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Cause Dissonance: KFC and Komen Buckets for the Cure

April 16, 2010

#1 Thing You Need to Learn from this Post:
The networked marketplace demands that your actions do more than your words when it comes to social issues.

A More Detailed Exploration:
This past week, KFC was in the news for two very different reasons. The more prominent story was the nationwide rollout of the KFC Double Down – a sandwich of gluttonous proportions. Two chicken breasts serve as the “bread” and have slices of cheese, special sauce, and bacon strips as the “meat” of the sandwich. According to KFC’s nutritional statistics, the grilled version packs in 460 Calories, 23 grams of fat, and 1430 mg of sodium and the fried version weighs in with 540 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 1380 mg of sodium.

If you were watching broadcast TV this week, you would have noticed KFC’s other national rollout: Buckets for the Cure. This ambitious partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure seeks to “make the largest single donation to end breast cancer forever” by donating $.50 for every pink bucket of chicken sold. While the website is impressive and puts the focus on the cause, it’s full of cause dissonance. That’s problematic as we become increasingly interconnected.

From the same web browser I viewed the campaign website, I did a few quick searches to learn more about the nutritional information of KFC buckets of chicken and the role of obesity in cancer.

Here’s what I learned from (which currently features the Double Down wrapped in pink):

[Editor’s Notes: Upon the request of KFC, I have calculated and included the nutritional facts for grilled chicken. According to KFC, the grilled version represents 25-30% of bone-in chicken sold in their stores.  That means 70-75% of all pink buckets will likely be fried chicken. Since grilled represents a material percentage of the total sales, I agreed to add this information.]

  • KFC lists its nutrition facts based on individual pieces of chicken, not the bucket.
  • Buckets come in 8, 12, and 15 pieces. You can choose between original recipe, extra crispy, spicy, or grilled. And you can get wings, thighs, drumsticks, and breasts.
  • Assuming you like original recipe and buy a standard 8 piece bucket for your pink bucket, you’ll bring home 1,600 calories and 90 grams of fat. If extra crispy is more your style, say hello to 2,380 calories and 160 grams of fat.  Grilled will get you 980 calories and 46 grams of fat.
  • If four people split the bucket, you’ll average 245 calories and 11.5 grams of fat (grilled), 400 calories and 22.5 grams of fat (original recipe), or 595 calories and 40 grams of fat (extra crispy).
  • Calories from fat in the pink bucket is 41% (grilled), 49% (original recipe), and 60% (extra crispy).

Then I searched for daily nutrition guides and found this from the American Heart Association:

  • Without any sides or beverages, two pieces of chicken total 14% (grilled) 22% (original) and 33% (extra crispy) of the recommended caloric intake for women age 31-50.
  • For optimal health, total calories from fat should be 25-30% of your diet. Now compare that to the 41% (grilled), 49% (original recipe) and 60% that your pink bucket gives you.

According to

  • “Nearly one-third of all adults are now classified as obese.”
  • “The chief causes of obesity are a sedentary lifestyle and overconsumption of high-calorie food.”
  • “20 percent of cancer deaths in women were due to overweight and obesity.”
  • “Obese women are also at increased risk of dying from breast cancer after menopause compared with lean women.”
  • “Weight gain during adulthood has been found to be the most consistent and strongest predictor of breast cancer risk in studies in which it has been examined.”

Then, I visited the Komen website and learned this:

  • “Although being overweight seems protective in premenopausal women, weight gain should be avoided. Most breast cancers occur in postmenopausal women, and any weight you put on before menopause you will likely carry into your postmenopausal years. In two large studies, women were at increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer if they had gained 20 or more pounds after age 18.”

You Can Do Better than This
While many in the cause sector might focus their outrage or contempt on KFC for this, the same scrutiny needs to be put on Susan G. Komen for the Cure. How much is that $8.5 million worth to the cause, knowing the health damage these pink buckets will cause?

The same day I came across the Buckets for the Cure, I came across boxes of cookies at the grocery store that would trigger a $.25 contribution to the local Komen affiliate. My first thought: I’m sure they’d taste great with my pink bucket.


Editor’s Note: Thank you, Angela Weber, for pointing out a broken link and for sharing this resource about heart disease and addiction.)

