How a Nonprofit Brand Goes Bust, Part I — Komen’s KFC Pink Buckets for the Cure

Update: April 30, 2010 — Learn more in this just-posted, in-depth case study on the Komen-KFC deal.  To follow the story as it develops, subscribe to the Getting Attention e-update.

komenI’m blown away by the news — blogged by cause marketer Joe Waters — that Komen has made a huge nonprofit marketing mistake. The famed Race for Cure has undermined its own brand by partnering with KFC to cause market one of the most unhealthy foods there is — fried chicken in a pink bucket.

Pink buckets for the cure? You must be kidding me. That was my reaction to this gaffe and it’s going to be widespread. Because we’ve accepted what Komen’s told us is their brand (women’s health) and this partnership flies in the face of that persona. We all know what the F stands for.

My disappointment is a shadow of what you’d feel on discovering your spouse has been having a long-term affair, while you and the rest of the family carried on based on the assumption that s/he was in. The person you thought you knew is really someone different, which kills your trust of him/her across the board.

It works the same way — on a smaller scale — with organizations we believe in. Your nonprofit brand is the essence of your organization, your promise to your base. It represents the intersection of your organization’s wants and interests, and those of your target audience.

Once that “brand promise” is defined, branding is the art of creating a consistent, recognizable and distinct unified voice or personality that conveys your org’s focus, credibility and unique contributions via positioning, message platform, graphic identity and partnerships.

Authenticity is a prerequisite for successful branding. Komen has been trusted as a force for improving women’s health and, on its website, touts its #1 spot in the Harris poll for most-valued brand.

But this deal shows that is it can’t be trusted as such (or else it just made a huge mistake, and better rethink its decision making). Either way, it’ll be a long time before a lot of us will believe in Komen again. Brand gone bust!

Beware! It’s what you do, not what you say. Or as Momma Schwartz used to say, actions speak louder than words. Stick to mission if your brand is to be believed. Otherwise, credibility is lost.

What’s your take on Komen’s fried chicken deal? What should be the standards for partnerships? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below (bottom of page) or via email. Thanks.

P. S. Here’s how the Girl Scout brand is undermined by selling cookies.

Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages | 32 comments
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