Zany and shenanigans.
These words have been used to describe the annual Krispy Kreme Run in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The race is organized by students at North Carolina State University and benefits North Carolina Children's Hospital. Midway through the course, runners—who have registered in advance for the #KrispyCremeChallenge portion—can choke down 12 doughnuts and continue to the finish line.
The student-led, charity-based run is managed by Park Scholars at North Carolina State University, and it attracts thousands of participants, some from as far away as Australia. Media attention has been pervasive over the years, with the event grabbing a coveted spot on the 2005 Sports Illustrated On Campus list of “102 More Things You Gotta Do Before You Graduate.”
The University of Georgia, Atlanta even modeled its Donut Dare 5k Road Race —complete with local hospital sponsors—after the North Carolina fundraiser.
The motto for the race shouts “fun”:
"2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour."
The festivities get a bit wacky with participants and spectators dressing up in doughnut-themed costumes, a far cry from the original race created by nine college buddies in 2006.
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The wackiness came to a screeching halt Saturday, when tragedy struck.
At the 12th annual race, a 58-year-old man suffered chest pains during the first mile of the competition. He died at a local hospital, and despite his not having reached the Krispy Kreme midway point, there is concern, confusion and criticism about the branding, marketing and even common sense of such an event.
From the race to the reputation
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that over the years, the competition has drawn more than 65,000 runners, who have consumed more than 700,000 doughnuts and raised nearly $1 million for North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
Still, numerous websites and articles maintain doughnut maker Krispy Kreme has no involvement with the event at all.
Darryl Carr, senior director of corporate communications for Krispy Kreme, said in a statement Monday:
It’s very unfortunate what took place and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. This was not a Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation event, however, and the event organizers have no affiliation with the company. Krispy Kreme does not promote, sponsor or donate products to the event or organization.
So how did a local hospital wind up with a naming and branding event that touts the Krispy Kreme Challenge relationship? Last October, this press release from UNCHealthcare.org generated plenty of PR buzz:
Since its inception as a charity race in 2006, the Krispy Kreme Challenge has raised nearly $1 million for UNC Children’s and its clinical home, N.C. Children’s Hospital. On Oct. 14, the organization announced the renaming of the N.C. Children’s Specialty Clinic to the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic, along with its commitment to raise an additional $1 million for UNC Children’s.
Dr. Carol Folt, chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, said at the time: “When community-minded students come together like this to help the state’s children, we just couldn’t be any prouder.”
Reporters who cover health care marketing began to raise concerns about organizations that promote health and wellness yet align themselves with those who market sugary and unhealthful products. In December, HealthLeadersMedia.com reported:
UNC Children's Hospital in Raleigh, NC, says it is rethinking the decision to name its pediatric outpatient clinic the "Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic," which is funny, because "rethinking" implies they gave it some thought in the first place.
It goes on to call the circumstances leading up to the name choice “somewhat convoluted”:
While the hospital's intentions weren't to entangle their brand with a junk food giant, the public relations fallout has been brutal. Buzzfeed ran a snarky take on the name in an article called " Finally, A Krispy Kreme Health Clinic," and national media outlets, in addition to NPR, voiced their concern over the choice.
While Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic is still listed on the UNC Health Care website as the name of the hospital's Raleigh clinic , it's clear that the hospital—located in a state with high rates of childhood obesity—should find a new name that doesn't entice its young patients to crave a glazed donut after each visit.
ModernHealthcare.com addressed the issue in December, as well:
Krispy Kreme doesn't fund the race and isn't associated with the clinic, but there are a number of other facilities, especially children's hospitals, named after major corporations. Some have obvious links to childhood or health care. Toymakers are behind the names of Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I., and Mattel Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. A drugmaker's name is attached to Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J.
As the public turns to Facebook, Twitter and other social channels to express condolences to the family of the deceased runner, health care communicators can take stock of their own community partnerships.
Is your partnering congruent with your brand, or is it causing confusion? How are you addressing any public misconceptions?