Keeping our eyes and ears open…..

The Scent of Exploitation

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 energy, hope 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 a pink 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.

KomenWatch grants full permission to republish our editorials in their entirety, with proper citation and link.

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

8 responses to “The Scent of Exploitation

  1. Kathi May 26, 2011 at 2:07 am

    This is so incredibly appalling, I’m nearly speechless. But I’m so glad you wrote about this & disgusted by this latest indication that Nancy Brinker has lost any sense of ethics, I think you may have inspired me to write another blog post. Wondered if they’ve applied for a trademark for the phrase, “Stink for the Cure.”

  2. Pingback: The Accidental Amazon » Ko-Mart.Org

  3. marina raime May 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    I applaud you. your article highlights the exploits of these corporate charities under the guise of breast cancer. breast cancer has become a commercial venture which makes a tremendous amount of money. It’s all about power and control not to mention the politics. Being a young naive breast cancer patient wanting to help others. I was approached by a corporate charity and invited to contribute to a brochure on hair loss, in order to gain funding for women of colour. I jumped at the invitation only to learn that, My comments were edited out to suit the charity. Two years later i suffered a recurrence i was horrified to discover that the funding the charity received to develop information around wigs and hair loss for women of colour was re-directed elsewhere. I learnt the hard way, corporate charities only seek to exploit patients. Patients that challenge the status Que. get neglected and silenced.

  4. Alleyne May 29, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Pinkwashing has been a nasty phenomenon for quite a while, one of the bigger culprits being Ford Motors, but now here comes Komen, getting in on the business. Let’s just ignore the potential carcinogenic effect of modern parfumerie, let’s also ignore that many cancer patients endure horrible chemical sensitivity that makes everyday perfumes toxic to them, in order to slap on that label and make $1.50 for “research” per $60 bottle.

    I’m less generous than Kathi above, I see this as another indication that Nancy Brinker never had any ethical center to begin with.

    (In fairness, though, at least Komen didn’t invent the word “floriental,” it’s a pretty standard appellation for this profile of scent combination.)

  5. Judi May 30, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I am thrilled to find your site! Particularly the updates on those small local breast cancer outreach non profits, who are treated poorly by the big corporation. It’s not all about the almightly dollar, and when you provide something SGK doesn’t it’s sad you have to watch your back constantly! In this time of fighting school bullies, it’s so sad to see bullying within the cause to help women affected by breast cancer.

  6. Pingback: “The Scent of Exploitation” «

  7. Pingback: Pinktober comes early . . . ugh « cancerfree2b

  8. Pingback: The Accidental Amazon » Ambassador Nancy Flips Us the Bird

%d bloggers like this: