Bono’s (RED)™ Campaign

I recently read about Bono’s new (RED)™ campaign and thought it was worth noting and discussing on Soul Economy. The background is that Bono has teamed up with Bobby Shriver, Chairman of DATA (debt, AIDS, trade Africa) to create the (RED)™ concept and campaign. They have secured big business to participate in what they consider to be a new business model for corporate philanthropy. These well-known companies have created (RED)™ products, with a portion of profits from the sale of these products going to The Global Fund to help women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. These contributions will provide access to education, nutrition, counselling, medical services, plus the two pills a day they need to help them stay alive.

The companies involved and the products they offer are:

  • Gap offers a (RED) clothing line
  • American Express offers a credit card (UK only)
  • Converse has a special (RED) shoe
  • Motorola offers (RED) MOTORAZR and MOTOSLVR phones
  • Apple features a (RED) iPod Nano
  • Emporio Armani features fashion and accessories

And the list is growing with Hallmark recently joining the group above. Bono has reported he would like to grow this list of companies to 400.

The products were launched in the UK almost one year ago and made their debut in the USA on The Oprah Winfrey Show on 13 October. There are plans for further rollout into Japan, France and Canada this month. The campaign has been supported by high profile celebrities in the movies, music, TV and modelling. To name just some – Joss Stone, Steven Spielberg, Alicia Keys, Kate Moss, Chris Rock, Penelope Cruz, Kanye West, Gisele Bundchen, (RED) Ambassador Christy Turlington and our own home-grown Elle Macpherson.

Those Against It

There are those that argue the only “real” winners are the big brand companies who see (RED)™ as a way to improve their reputation by being seen to act in a socially responsible manner. Others are saying that it would be best to donate the money directly to the relevant charities and save on costs. In fact, one report estimates that the set-up costs alone were £50M (www.metro.co.uk) and (RED) Blog (www.joinred.blogspot.com) states that companies involved have multi year commitments to produce RED-branded products, invest in marketing to build demand for the products and to contribute up to 50% of the profits from these product lines. There is the question of whether the likes of Oprah and Bono really understand the plight of the African people when they get around in their own private jets? Even the (RED)™ launch on The Oprah Winfrey Show showed them driving to the stores to buy the products in a flashy car and spending up big! Is not spending some of the cause of poverty? While a % of this spending will contribute is there not a better way to support the people in Africa? On a final note, would the money invested in the (RED)™ campaign be better spent on investment in Africa in order to secure their development and growth and overcome poverty long-term? Overcoming poverty will ultimately, help to overcome the appalling AIDS situation.

Arguments For It

There are however, very valid arguments for the (RED)™ campaign which need to be raised. If successful, this campaign offers a continuous stream of income not just philanthropy from a limited number of wealthy that is not sustainable long-term. The potential is huge – giving individuals the choice to buy big brand products that “give back”. While corporations and individuals have donated to The Global Fund in the past, the Executive Director, Richard Feachem, highlighted that only “a very small proportion” of the fund prior to the (RED)™ campaign was derived from corporations or individuals (www.cbsnews.com) and depending on governments was not enough. Yet, since launching the (RED)™ products only a year ago (RED) Blog reports that $45 million has been generated representing a 9 fold increase over the previous total of just $5 million raised by the Global Fund from the private sector in its first 4 years, from 2002-2006. One could also argue that even if big business is trying to polish up its image with the (RED)™ campaign, is this not a good thing? If they are “giving back” in a responsible and ethical manner is this really cause for concern?

My View

First and foremost the statistics on the AIDS virus in Africa are frightening!

And it is reported to only cost 40 cents a day to keep an HIV-positive person alive! So the reality is that something needs to be done — and quickly — unless we wish to see the economic collapse of South Africa.

It is clear that Bono is seeking better and faster results. If the government option is moving too slowly and people are dying unnecessarily, then why not develop a campaign that can solve this problem? And if you have the power and networks, why not use these to achieve a positive change in the world?

I think that the campaign from a marketing point of view is a very clever one. Develop a cool and sexy range of products, backed by leading brands, which are purchased everyday and appeal to the growing ethical consumer market (see article the-rise-of-the-ethical-consumer). Add to this high profile celebrities to endorse the brand. Then select myspace.com, the popular social networking website, as the main media sponsor (you can check it out atwww.myspace.com/joinred). And finally, set up a blog where you can actually calculate what the outcome of your purchase buys, for example, one (RED) iPod Nano provides anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for 1 month to a person living with HIV (to try this calculation visit www.joinred.com/you/calculator.asp)

To date, the Global Fund has received $45.5 million from the sale of (RED) products and $30.7 million has flowed directly to grants in Ghana, Rwanda and Swaziland. I think that this success has been the appeal and sexiness of the brands and products supported by the celebrities and the resultant WOM. By wearing and using these products you are making a statement about “who you are” and “what you stand for” which appeals to the growing ethical consumer market. I really question whether such success would have been achieved with a campaign of simply giving money. And the idea of a telethon with celebrities, which has been suggested, only provides a one-off contribution not the potential for an ongoing income stream like the (RED)™ campaign.

However, I do question the “real success” of the campaign to date. This is difficult to assess as we do not know the actual set-up costs and how they are progressing against set targets. While it is reported that participating companies have made multi year commitments to the (RED)™ campaign, their long-term success will depend on increasing the sales of these products (by the way, it would help if the Gap online store was working — currently being updated – so that consumers in Oz and other countries that do not have Gap stores in-country could purchase products!). It is interesting to note that American Express in the USA has yet to join the campaign even though the UK supports it.

One KEY point that I would have to raise is that the (RED)™ campaign does not report on how they are meeting their requirements in the production chain (only an odd mention on a couple of products). Are they using fairs trade items? Are they trying to use African products so that the there is a double benefit? Do the products help the African people to become self-sufficient and not just reliant on aid? These are key questions that need to be answered.

 

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