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Bono has been in the press again. This time, critics are pillorying his current project focused on Africa, Product (Red). (Red) is a retail branding effort designed to create a sustainable source of funding for The Global Fund. We wrote about Product (Red) last fall when it was first launched and questioned its potential in light of the debatable effectiveness of other retail branding efforts, such as the pink ribbon campaign.

The current round of criticism takes two forms. In the first, critics cite recently released data which claim retail participants in Product (Red) - such as Gap, Motorola and Apple - have invested $100 million in (Red) advertising and raised only $18 million for The Global Fund. The second criticism questions the purpose of placing a retail intermediary between a donor and a charity. The critics say donors should just give.

There are problems with both these criticisms. First, Product (Red) positioned itself from the beginning as a business proposition for the participating retailers. In the spirit of that business orientation, it is fair to say that companies expect to make large upfront investments in new initiatives, with the expectation of a three- to-five-year, or longer, return. As a business initiative, not enough time has passed to determine whether or not (Red) vendors will recoup their initial investments. Additionally, the simple calculation does not value awareness (which may yield contributions through other vehicles), nor whether the $100 million would have been spent on marketing anyway.

A more relevant question, then, might be to ask why anyone wanting a sustainable source of funds would try to attain it by launching a campaign that appeals to a consumer’s taste in fashion. And not just fashion. More than anything, (Red) products are appealing to a sense of hip, an aesthetic which appeals to people who are by definition young and fickle. In short, not a group for which the term “sustainable” readily applies.

Regarding why donors don’t give directly, the answer is that they do, just not to entities like The Global Fund. Americans are generous givers, but almost all the money is given locally, or at least nationally. According to Giving USA, only two percent of U.S. donations go to international causes. 

Product (Red), like all initiatives, should be judged on results. But the current criticism of the initiative creates only circular arguments.

Where Most Needed: Where Bono Blundered

Reuters: Product (Red)

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