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Friday, March 2, 2007

project (red), how's that going?

In 2006, Bono and Bobby Shriver created the (RED) campaign to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The initiative (the campaign insists it's a brand, not a charity) teamed up with a bunch of major international firms that agreed to design, market, and sell (RED)-branded products. Portions of the companies' pre-tax profits are then channelled to the Global Fund. Current corporate partners include American Express, Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, Motorola and Apple. So if you buy a (RED) iPod or (RED) panties, Apple or Gap will respectively give some money to the poor Africans who can't afford either item.

(RED) has been hailed as a creative, market-based solution to financing the Global Fund. Theoretically, the campaign could raise serious money for the Global Fund as long as partner companies' bottom lines are continously met. As Shriver told the New York Times in 2006, "We want [our partner companies] to make money. We don’t want anyone to be thinking, ‘I’m not making money on this thing,’ because then we failed. We want people buying houses in the Hamptons based on this because, if that happens, this thing is sustainable.” The campaign raises money by playing off of the self-interest of corporations and the vanity of consumers (perhaps (RED) phones will be the new LiveStrong bracelets?). Furthermore, consumers do not have to change their behavior--they're already buying iPods, phones, and sneakers. Why not buy the (RED) ones and give money to charity without having to actually donate money ? Capitalism at its finest.

On the other hand (RED) also has it's share of critics. Recently, WPI launched BUY (LESS) CRAP, a campaign aimed at "rejecting the ti(red) notion that shopping is a reasonable response to human suffering." According to Ann Handley,

WPI founder Ben Davis says his big beef is that the donations aren't transparent: "When donations are based on percentages of profit and the accounting methods are not transparent, you can spend $100 on a (RED) product with the notion that you're helping to save lives in Africa—but there is no assurance that any of that $100 will actually reach the cause. Not one (RED) cent."

According to Project (RED), the campaign has raised over $20 million for the Global Fund, certainly a substantial amount of money that may go a long way in the developing world. At the same time, that sum pales in comparison to the $100 million that that Davis reasonably projects must have been spent by (RED) partner companies on marketing since the project's inception.

It appears that (RED) partner companies' marketing budgets probably could have gone further if the companies just donated the money directly to the Global Fund. What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not (RED) will gain enough momentum to be a sustainable source of finance for the Fund. (RED), therefore, needs to snowball into a trend, or it will be a wasted effort. One of the largest problems facing (RED) is the fact that consumers don't seem to assosciate it with a cause. There simply isn't enough buzz, and the marketing doesn't really provide consumers with any information about the HIV/AIDS pandemic or the Global Fund. Most (RED) television spots only point to the cryptic link, and as Seven87 points out:

The link doesn’t even talk about the issues, it just has a sparse page with the 6 RED branded products. The “Manifesto” has an overview, but only the “Global Fund” link has any info on the issues… A single page with the issues. Even the information design of the animation with drill down data was not as compelling as it could be.

Perhaps they didn’t want to go overboard on the scary/sad messages, but it still seems rather underwhelming. They really aren’t educating anyone. They aren’t even playing the “ace card” that charities have… emotional and guilt triggers.

Finally, (RED) products just aren't that cool. Advertising your charitable inclinations is simply not trendy. Consumers are searching for products that are their social values (ie: Toyota Prius, American Apparel), not just branded to represent their values. Perhaps (RED) is just too much like it's creator, Bono. Cool for awhile, but ultimately overly persistent, lacking in substance, and not something that hip people would be caught dead assosciating with.

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Blogger Dan said...

Toyota and American Apparel .... that's quite an ironic pairing, don't you think?

3/2/07, 6:47 PM  
Anonymous your sister said...

American Apparel is great if your values include total misogyny...

3/7/07, 3:02 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

You are right about AA, Ilissa, their marketing and management style leaves a lot to be desired as far as I'm concerned, but customers buy their clothing anyway. I never have...but I'm going to be a devoted Nau customer, I'll tell you that.

3/7/07, 5:14 PM  

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