Back in November 2006, I first learned about the (RED) Campaign. This organization, in cooperation with several companies that include Gap, claims to send some of its profits to Africa so that those stricken with AIDS may obtain medicine. From their website:
(RED) is not a charity. It is simply a business model. You buy (RED) stuff. We get the money, buy the pills and distribute them. They take the pills, stay alive, and continue to take care of their families and contribute socially and economically in their communities.
If they don't get the pills, they die. We don't want them to die. We want to give them the pills. And we can. And you can. And it's easy.
All you have to do is upgrade your choice.
I wrote a post about this company, specifically its marketing strategies and the involvement of celebrities such as Bono and Oprah. I was concerned that people may be more focused on buying the products and being perceived as someone who cares about others, rather than being someone who cares about others and doesn't have a need to put on a display.
Advertising Age recently published an article about (RED), claiming that only $18 million has been raised (and upwards of $100 million may have been spent on marketing).
The disproportionate ratio between the marketing outlay and the money raised is drawing concern among nonprofit watchdogs, cause-marketing experts and even executives in the ad business. It threatens to spur a backlash, not just against the Red campaign -- which ambitiously set out to change the cause-marketing model by allowing partners to profit from charity -- but also for the brands involved.
As expected, parodies have sprung up.
The campaign's inherent appeal to conspicuous consumption has spurred a parody by a group of San Francisco designers and artists, who take issue with Bono's rallying cry. "Shopping is not a solution. Buy less. Give more," is the message at buylesscrap.org, which encourages people to give directly to the Global Fund.
"The Red campaign proposes consumption as the cure to the world's evils," said Ben Davis, creative director at Word Pictures Ideas, co-creator of the site. "Can't we just focus on the real solution -- giving money?"
Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator, which rates the spending practices of 5,000 nonprofits, said he's concerned about the campaign's impact on the next generation. "The Red campaign can be a good start or it can be a colossal waste of money, and it all depends on whether this edgy, innovative campaign inspires young people to be better citizens or just gives them an excuse to feel good about themselves while they buy an overpriced item they don't really need."
Bobby Shriver, the CEO of (RED), has written a response to the article.