They ignore facts to partner with an organization that is notoriously anti-woman and anti-health….my glasses are not rose colored or pink.

  • Lindsay

    I have a hard time believing that Komen did not consider how a campaign with KFC could negatively effect it’s brand. I bet they put $8.5million on one side of the scale and brand damage on the other… clearly the $8.5million won out and they aren’t apologizing for it. I think we might see a decrease in donations and support for maybe a year or two, but this $8.5million will certainly help cover the difference until people forget. Yes, it was a bad branding decision, but Komen is so big and so powerful… I’ll put my money on Komen making a complete rebound.

  • Guy-Renaud Kirouac

    Dear Nancy,

    This KFC story is a great example of an organisation failed to either have or implement ethical guidelines for its corporate partnerships.
    Number one among these is the fit between a non-profit and a partner’s values. In this case, the Susan G. Komen people forgot that their primary value is women’s health… and have failed to understand that this value does not fit with KFC.
    It’s a sad example of a perfect opportunity to either say no or to transform KFC’s interest in the cause in a straight donation.

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  • To me, the worst part of this partnership is that Komen had previously been an organization to which I would refer to as a major success (as opposed to other failures like Sierra Club and Clorox- which failed to help either partner in their marketing efforts). The key to corporate partnerships are that each partner can mutually benefit from the other by enhacing their own image with the other. Komen and Yoplait did just that. It provided exposure fo the organization as a proponent for health and wellness of women, and helped Yoplait demonstrate their activism for the same thing. This new partnership (there really is no way else to describe them as they each largely impact the other) demonstrates Komen’s failure to realize why their previous partnerships worked. I agree with you, and hope that this serves as a wake up call that corporate partnerships can be executed beautifully with a mutually beneficial outcome for both when carefully considered, but that if NPOS go after $$ carelessly it will cause harm to their brand and their ability to continue to fulfill their mission.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Debra, thanks for sharing your perspective. I think nonprofits really need to look deeply into the meaning of partnership before finalizing one!

    Will be interesting to see if Komen re-ups on the pink bucket. I’d say yes as behavior this year (e.g. Komen’s “bullying” of other orgs using the word ‘cure’) hasn’t shown a change of mind. What’s your bet?

  • I would like to think that when taking a careful look at their mission and how this partnership fits in that there will be a clear indication to reconsider (not to mention negative press!).

    Its just disappointing– I actually wrote a paper not too long ago and used Komen as my successful case study (there really aren’t that many wide scale marketing efforts that I thought really exhibited successful branding, and financial benefit).

  • Gabe

    Can anyone tell me of any non-profit brands that have actually gone out of business a-la Circuit City, Pan Am, etc?

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