Is (Red) "brand" marketing really doing any good?

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable about the cause related marketing campaign, launched with much Bono-led  hype a year ago.  It seems to be more about marketing style than genuine public relations substance of “doing good”.   Like carbon-offsetting programmes, it ensures the affluent can feel good, without ever making a sacrifice to their self-indulgent lifestyles.

It is simply “brand” marketing where style conscious products, such as a red iPod Nano, includes a measly $10 contribution to fighting HIV/AIDs in Africa.  Indeed the actual causes are termed extended family:

(RED) has many shades and dimensions. Below are links to some of our friends and fellow travelers. They provide the melody line for (RED). Their work is our inspiration. Their challenge is our challenge. With a deeper perspective on some of the policy issues, facts and figures, they will give you more information on the Global Fund and what it will take – from governments, as well as individuals – to eliminate AIDS in Africa. Hint: the answer is A LOT. So please, take the time to learn more.

This is such a load of twaddle –  people needlessly dying of HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria are not a “melody line”.  If this is the type of rubbish needed to engage in any world crisis – we are probably better off without their conscience-saving shopping efforts.

I am not alone in my cynicism, with the Center for Media and Democracy among many to reference an artice in Advertising Age revealing the campaign has spent $100 million on marketing, with just $18 million raised worldwide for the cause. 

The worthy causes seem cynically just a hook when reading the rebuttal of Bobby Shriver, CEO (RED) – don’t forget the pretentious brackets – one of several published by the organisation on its website.  He claims this is:

an entirely new “fund raising” model; a brand launch that entered the market slowly with a small product offering at the time. It was designed to build over time. It built up to a full product offering and launch in the US on October 13th, 2006. So we’ve been in business really for only five months.

He also defends the ratio of marketing spend to charity donation “Because (RED) is explicitly NOT a charity”.  Of course, he says, “this marketing would have been spent anyway, on other product lines. It never would have been (nor will it ever be) given to the Global Fund. We were able to divert existing marketing dollars for (RED)”.

Such arrogance continues:

The companies have erected signs in stores and billboards across America saying that AIDS in Africa is a serious global problem. What is the value of that communication? Your writer never tells us. A phenomenal benefit is that Gap, Apple, Sprint and other sales people are meeting Americans and explaining that 5,500 Africans dying daily of AIDS is preventable. What is the value of this?

Does it really take some pseudo-charitable puffed-up brand and a number of companies with their own questionable CSR reputations (that’s Apple on the environment and Gap on supplier working conditions) to educate Americans about AIDS?   

Of course, Bono is reportedly furious of the criticism of his pet project – which has overshadowed news that he is to be the guest editor of magazine Vanity Fair in July (following a similar stint in The Independent last May).  Despite its good intentions, such editorial seems self-indulgent – and again raises questions about why we need a rock star to communicate on such issues.


  1. CSR = Bling
    But we knew that anyway and who do the CSR practitioners think they are kidding anyway?
    If a company needs CSR, the best answer is to change the CEO.
    Issues of Aids, Global warming and many others are resolved by what companies do in practice within their sphere of influence.

  2. Doing good is about values of course – which an awful lot of crisis management and “cover up” CSR seem to ignore.

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