Marketing Risk

Komen, Planned Parenthood and Sponsorship

by Susan Zweibaum on February 8, 2012

Boy, did Susan G. Komen blow it last week.  When news spread of its decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood, support for this decision and positive feelings about Komen dropped like a stone.  Every female friend of mine and many male friends lambasted them on Facebook and Twitter.  ABC’s The View had a raucous debate with only Elizabeth Hasselbeck showing any support for Komen.  Donations for Planned Parenthood went way up and Komen board members threatened to quit if they don’t reverse the decision.  Apparently, they did reverse the decision, or so it seems.  They are letting Planned Parenthood apply to funding, but that doesn’t mean they are going to give it to them.  Even more telling was that the person behind the decision and the new policy that resulted in the decision resigned due to considerable pressure from inside and outside of Komen.

Why, you wonder, other than personal feelings about the decision, is driving my writing a blog on this?  My reasons are simple.  If you are a sponsor of Komen, how do you react and what impact on your sponsorship decisions does this huge news story have?  Furthermore, from a crisis management standpoint, what would I have done if I was Komen?

Let’s look at the sponsors first.  My first reaction is that I am sure that most sponsors are not looking at all of the recipients of the Komen grants.  They are looking at the overall reputation of Komen and how the sponsorship can further their relationships with the consumer and the retailer.  They want to be a part of breast cancer awareness month because their target audience is women, 35-54.  They want to sponsor an organization that has strong relationships with retailers.  If they did pay attention to who the grants went to they would focus on the largest ones and apparently Planned Parenthood is not one of the largest.  Breast cancer awareness and breast cancer screening is not seen as a politically charged issue so it wouldn’t draw general concern from a corporate group.  Moreover, even if a company knew that Planned Parenthood was a recipient, they would most likely not see this as an issue as the funds are going to cancer screening, not politically charged issues such as abortion.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, how do these sponsors respond?  The answer is that it all depends on how conservative the company is and how they feel overall about the Komen sponsorship.  It comes down to two basic elements – how successful is the Komen sponsorship for the company and does the company feel that being a part of Komen will damage them with consumers in support of Planned Parenthood.  Most companies will stay away from the political mess.  They have multi-year deals with Komen and programs already planned for next year during breast cancer awareness month.  They can’t cancel the deals because of Komen’s decision.  So, not surprisingly most big sponsors have come out in support of Komen specifically, but avoiding any comments about Komen’s decision about Planned Parenthood.  They have made veiled comments about supporting all efforts regarding cancer screening that will not anger the supporters of Planned Parenthood.  Bottom line, the sponsors are going to sit tight as the negative publicity isn’t impacting them directly and continue on with their marketing plans.  Furthermore, I would guess that most consumers can’t name the key Komen sponsors as it isn’t apparent unless they are at a race or paying attention in store during Breast Cancer awareness month.  Since Komen has seemingly reversed their decision the sponsors have little to worry in the short term.  However, when it comes time for them to renew their sponsorship, they will have to assess if the Komen organization still gives them what they need.

 In terms of Komen and how they managed the crisis.  I would say their response was a mixed bag.  On a positive note, they did respond quickly and decisively.  However, their initial response did nothing to assuage the critics of the decision since it still appeared that it was politically motivated, at least as far as the media was concerned.  The resignation of the Vice President in charge of the decision spoke volumes on the political aspects of the decision.  Since the country is so polarized with anything to do with Planned Parenthood, they had to know they were playing with a political hot button.   Critics kept saying that something as basic as breast cancer screening shouldn’t be politicized regardless of what organization is doing the screening.  Komen was caught between a rock and a hard place.  To continue to hold ground would continue to greatly damage their reputation and standing and they were in danger of losing a number of key members of their board.  A reversal of the decision would also give them a black eye, but at least they would be perceived as listening to the critics.  The overall foundation of the Komen organization is to promote breast cancer awareness and screening and in the end they found a way to get back to those tenets.  Hopefully, most supporters of the organization will forget about this black eye and focus on the good things Komen does.

