For those of you that don’t know me in real life, over the past year I’ve grown my yoga practice to the point where I step onto my mat basically everyday. Yoga has really helped connect me to my body, my mind and my spirit in a new and revitalized way. The benefits are simply undeniable, and it’s no surprise to me that nationwide, yoga is becoming increasing popular. I mean hell, even beer yoga is now a thing, like seriously?
With that in mind, I guess I can’t be too surprised either that the Susan G. Komen Foundation has partnered with Manduka yoga this year, highlighting their corporate partnership with this event called Project OM taking place in physical and virtual locations across the country this Mother’s Day weekend. The whole point supposedly is to get One Million (OM) people to join the biggest collective yoga class ever. Donations will be collected all weekend at these events for Susan G Komen.
So before I go off on anything, I want to give props where it’s due to Komen. At least now Komen is partnering with a company like Manduka that isn’t responsible for exposing women to dangerous carcinogens, which is a step up from Komen’s previous controversial partnerships with companies like fast food restaurants, perfume companies, and fracking corporations that expose people to nasty toxins and chemicals. And on top of that, it’s generally understood among medical researchers that physical activity can lower your chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer and that yoga can also not only help reduce risk of cancer, but also help people overcoming cancer recover. So OK, generally in this post I’m not going to throw the middle finger necessarily at Komen like I have in the past.
However, you’re also not going to see me running to the mall down the street from me either to join #ProjectOM. Here are three reasons why:
1) #ProjectOM is not informative
If you search #ProjectOM on social media, or look at Manduka’s Facebook or Instagram pages, you see a lot about how “epic” the project will be…but that’s really about it. You have to be directed to the #ProjectOM website to see any statistics about how many people are continuing to die from breast cancer in the US each year. Yes, the event is marketed as part of Komen’s bold goal to reduce breast cancer deaths in the US by 50% by 2026, but you have to dig into Komen’s website in order to even figure that out. If reducing breast cancer deaths is a key message, then that should be at the forefront of all the promotional material for the event, and not just a bullet point on a website.
There’s not even much of an explanation as to how yoga is beneficial for breast cancer patients! The #ProjectOM campaign assumes that the general public believes yoga is related to lowering breast cancer risk in some way, but how? Why are they related? The connection between yoga and breast cancer should not be assumed. I was only able to find a little information on that in the FAQ section of the #ProjectOM website, but again that required a fair amount of digging. To reiterate, if a key message for this event is to encourage people to do more yoga to reduce their risk of breast cancer, then that should be directly communicated in their flyers, social media posts, and other ads.
There’s also a page on their website titled “Reasons Why” where yoga instructors participating in the event supposedly explain one million reasons why people should participate. I watched several of the videos, and I can say with complete and utter sincerity that I literally did not hear one reason why I should participate. The instructors certainly get across how excited they are and how great the event will be…but again, that’s it.
I even watched a Facebook live video of the #ProjectOM premiere in Orlando, FL from last month. Specifically, I watched the first and last ten minutes when the various hosts of the event are addressing the crowd. They talk about how epic the event is and how breast cancer awareness is such a great cause, but again, that’s it. They never once say why it’s so imperative that people are dedicating their time to be part of the Komen cause. It’s just assumed that the event is for a good cause because of Komen’s still surprisingly large brand equity. But for an organization like Komen that prides itself on being the top organization in the world for breast cancer education, there sure isn’t a lot of education surrounding #ProjectOM!
All in all, the event is definitely trendy, but is the event really getting across any message with real substance to the general public? Definitely not. And that’s poor marketing.
2) #ProjectOM is not entirely transparent
Upon initial glance, #ProjectOM is upfront about how the donations generated from the event will be used. 50% of all proceeds will be channeled into Komen’s national research efforts, and the other 50% will be utilized in the local communities that the money is donated in, and within that 50% the donations can fund breast cancer education, breast cancer patient support and breast screenings. So cool, I can generally get behind that. But then I also learned that as part of their pledge to raise $250K by the end of 2017, Manduka is selling a variety of products that benefit Komen, claiming that 10% of proceeds are donated to the organization. But, what is that 10% donation being used for exactly? I’ve searched and I’ve searched and I’ve searched, and I have no idea. For all I know, those 10% proceeds are being funneled into Komen’s marketing and communications. I plan to reach out to Manduka for comment on this discrepancy, and will report back to you all with any updates if and when I get an answer. But this type of blind purchase, while it makes a consumer feel good, may not really even do all that much to help the cause they care about.
