Cause Marketing Run Amok or Smart Move By Nonprofit?

The nonprofit world and the branding blogosphere have been running pink these days as bloggers and commentators dispute the wisdom of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure partnering with KFC to raise money for breast cancer research.

cause marketing, ethics, KFC, KomenIt is, in one respect, a classic example of cause marketing: A nonprofit of good repute partners with a well-known business to increase its donations by attracting customers to the business.

What's not so classic – and is the cause of the blog-buzz – is the nature of the business with which Komen partnered. KFC's buckets of chicken, whether pink or red and white, contain fried chicken and most of the side orders are high in starch.

A diet heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and salt is linked to good health. In fact, it's considered essential to avoiding heart disease and diabetes. High-fat diets (isn't fried chicken high in fat?) has been linked to some cancers.

So why did Komen join forces with KFC? 

Because the partnership would bring in lots of money for education and funding Komen programs, according to Margo Lucero as quoted in Cause Marketing Today.

In other words, the $$$ bottom line outweighed the ethical questions for Komen. Now, Komen is not the only  health-oriented nonprofit to partner with a possibly unhealthy food purveyor but it is getting the biggest blow-back. The National Breast Cancer Foundation's partnerships with Carl Jr.s and Arby's weren't subjected to as much criticism.

Maybe we've reached the tipping point: It's too much already. While criticizing Komen more than the Cancer Foundation is not fair, maybe it's just time to stand up for ethics. Maybe we've just realized how two-faced such propositions are.

Komen probably has by now, judging from the response.

Yes, the money from sale of pink buckets of chicken will do a lot of good but does that good outweigh support for a lifestyle – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy – that isn't healthy for the purchaser? 

Should Komen encourage people to buy something that may cause them medical harm as a way to raise money for medical research? (Wow! That looks weird when it's written like that!) Does the end justify the means? 

Nope. 

This is no longer the classic example of cause-marketing; it's become the classic example of letting passion overcome good sense. The Komen marketing crew meant well, I'm sure, but money isn't everything – or it shouldn't be – particularly to nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and, yes, just plain folks.

We all need to step back from that which is enticing to evaluate whether it is ethical. If it's not, we need to find another way to reach our goals, a way that does not put our financial health above the physical health of others.

Where do you stand on this? Does the end justify the means? Are there any other cause-marketing partnerships that raise your ethical hackles?

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