Like all of you, I am really angry about the Komen foundation shenanigans. It's obvious to anyone looking at it that it was a politically motivated hack job.
I would be really angry about it if I were part of the organization.
I read recently where a pink handgun was being sold as a way to raise funds for cancer research by Komen. (This has been proven to be poorly sourced, and likely false, but it doesn't change the main point.) Why? Is it because cancer patients really want and need pink guns? No. It's because Komen is trying to "own" the color pink.
I work at a decent sized non-profit. A few years back, they hired a new CEO. The new CEO came from a business background, having worked for communications companies and lumber interests. He had been at one non-profit for, but not very long.
What really irks me about this is the impact of branding and marketing strategies on the entire non profit environment.
When I watch my own non profit employer make these decisions I just shake my head. We make decisions to invite focus groups for really stupid stuff. We pay half a million dollars to have someone assess our branding strategies.
And there I am. I have to fight and scratch for even 50 bucks to create something that will probably be part of our public face for 10 years.
It's a nice family place where I work. We have busy days on which 3-5 thousand people go through our gates. Some days, I will do science shows for up to 300 people. It's really an exciting an engaging place to work.
I have designed and built some pretty cool things. I've done most of them for under 40 bucks. Not because I want to be cheap, but because I am always told that there isn't enough money.
Yet, when it comes to entertaining our corporate guests, we spare little expense. It's aggravating.
Recently we hired consultants to assist us in branding. So we paid a bunch of money to have someone give us a color pallet that essentially looks like a spectrum full of Avatar colors. You can choose Avatar purple, blue, green, or orangeish. You get to choose one font. And so on...
That cost us a buttload of money. So when I asked them if they had plans for another change in 5 years, they said that they'd be happy if the color pallet lasted that long. Before long, those Neonish colors will be viewed with the same retro like/dislike as the obnoxiously bright turquoises and greens of the 80's.
It's not like we were using 80's style subway graffiti. It's not like we were using 90's style Seinfeld aesthetics. Our color was just blue. Not pastel, not neon. Just blue.
It just feels to me like our organization has gotten infatuated with trying to play in the same sandbox as the other corporations. The Komen foundation is aware of this, and it's clear to me that part of the reason they spend so much on administrative costs is that they have to essentially compete for money.
So what irritates me so much about the Komen branding is that they have spent years trying to own the color pink. They don't want anyone else to have access to the color pink. It's a damned good reason to be skeptical of things that appear to be working for the public good. Always investigate your charities.
Branding is an exercise in creating something that appeals to people in a very subtle way. Starbucks is one of the better examples of branding success. They have made it so that you associate that color green with a certain lifestyle.
The basic idea behind branding is to get your market to identify with their business in an emotional way. They want you to think that you are a Starbucks type of person. So the entire structure of Starbucks is one that is careful not dilute its brand. They actually do sell to companies like McDonald's, but they wouldn't do that under the Starbucks name. Instead, they bought a coffee company, and that company is the one that sells to McDonald's. You see, if Starbucks did that, it would ruin their brand. It would imply that it wasn't something that was as valuable as a 4 dollar cup of coffee.
So Komen does this with pink. I heard on the radio yesterday that they will send you a cease and desist letter if you use the term, "for the cure." That is an incredible thing to consider. Komen is in the (non) business of searching for a cure, right? Yet, they will prevent others from using a successfully branded term like this, because they own it, and to allow others to use it would dilute their brand.
I remember when not too long ago, Eddie Bauer was a successful company. I don't know any of the workings behind the failure of Eddie Bauer, but what I saw happening tells me that they were trying to brand themselves as a lifestyle company. They wanted you to become an "Eddie Bauer" type of person. So they started selling things like baby car seats. They had their name associated with Jeep.
Basically, they wanted the consumer to attach themselves to their business, not because of the products, but because of the emotional bond you had made to the public understanding of their name.
The unfortunate result of relying on charities to carry the heavy weight when it comes to important issues is that the charities have to compete in the same environment as the for profits.
Market forces are at work on charitable giving, and we have to remember to use our same skeptical consumer toolbox when dealing with them.
This message has been approved by "The Human Fund."