  1. April 16, 2010 12:23 pm

    Great piece, Scott. You used facts, not opinion to show the disconnect and hopefully both sides take note. I don’t want to put food company’s on trial, but if they wanted to donate money to the Komen foundation a cash gift would have been just as appreciated I’m sure.

  2. Jen Henderson permalink
    April 16, 2010 12:24 pm

    Great post! Common sense tells you that fried chicken isn’t healthy for you…yet, it is being used as a means to help find a cure for cancer. In a word…NO.

    Food for causes starts out at the most basic level, too: school bake sales and girl scout cookies. Buy fattening, sugar-laden confections in order to support the students, schools and scouts. But on the other hand, cases of child obesity and diabetes are on the rise (and making national headlines). These cookies, cakes and fudge directly contribute to those conditions. Does not make sense to me anymore; as sentimental as making cupcakes with the kids for the sales or eating thin mints may be…

    Campaigns for raising money need to convey “why” we should give and what that money will be used to do specifically; not promote a cause by damaging the health of those who would participate.

    Adult causes don’t need to be bake sales, too. Time to grow up!

  3. April 16, 2010 12:56 pm

    Wow, some great things to think about, Scotty. Ms. Jen makes some great points too about causes and snacks in general. If you’re going to criticize one, how can you not criticize the other. Of course, KFC is just sooooo bad. I mean, a bucket should come with a free round of chemo.

    But I also think about free will and how KFC customers want to support good causes like all Americans do and KFC is just giving them an opportunity to do that when they buy a bucket. I wish they would support Komen another way (and feed themselves with something else). But I’m glad they chose the selection they had.


  4. Jen permalink
    April 16, 2010 1:40 pm

    Great post– “the same scrutiny needs to be put on Susan G. Komen for the Cure. How much is that $8.5 million worth to the cause, knowing the health damage these pink buckets will cause?”

    As a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting cancer, how can Komen partner with KFC? They made it all about the money and not about fighting cancer. They are going to end cancer by selling more fired chicken? REALLY?

    I am a former employee of two extremely large, nonprofit health organizations. Both organizations had strict policies in place regarding donations from corporations or affiliated companies that conflicted with the cause. Both organizations refused to accept money from tobacco companies or their subsidiaries. It was surprising to learn just how many companies were owned by tobacco (at that time). Some of these companies were literally beating down our door to support our cause. Staying true to our mission and engaging in partnerships that did not ultimately benefit a tobacco company were more important to us than the immediate benefit of additional funding.

    This may be a great thing for KFC. They are aligning themselves with a well-known brand and a cause that people truly rally around. Good for them.

    I do not believe selling more fried chicken is going to bring us closer to eradicating breast cancer. Bad for Komen.

    – Jen @PhilanthropyInk

  5. Rita permalink
    April 16, 2010 3:17 pm

    And yet… And yet…

    Clearly the research is sound, and the facts are not in dispute. And yet as a cause marketer, surely you must understand that there is more to it — from brand development overall, all the way down to the immediate buying decision — than facts. (Not to mention that I’m not sure I’m willing to buy your characterization of “a few quick searches” to gather the comprehensive collection of facts you present.)

    I think the people who were going to buy KFC are going to buy it anyway. If KFC & Komen can convince them to buy the pink bucket, $0.50 goes to the cause. Everybody feels good in their soul, if not in their heart. (Ba-ZING!) But the individual or family who wouldn’t normally buy KFC will buy MAYBE one bucket because Komen asked them to, or because they saw a sign or banner. The Komen Pink Bucket campaign is not responsible for our nation’s obesity epidemic, nor is it contributing to it in the way that I read you to be implying.

    Maybe I’m not giving as much credit to the consumer/donor as you are, but one bucket of chicken doesn’t seem to me to be the ultimate in hypocrisy, either on KFC’s side or Komen’s. From my perspective — in MY galaxy of the networked marketplace — nuance, compromise, and partnerships count more than dogma, dualism, and stridency.

    Is it ideal? Not at all. Do I live in an ideal world? I do not. There are one metric crapload worse corporate decisions being made every day; I say, Good for you, KFC & Komen.

  6. Scott Henderson permalink
    April 16, 2010 4:18 pm

    Great to see the robust conversation happening here.

    What is clear is the nuances of that we call reality. Clearly, it’s quite muddy.

    Joe and Jen H.: Free will does exist. The individual consumer will determine whether or not this is a success (and if it gets replicated). Obviously, bake sales and Girl Scout cookies prove this. Interestingly, the market shaped the Girls Scouts and KFC’s move to trans fat-free recipes.

    Jen (@PhilanthropyInk): Interesting parallel to the tobacco partnerships.

    Rita: Great rebuttal to my post.

    For the record, I did four Google queries and compiled those facts in about 10 minutes. I did have to take a couple extra minutes to calculate the percentages and aggregate nutritional facts. In total, I spent 15 minutes on the research.

    You’re right – emotions drive decisions, not facts.

    No, KFC is NOT the ultimate source of obesity – the food and lifestyle they promote thru the Double Down does contribute to the problem directly and breast cancer indirectly. I believe in individual choice, but we can’t pretend that people aren’t profiting off of poor individual choices.

    I also agree with you that “nuance, compromise, and partnerships count more than dogma, dualism, and stridency” in the networked marketplace.

    My main point is that companies and charities pursuing partnerships need to take an integrated, holistic approach. We are no longer communicating with different audiences in tidy silos and channels. One person will interact with your brand in many different channels. When you extend your left hand in one direction (touting a cause campaign) and extend your right in the other direction (promote unhealthy food items), that puts you in an ideal position for crucifixion. The same goes for Komen thru the partnerships and licenses they forge.

    I can’t speak to the authenticity of KFC’s commitment to the issue. I can speak to the cause dissonance the KFC-Komen partnership creates.

    If this is an authentic commitment, KFC will be shifting its operational and brand behaviors. At the core of KFC, there needs to be a desire to shift their profit centers from products that lead to the social problems they are trying to solve. That’s the type of partnership and nuance that will lead to “end breast cancer forever” as they stated as their goal.

    • April 16, 2010 5:06 pm

      As a person who’s job it is to make sure that our cause marketing relationships and campaign executions stand out to raise awareness and advocacy, I was quite perplexed by the KFC and Komen partnership. Especially, being in breast cancer.

      But I digress. The point of emphasis that all non profits should take into account is the core. The core in messaging. The core in mantras. And the core in the aligning of values. It’s clear by a partnership like this, that the managed expectation and core values of each organization did not align.

      To reemphasize Scott Henderson’s (@scottyhendo) point in the very beginning of this post is that “#1: The networked marketplace demands that your actions do more than your words when it comes to social issues.” This, in my interpretation, means that what you say (or promote) should align with what you do. I think it’s great that awareness is being made. I also think it’s great that a very large donation will be made to help end the fight against breast cancer. Those two facts in and of themselves are wonderful. But it seems that the formers of this partnership were clouded by those two facts alone, rather than public perception of the nature of this partnership. Health is health folks. Whether good or bad. And the public is more health conscience today than they were 5 years ago. If you align yourself (and your core values) with a company such as KFC who has stated that “eating fried chicken can be healthy” (, then you have an issue. And so will the public that supports your cause. This unfortunately, has created a discrepancy in the core of the cause.

      I stated this yesterday on Geoff Livingston’s(@geoffliving) post on the USA Today’s Kindness effort. “We can call this tacky. And we can say that this campaign will do little to move the needle in effective change. But the reality is that this is new territory and we, as foundations, need to make sure that our missional goals produce real change… If not, then both parties need to be ashamed. What do the corporations get out of it? Who knows. More brand affinity? More newspaper sales? Better ROI? Who knows? But if one of the effects of cause marketing is increased awareness, then it’s up to the organization that leverages this increased awareness to enact change.”

      This is on on Komen. It seems, in this case, they have lost sight of aligning core values with it’s partnerships. Many of us have. I agree with Jen’s (@PhilanthropyInk) sentiment; Align yourselves with companies that will truly benefit the cause. Both in core values and in missional response.

      ~Kevin @brandlessons

  7. Scott Henderson permalink
    April 16, 2010 5:37 pm

    A great read sent to me by Sean Brown from @MITSMR that explains why good wins in a hyperconnected world:

    “The Case for Being Disruptively Good” by @umairh @HarvardBiz

  8. Stacy Grau permalink
    April 16, 2010 8:50 pm

    I am surprised that Komen went for this given the potential backlash. Yogurt is one thing; extra crispy chicken is a whole other deal.