What is most interesting about this is the overall impact that social media had on the whole issue.  I highly doubt that Komen would have changed their minds if the social media blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter weren’t so virulent against them and the decision.  Social opinion changed their minds and they did it quickly.  Before the advent of social media I highly doubt this would have happened or happened so quickly.  It will be interesting to see how social media and public opinion changes other decisions organizations make in the future. 


The Lessons of the Aflac Duck Voice – Part 2

by Susan Zweibaum on April 25, 2011

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons” Turning a Potential PR Disaster into a Great Consumer Promotion

In my previous post (click here to read Part I) I talked about the perils of a celebrity endorsement, using Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of the Aflac duck as a jumping off point.  In this post I am going to look at how Aflac found a way to create a terrific consumer promotion in the aftermath of the PR problems Mr. Gottfried created by his horrendous comments following the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Once Mr. Gottfried was fired and the PR folks dealt with the initial crisis management issues, Aflac needed to attend to a few issues.  First, they pulled the commercials containing his voice off the air.  Given that they apparently had a fairly strong media buy, they needed to quickly change their commercials.  They started airing an old silent movie version with no Aflac duck voice. 

With this done, they now had to find ways to revamp their image and create a new connection to their audience.  They could have just let the issue die, but the duck voice was a centerpiece of their advertising, and they weren’t about to create a new creative direction.  Additionally, they could have quietly found a new voice and let the whole affair slide by with no fanfare.  They instead chose a direction that would create significant positive buzz, generate consumer-generated content and directly involve the consumer in the brand. 

They created a consumer promotion to find the next voice of the Aflac duck.  To begin promoting the search, they used the silent movie commercial to send consumers to Aflac’s Facebook page to learn about the contest.  They used to help them collect potential candidates for a contest that included both professionals and amateurs.  They also set up a microsite where consumers could go to get additional information.  What’s more, Aflac clearly stated that they didn’t want a Gilbert Gottfried imitator; they wanted a unique voice and interpretation.  They evaluated these potential voices through auditions in 6 cities and through the online submissions.

So, what is so great about what they did? A few things:

  1. Effective Crisis Management:  They took swift action in the form of crisis management and executed with a well-thought-out plan.  It wasn’t highly reactive and yet very effective.  They distanced themselves from the problem and swiftly put actions into place to show how they were moving forward away from the issues.
  2. Tying the Crisis Management to Promotion:  Aflac turned a negative experience into a fun and consumer-interactive promotion.  They created a contest where you, the consumer, could be the new Aflac voice.  Now the focus was no longer Gilbert Gottfried, but the brand and how they were doing something new and cool.
  3. Creating an Integrated Promotion:  Aflac smartly created a promotion with multiple touchpoints .  These touchpoints included a microsite, social media outreach through Facebook and Twitter, PR and national advertising.  Everything tied together.  The PR was exceptionally well done with both print, online and TV stories talking about the contest and the new voice of Aflac.
  4. Continuing the Connection:   The contest is now over, so the question is how to keep the conversation going.  They will first generate additional publicity when they announce who the new voice is.  They have also taken their Facebook page and made the focus donations to Japan to help support the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.  This does a couple of things – A) shows compassion and outreach to a key customer base (remember 75% of Aflac’s business is in Asia); and B) distances themselves from the negative image of the company Mr. Gottfried potentially inflicted on them. 

A few years ago I participated in some similar situations as Aflac has encountered.  The hardest one was the issue surrounding BPA and its use in baby bottles.  We, too, had to come up with a quick plan, but one that would create goodwill and positive promotion.  In our case, we gave away one million BPA-free baby bottles.  It was ambitious, but the move put our company on top as a proactive manufacturer who cared about our consumers.  We used the same principles that Aflac did, and it worked very effectively. 

Crisis management is tricky, and some issues are more serious than others, especially when you may be dealing with health concerns from a product recall.  In Aflac’s case, it was more about consumer perception of the company, but by initiating a strong and well-thought-out plan, they were successful in changing the conversation to one that put them in a very positive light.


The Lessons of the Aflac Duck Voice – Part I

April 13, 2011

How to make the right choices and prepare for disaster with celebrity endorsements I have to admit that this article from the NY Times gave me so much to talk about that at first I didn’t really know where to start.  So, I am going to write two posts that cover two distinct topics.  This […]

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