Every time I walked through the tunnel at Wrigley Field to find my seat, it’s like a time warp. The first thing I always notice is the green – the field, the ivy, the seats. Then the smell of popcorn and beer. My visual, audible and olfactory senses go into baseball hyper-drive as I inevitably sit next to some old-timer reminiscing about how Phil Cavarretta and the Cubs should have beat the Tigers in the 1945 World Series. But one day, something was different. It took a few moments to figure it out, but the batter was wielding a pink bat, which he clenched with pink batting gloves. WTF?! I looked around and women all around me were sporting pink baseball Cubs caps. Oh crap! The Susan G. Komen Foundation had invaded the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized its brilliance. Women across the country were all but painting themselves pink to support the Komen Foundation, the countries leading breast cancer movement. City streets were taken over by pink t-shirt wearing women walking for the cure. Pink ribbons adorned the backs of minivan-driving moms. It seemed every women had breast cancer or knew a friend or loved one that did. Komen provided a means by which to not only give back, but feel part of a movement that was solving a problem that touched all women. All the while, men just sat around, drank beer, and watched sports.
While my favorite dress shirt is pink, most guys are not that into it. But like women, many of their sisters, wives, and grandmothers have been touched by breast cancer. And that not only makes breast cancer relevant to men, it makes it personal. Imagine a bunch of guys sitting around the bar watching a baseball game and the obnoxious loud mouth of the group sees Albert Pujoles swinging a pink bat and says, “what a wuss!” The guy next to him puts down his beer, fights back tears and says, “Its for breast cancer you douche. My wife is battling breast cancer.” All of a sudden a group of testosterone-filled, drunk guys are talking about breast cancer. The pink bat was an unexpected branding homerun. Spray paint a baseball bat pink and Komen reached a whole new market segment willing to open up their wallets to fight a dreaded disease killing their mothers and wives. Brilliant.
But like the rookie of the year that becomes so self-absorbed that he buys a multi-million dollar house, three cars, and refuses to drink anything but Cristal, Komen became all about themselves and forgot the cause. I spoke glowingly of Komen until I saw its “Buckets for the Cure” campaign with KFC, the first major indication that Komen was more about feeding its coffers than fighting breast cancer. Yes, Komen sprayed painted KFC buckets of fried chicken pink. Buy a bucket of chicken and KFC gave $0.50 to Komen. Cha-ching!
Pro-Komen advocates argued that pink KFC buckets brought in millions for breast cancer research and rose awareness among a new demographic. But I wonder if the pink bucket came with the label: WARNING! Eating this fatty, high choleric food increases your risk of breast cancer. What was Komen thinking? Eat an unhealthy product that increases your risk of beast cancer (as well as heart failure) to end breast cancer? It is Orwellian logic at its best. Or did Komen see the possibility to earn millions of dollars so they could continue to grow the organization and paint the world pink? Unfortunately, Komen has over and over again proved the latter. It a hyper-consumerist culture, its easy to forget that it is not just about the money, but results. You can read for yourself what Komen says about the incidence of breast cancer since their founding in the early 1980s.
At some point, Komen believed its own hype and confused themselves with the cause. They are amazing marketers, I will give them that. But marketing is not an end unto itself and what you market matters. Rather than building breast cancer awareness, Komen simply started building awareness of themselves.
Ok, that was unfair. Or was it? The latest Planned Parenthood fiasco reveals the institutional arrogance and hubris at Komen. The decision to defund Planned Parenthood was a statement that Komen believes it can decided who gets screened for breast cancer and who does not. Oh, did you actually believe the post-crisis spin that it was just an innocuous, un-targeted rule change? When a new rule is put in place and only affects one out of 2,000 affiliates, its not a rule, its a witch hunt.
Komen has some house cleaning to do, but in the mean time, our loved ones, whether they are liberal, conservative, Christian, or athiest, are still at risk of breast cancer. So go online and find a local organization fighting the good breast cancer fight in your community. Your money will have twice the impact since Komen spends over 50% of its budget on administration, fundraising and education. And while I will miss the pink bats at Wrigley this year on Mother’s Day, I am comforted that all that pink merchandise will not end up in a land fill.
As always, leave loving and nasty comments below.