There are other details that then start to become more complicated and possibly misleading. According to the small print (see here and scroll down to see the small print, if you don’t believe me) even if you click on the “donate” button on the #ProjectOM website, unless you donate between 5/12 – 5/14, your donation isn’t directly utilized for the #ProjectOM campaign. In other words, unless you donate on Mother’s Day weekend, your donation to Komen is just a regular plain-old donation to Komen. OK, so what’s the problem with that? It’s not necessarily a problem, it’s just misleading. If you review the FAQ section of the #ProjectOM website, 80% of every dollar raised goes towards Komen missions. Within that 80%, approximately 20-25% of that donation goes towards research efforts. So if you’re someone like me that wants to fund more money towards actual breast cancer research, for every dollar you donate, only about 16-20% of that dollar actually goes to research. So depending on when you donate, you may think that 50% of your total donation is going towards breast cancer research, when in actuality that may not be the case.
If you go further along in the fine print, of all the money that is actually donated to research, up to 8% of it may be used for “organizational expenses.” I understand that Komen has bills and salaries to pay too and organizational expenses are part of the game. But why do those expenses need to paid for by money exclusively for research? Why can’t that just come from money raised through the organization’s general fundraisers as a whole?
All in all, I find the transparency of #ProjectOM to be, well, as clear as the fine print.
3) #ProjectOM is targeting women…as consumers.
Earlier last week I was at the mall with Seth to grab some Friday night cocktails. As we were talking, I saw an ad that stated from April 10 – May 31, if you visit the guest relations desk and make a $10 donation to Komen, you can receive a discount card for 25% off one item at select participating stores. I scratched my head at that ad for a second and kept walking. However, as I was researching morefor this week’s post, I learned that the mall down the street from me is owned by Simon Property Group, and Simon Property Group has a corporate partnership with Komen. And when I researched where the #ProjectOM events are happening in my area, they’re happening in Simon Property Group malls nationwide.
We all know the stereotype that women like to shop at the mall more than men, and there are facts to back that up. However, as we continue to enter the age of online shopping, malls across the country are experiencing closures. And according to Business Insider, there’s evidence to suggest that women are visiting malls less frequently than in decades past. With that in mind, could #ProjectOM be just a rouse to get more people to visit their local malls? After all, according to Yoga Journal’s 2016 report on yoga in America, in spite of yoga becoming more popular with men, about 72% of actively practicing yogis are women. And if malls want to attract women back into their facilities, then getting them to do some downward facing dogs first might not be a bad idea for them.
Aside from attracting women back into malls, it’s been shown that breast cancer awareness products are often times household products that women are more likely to buy then men (see the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. for much more on that subject). If women are more likely to practice yoga than men, then it’s women that are also most likely buying pink Manduka yoga mats and pink Manduka yoga towels. Women are undoubtedly the target audience of this feel good marketing campaign, make no mistake. And that’s all $$$ going into Manduka’s pocket.
Funny enough, the #ProjectOM page claims that 80 million people are anticipated to try yoga in 2017. Now for fun, let’s play a word game and replace the word “people” with “consumers.” Now that statement reads that 80 million consumers are anticipated to try yoga in 2017. With that in mind, these pink products that Manduka is selling, even if 10% of their proceeds are donated to Komen, are also generating profit. That, my friends, is pinkwashing. And I’m not about to buy into that balogny.
Between Manduka and Simon Property Group, I find it hard to believe that at #ProjectOM next weekend I would be valued much beyond being a consumer. While I’m sure there are good intentions for #ProjectOM, good intentions don’t mean the target audience, women, isn’t also being seen as a profit generator for the companies involved in sponsoring this event. Otherwise, why would they really be involved to this capacity? Likewise, Komen also benefits from increased donations that, let’s be honest, aren’t all being funded into research and community work. So as long as we feel good opening up our wallets for ‘a good cause’ we’ll be probably chanting “namaste” to a cash register this Mother’s Day weekend. Oh, and some of your money will be used for breast cancer research, I guess.