“The Scent of Exploitation”

KomenWatch (www.komenwatch.org) is a public service website aimed at “sharing information and generating critical discussion about the largest breast cancer fundraiser in the world, Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.” The KomenWatch website includes a large, searchable database of news sources and other articles – dating back to the 1990s – that highlight public concerns about the Komen organization and/or its role in contributing to the splintering of the breast cancer movement and to the overt commercialization of the cause itself. It also publishes occasional editorial analyses such as this one about Komen’s new Promise Me fragrance. “KomenWatch grants full permission to republish [their] editorials in their entirety, with proper citation.”

KomenWatch. (2011, May 18). The Scent of Exploitation. Retrieved from http://www.komenwatch.org/.

“The Scent of Exploitation” is a MUST READ about Komen’s new product line. Additional commentary is forthcoming.

We learned recently of yet another corporate partnership at the nonprofit corporation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure ®. This one is with a consumer products and distribution company named TPR Holdings LLC.

Together, SGK and TPR will not find a cure for breast cancer, but they’ll do the next best thing; develop and launch a new product line called Promise Me, the first and only proprietary fragrance developed with Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.

The Promise Me website is beautifully designed to market the fragrance and related products. Against a sensual light plum background, the copy describing the new perfume is alluring:

New word alert: floriental. Perhaps a combination of floral and oriental? Not that it matters. The important thing is to tantalize women consumers with sophisticated femininity and a just a hint of sensuality and social conscience. Readers can take a leisurely scroll over interactive images of orchids and pink peonies to learn what the special perfume ingredients are meant to signify. Providing a sense of intimacy, we even hear a voice (perhaps that of perfumer Jean Claude Delville…) who reads the pop-up text for us.

The advertisement oozes inspiration and exquisite attention to detail all the way to the perfume bottle marked with SGK’s signature (and trademarked) running ribbon.

“Designer Chad Lavigne was inspired by the iconic breast cancer ribbon which he weaved into the detail of the glass bottle. A beautiful collectible item, special attention to detail was paid to every facet of the design- from the tiers of signature pink to the reflective gold finishes.”

Well-known French perfumer Jean Claude Delville speaks directly to the reader about the significance of the Promise Me fragrance.

Color us inspired! A fragrance designed to evoke the emotions of positive energyhope, and love! And a fragrance designed to generate sales for TPR Holdings and boost Komen’s public image and revenue stream. We learn on the “Susan G. Komen for the Cure ®” page that, “TPR Holdings will guarantee a minimum donation of $1,000,000 to Komen for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment.” But it doesn’t stop there. Consumers who purchase the Promise Me fragrance will also get a free gift of Nancy Brinker’s new book, conveniently with the same name.

Promise Me tells the story of two sisters, Nancy G. Brinker and Susan G. Komen, their loving bond from childhood through adulthood, the cancer that took one sister’s life and threatened the other’s, and the promise between them that launched the global breast cancer movement, transforming and saving the lives of millions of women.”

 

Komen’s continued forays into the world of corporate partnerships are looking more and more like the activities of a for-profit corporation interested in staying in business for the long haul. The attention paid to branding; the continued promotion of Komen and it’s founder, Nancy Brinker as the self-styled leader of the global breast cancer movement; the plethora of pink products ranging from dish towels to sporting goods to housecleaning items to food and beverage products to hardware and now, to perfume and cosmetics suggests that the SGK brand – the mother of all cause-related marketing brands – is now being sold as apink ribbon lifestyle.

The breast cancer cause has moved beyond the oncology clinics, beyond the chemotherapy infusion rooms, beyond the radiation suites, beyond the surgical wards, beyond the shattered lives and grave markers of the fallen to be atomized into a fragrance, encapsulated in a pretty pink ribbon bottle — and all for the bargain price of $59.00 including the “free” copy of Nancy G. Brinker’s homage to her dead sister, Promise Me, the book.

But we shouldn’t be surprised at this latest iteration of Komen’s flashy marketing strategies. In a 2003 interview with Susan Orenstein of CNN Money, the head of sponsorships at Komen, Cindy Schneible, admitted openly:

“We’re sensitive to the fact that this is a marketing relationship, not a philanthropic relationship.”

A peek into some of Komen’s corporate sponsorship materials reveals the SGK marketing philosophy in greater detail. In describing the benefits to becoming a corporate sponsor of their San Francisco Race event Komen’s brochure states;

Based on your level of sponsorship, your company may:

  • Receive high visibility before the event and on Race day
  • Reach thousands of decision makers and consumers in the 9 counties of the SF Bay Area through exposure on our website, eBlasts, race applications, posters and other materials
  • Test-market and showcase products
  • Build employee morale and company pride
  • Associate with one of the most renowned movements to fight breast cancer and align yourself with the largest and most progressive grassroots network of breast cancer survivors
  • Increase company and brand integrity by partnering with a cause that impacts millions of people locally and globally
  • Retain and increase customer and client loyalty – consumers have a more positive image of a company associated with a good cause

The message is clear. Piggybacking off of Komen’s branded pink ribbon cause is an effective form of advertising for any company that is willing to pay the price of admission: a large donation to Komen and the mandatory perpetuation of the SGK story-line.

Geoff Livingston, noted social enterprise strategist and author of Now Is Gone stated recently on his blog that money-grabbing strategies such as Komen’s actually run counter  to their mission:

“Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.”

Where’s Komen’s plan to complete its mission and close its doors? How does creating a new product line to sell $59.00 bottles of signature perfume provide a solution to the problem of breast cancer? Livingston asks, and rightly so:

“Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.”

Komen’s words and actions speak loudly: A pseudo-corporation intent on keeping itself in business by marketing pink lifestyle products under the global brand of breast cancer. Don’t miss the next SGK commercial on the Home Shopping Network; Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker To Appear Live on HSN To Debut Exclusive New Promise Me Gift Set Benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. The scent of inspiration? More like the stench of breast cancer marketing.

 

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4 comments to “The Scent of Exploitation”

  • What does oriental smell like anyway?

    Katie

  • Mary

    I just caught a whiff of Komen for the Cure’s pink, stink and it’s called “Promise Me”. Wouldn’t it be nice if Komen made good on its promise?

  • Sandi

    Going through my 5th combination of chemo for metastatic breast cancer, this information made me feel sicker than the chemo side effects. If Nancy’s promise is to end breast cancer, she’s failing at it big time. Maybe this should be “Broken Promise”?

  • I’m guessing this product is loaded with hormone disrupting phthalates and other nasty chemicals. Just what every breast cancer advocate needs. If they really gave a damn about cancer they’d have made a certified organic fragrance.

    Shared this on the Pinkwashing Hall of Shame page on facebook. (www.facebook.com/nopinkwashing)

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* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

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Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

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Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today

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