The pink ribbon is a generic symbol in the public domain, which cannot be owned or controlled by a single entity; any individual, organization, or corporation can use the pink ribbon as a visual cue to signify breast cancer awareness. To distinguish itself from other breast cancer organizations, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation changed its name to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 2007. According to Komen,
“The name change was accompanied by a new brand image. The new logo included a pink `running ribbon’ designed specifically for Komen for the Cure.”
Komen used an advertising campaign to introduce the new ribbon as a registered trademark and set it apart from generic pink ribbons. In one ad the Running Ribbon is fashioned into the letter “I” as the reader is asked to “[I]magine life without breast cancer.”The ad reads:
“Imagine the day when survivors like Becky Gabriele won’t have to fear for the lives of their daughters…That’s the vision we all share. And with your help, this is the ribbon that will make it a reality. Visit ThisIsThe Ribbon.org.” (emphasis added)
Even with a new logo, the breast cancer brand remains intact through its associations: fear (for the lives of their daughters), hope (through imagination and Komen’s vision), and goodness (achieved with your help and the new Komen ribbon).
Komen understands the importance of image in contemporary culture. The stylized pink ribbon looks different from other ribbons, but it supports the same breast cancer brand. So, why did Komen trademark a new logo?
As the most widely known and best-funded breast cancer organization in the United States, Komen has the greatest number of corporate partnerships (over 200) and leads in revenue from corporate cause-marketing campaigns. Komen’s assets increased from $109.3 million in 2003 to $316.9 million in 2007. Brand image helps the organization to maintain its leading position in pink ribbon culture. The organization uses contemporary marketing strategies common in commerce and mass media to target its audience through word of mouth, advertising, interactions with organizational representatives, and real-life experiences.
Advertising is a growing component of this strategy. Komen’s financial statements report $52.6 million in contributed goods and services for the year ending March 31, 2007, primarily related to local television, radio, and newspaper advertising for the Race Series events. Because of the special role of women’s magazines in the history of breast cancer, Komen also advertises widely in women’s magazines. The foundation incurred advertising expenses of approximately $41.8 million in 2007, the majority of which was contributed. In addition, the organization gets free advertising every time an entity uses Komen’s name to affiliate with the breast cancer cause.
With brand associations intact, Komen’s quest to define the trademarked Running Ribbon as the authentic logo for the breast cancer brand enables Komen to dominate the breast cancer market and pink ribbon culture. This is the ribbon.
– excerpted from pp 146-150, Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health by Gayle Sulik (2011)