Any brand that thinks it is above reproach need only look back as far as the recent Susan G. Komen Foundation debacle for a taste of reality. Organizations out of step with their audience find themselves foundering in the wake of public outcry when business decisions appear to be based in politics. Komen, arguably the most visible women’s health advocacy group in existence today, spent last week backtracking and apologizing to constituents and supporters for political missteps it made not once, but twice. The first when it apparently bowed to political pressures from the right to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, and the second when it apparently bowed again, this time to political pressure from the left, to restore funding.
The original decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood appears to have been based on an existing internal policy. But the move outraged supporters, convinced it was politically driven. The Foundation was inundated with angry emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. After two days of threats, resignations, and retracted pledges, Komen ceded and reinstated funding for the organization, sparking a second wave of anger from the other side.
The fervor has since died down, but the damage left behind to the Komen Foundation’s brand is irrevocable. Contributors who, in the past, may have had concerns about the Foundation’s political affiliations but chose to overlook them for the betterment of women’s health are now voicing those concerns, and donations to the Foundation may never return to their former level. In addition, some of the past affiliations of the organization’s leaders are resurfacing, complements of media groups adamant to keep the controversy alive. This is slowing whatever recovery the organization expects to make as it responds to these new allegations.
Brands deliver a promise – what customers should expect from a product or service. When expectations and reality are not aligned, the promise is broken, and it can be very difficult to regain trust. If a brand does misstep and must reverse course, the reversal should be swift and apologetic, and make things better than they were before; not just return to the status quo. The Susan G. Komen Foundation was out of touch with its key audience, and failed to appropriately judge the response of its supporters to a politically-based decision, real or perceived. How the organization got to be so distant from its audience is a mystery, but in the minds of many, the Komen Foundation broke its core customer promise, and its trust among many may never be regained.
 “Who is Behind Susan G. Komen’s Split from Planned Parenthood,” Feb. 1, 2012, Nicholas Jackson