Planned Parenthood’s Unplanned Branding Bonanza

Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s (now-reversed) decision to pull financial support of Planned Parenthood in the end will help Planned Parenthood even more than it damages the Komen brand.


The fact that the beloved charity that owns the pink ribbon decided to pull its financial support of Planned Parenthood (a decision that was reversed three days later) in the end will help the Planned Parenthood brand even more than it damages the brand of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit to which some 200 organizations like Ford, Major League Baseball, and BofA connect. 

Here are the four key ways Planned Parenthood benefits: 

Positive PR.  The decision provided enormous publicity about Planned Parenthood and provided visibility of key statistics, like that it provides 165,000 breast cancer screens and 6,500 mammograms to low-income women who lack access to care, and the fact that only 3% of the budget is allocated to abortion services. This information got widespread exposure and, more important, an attentive, receptive, and enormous audience.

Improved image.  The decision puts Planned Parenthood in a feisty underdog position fighting back against powerful self-centered political interests. For a brand, it doesn’t get any better than being perceived as an underdog taking on a bully–look at Virgin vs. British Airlines and many others. Whatever the decision process or motivation of Komen, the widespread interpretation of the decision was that it was caused by political pressure. There was, of course, the political tension around Planned Parenthood. But there was also the addition to the Komen staff of a former Georgia candidate for the Republican nomination for governor who ran with a strong anti-Planned Parenthood platform. And the ostensible reason the funding was pulled was because of an inquiry by a strong anti-Planned Parenthood Republican congressman. The lingering impression is that Planned Parenthood was a pawn that was being crushed by an ideological confrontation.    

More funding.  One role of the brand is to attract funding. Komen’s decision drew many new donors to Planned Parenthood, who will provide major sources of ongoing funding. Within 24 hours of Komen’s decision, donors had contributed nearly enough to cover the funding Komen pulled, and the number of online donors surged from the typical 100 or 200 a day to 6,000. This surge of financial goodwill was buttressed and legitimatized by credible sources like Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York and the Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Fund, who put substantial matching funds on the table. Also, the decision probably solidified the long-term support of Komen for the Cure to Planned Parenthood. The Komen brand will face problems in retrieving its image as an organization that puts care for those women that lack access to health care over political ideological pressure. Any effort that appears to withhold support for Planned Parenthood would affect the difficult journey to regain its credibility and position.

Higher energy.  The decision created involvement in the base. The social media activity, in particular, was enormous and the fundraising was also energizing. Increasing the size of the involved base, those who participate in the dialogue and donate money, will pay off for years. It is just so hard to generate this energy with normal day-to-day activity.   


There has been a lot of analysis about the brand impact of the Komen decision and how it was handled–but sometimes lost in the conversation has been how the Planned Parenthood brand was unintentionally boosted by the incident. 

Related: How Susan G. Komen For The Cure Torpedoed Its Brand 

–Author David Aaker is the vice chairman of Prophet, a global strategic brand and marketing consultancy, and author of over 100 articles and 15 books including his most recent, Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant. For more of his latest thinking, follow his blog, Aaker on Brands, or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn for more of his latest thinking.

[Image: Flickr user Timothy Krause]


About the author

David Aaker, Vice Chairman of Prophet consults exclusively for Prophet clients. He is the creator of the Aaker Model™, has published more than 100 articles and 15 books, including his latest, Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant, and others including: Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative, Managing Brand Equity, Building Strong Brands, Developing Business Strategies, Brand Leadership, Strategic Market Management, From Fargo to the World of Brands, and Brand Portfolio Strategy.