  9. Stacy Grau permalink
    April 16, 2010 8:58 pm

    Jen makes an interesting point. I wonder about the sort of consumer backlash against Komen. We (myself and my friend Amanda Bower) have done some research on the unintended consequences of cause marketing, especially for the nonprofit partner. Ours centered on whether consumers jumped to conclusions of endorsement – that the nonprofit is endorsing the product (at least implicitly). What we found is that consumers are generally confused about the relationships between companies and their causes. This KFC example is another angle – could the very nature of an unhealthy connection product supporting a cause (especially a health related cause) cause trouble for the nonprofit? I love and respect Komen for the Cure – what this makes me curious.

  10. Rita permalink
    April 16, 2010 11:40 pm

    The problem with the argument being espoused here is that it’s way too theoretical.

    From a 30,000-feet standpoint, yeah, it probably doesn’t make sense for a company that makes unhealthily-prepared food to partner with a health-related cause.* But there are way too many steps between fried chicken and breast cancer, death-causing-ness-wise, for it to make a difference in either a branding or purchasing context. Until or unless there are studies done that say, quote, “Fried chicken causes cancer and death,” the on-the-ground consumer is unlikely to make the distinctions you all seem to be making.

    I think this is academic case-study fodder; it is not a recipe for consumer backlash.

    * Unless, clearly, it does make sense, in a measurable economic way, to both parties…which it probably does, because why else would they have both agreed to a national campaign? Has any of us ASKED Komen or KFC for comment?

  11. Darrell permalink
    April 19, 2010 4:48 pm

    Raising money for the cause could be an opportunity for KFC or for ‘buckets for the cure’ to promote healthy options to greeze-dripping-fowl-that-have-been-put-out-of-their-inhumane-miserable-abused-lives. Maybe buckets of something that avid greeze consumers haven’t heard about that satisfies one’s craving for grease and carbs. Fill that void and buckets for the cure have euthanized two chickens with one stun gun: made money and created a marketable option.

  12. April 19, 2010 10:00 pm

    The more I read peoples thoughts and opinions on this, I become even more confused. Who was in that meeting when this was presented. Who said, “This is a great idea?” at .50 cents a bucket they will have to sell 200,000 buckets of chicken. That equals at least 1.6 million pieces of chicken.

  13. April 21, 2010 4:02 am


    As a former PepsiCo ‘good for you’ foods and ‘health & wellness’ innovation guy, who is now full time engaged in ‘healthy lifestyle’ cause marketing innovation, Scotty’s POV is not theoretical. He’s simply stating some facts. From my perspective the Komen / KFC initiative is a blatant case of ’cause washing’.

    There will be no winners in this relationship what so ever.

    Consumers in particular deserve better, and its high time they started to demand the food industry and non profit sector took a more responsible approach to ’cause messaging’.

    There are some excellent ’cause marketing’ initiatives coming from food industry brands, the Komen / KFC initiative simply makes it harder for those companies taking a highly responsible approach to get their messages out and heard.

    I do believe that initiatives like this are contributing to the significant consumer confusion when it comes to understanding ‘obesity’.

    This conversation that needs to be front and center in the mainstream media and blogosphere.

    As consumers, we are empowered like never before, the food industry does listen, and real preparedness exists to make the necessary changes.

  14. April 23, 2010 1:33 pm

    Thanks for this post. It is a truly offensive and harmful alliance. Breast Cancer Action’s “What the Cluck?” campaign is calling out KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure on this pinkwashing partnership. Over 1,000 people from all over the country have written to them to denounce this pinkwashing. You can find the campaign here:

  15. Rita permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:32 pm

    So, what’s the rest of the story?

    It’s been two weeks since Scott’s post. Has either KFC or Komen faced any real consumer/donor backlash, organized or otherwise? Other than, you know, blog-based outrage?

    That is to say, beyond headlines like “KFC/Komen partnership raises questions,” does the world care?

  16. Rita permalink
    May 17, 2010 4:51 pm

    …I guess the world does not, in fact, care.


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