Ok, so have you heard about what’s going on with the Susan G. Komen Foundation? They are one of the largest non-profit agencies in the world working to find a cure for Breast Cancer. They have raised tens of millions of dollars for research.  Obviously, they do a lot of good work.

They are also the group that first came up with the slogan “For a Cure”. When I learned that bit of trivia, it was like finding out there was a person identified as the first one to say “Gesundheit!” after somebody sneezed. Really? Who’d-a-thunk-it?

But then I learned that the Komen Foudnation had trademarked the slogan “For a Cure”, and that they are currently suing dozens of small non-profits who use this phrase for their fundraising efforts.

At first I was shocked that a giant organization, like the Komen Foundation, would sue a poor, little mom & pop non-profit.  How could there possibly be any harm here?

(If you’d like to read more on the background of this topic, click here.)

But then I started to think about it a little more deeply.  I tried to look at it from the perspective of the Komen Foundation, and I tried to understand why they’d be so tough about a seemingly meaningless catch phrase.

I began to wonder if there was anything that I could learn from Komen’s actions.  And then it all made sense to me.

Here’s what I have gleaned from this story:

Branding is pretty darn important, even to non-profits.

I mean, if a group the size of the Komen Foundation is willing to go through the effort and the bad publicity to sue rinky-dink non-profit groups over their slogan, then they must feel that there really was a significant harm.

And, to be fair, I can see that. Komen has invested a great deal of time, money, and effort into building up their reputation. They are an incredibly powerful advocacy group. And, after all, they did start using that slogan before any other non-profit. I think the old adage, “Finders Keepers” applies in this situation. Or “Dibs!”. Or “We got here first!”

What would your non-profit do?

What if you ran an animal shelter and you came up with a really cool catch-phrase for your biggest fundraiser of the year. It was really clever.  The fundraiser became very successful, and your group made a lot of money at it.

Then, a few months later, the other animal shelter in town decided that if it worked for you, then it should work for them too. So, they had the exact same fundraiser and called it the same thing as you did.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty steamed.

Now, to continue the metaphor, what if that other animal shelter, the one who stole your idea and catch phrase, put on a really bad fundraiser?  They had terrible customer service, they actually lost some of the money they raised, there was an incident of embezzlement in the organization, and someone tripped and fell at the event and is now suing the group for a million dollars.

The local newspaper picks up on this story, and, of course, they somehow make a mistake and link their animal shelter with your animal shelter. And now, suddenly, there are people out there thinking your group, the good, smart one, is a deadbeat organization.

Man, I’d be pissed!

And since the Komen Foundation is national in its scope and reach, with fundraising events in every state in the nation, this kind of situation can happen over and over again to them.

So, you get the point.

Frankly, I’m not surprised they are telling these groups to stop. It’s screwing up everything they’ve worked to build over the years. They would be negligent if they DIDN’T sue the groups to cease and desist.

Get over yourself.

There are people who argue that the words “For a Cure” are too general to be trademarked. That collection of words must have existed since time began. Trying to protect that phrase is like trying to protect “Happy Birthday”. You just can’t do it.

Well, that’s ridiculous. The Komen Foundation put these words together within the context of their fundraising efforts and have done so consistently over a long period of time. It is well-documented. And to top it off, they followed the law in protecting those words. Therefore, they have an exclusive right to the phrase when it’s used in a fundraising context.

My advice for all the groups who have stolen this phrase or who complain about how mean the Komen Foundation is, is this: shut up and think of your own slogan!

Be creative! Stop being lazy and using some else’s words.

As I said at the beginning of this article. Branding is important. What does it say about your brand if you didn’t think it up yourself? Would you open up a hamburger stand and use “You deserve a break today!” as your slogan?  Or “Have it Your Way”?

No, I didn’t think so.

Photo by: Hygiene Matters

Posted on 15 February 2011

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