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(RED) under fire: Group says buy less; show us the books

By May 23, 2008 4 Comments

By now, you may have seen or possibly even purchased a (RED) product. If you haven’t, here’s a little background from the Product (RED) website:

(RED) was created by Bono and Bobby Shriver, Chairman of DATA to raise awareness and money for The Global Fund by teaming up with the world’s most iconic brands to produce (PRODUCT)RED branded products. A percentage of each (PRODUCT)RED product sold is given to The Global Fund. The money helps women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Here’s a :30 spot as additional background.

And a quick info graphic:


+Click to enlarge

I love the idea and have supported (RED) personally.

But considering part of the third world’s problems stem from consumerism in developed countries (effects of resources extraction, pollution due to production, and waste disposal) does consuming more actually help people in the third world?

Ben Davis of Buy Less Crap says no, for the reason above, but also because of (RED)’s lack of donation and marketing investment transparency.

His group encourages consumers to “Buy (less). Give more.”

Here’s his open letter to Bobby Shriver:

Dear Mr. Shriver,

RED is an extraordinary and innovative endeavor founded and supported by some of our generation’s most remarkable personalities, entrepreneurs, thinkers and leaders, as well as some of the world’s most talented product designers and marketers — giving RED products instant credibility and appeal with consumers. Clearly RED has the potential to do amazing good.

The recent questions about the effectiveness of RED’s business model suggest that consumers, when buying certain RED products, cannot know exactly how much money makes it to charity. Additionally, there is the concern about how much money has been spent on advertising by RED’s partners. Hence, RED is experiencing its first crisis as a brand: a lack of consumer confidence.

Perhaps it’s time for RED to assert innovation and leadership once more — rising to the challenge of hearing and addressing these consumer concerns head on. After all, RED is a new revenue model. It’s only natural that it make smart, on-the-fly adjustments and improvements. And, as consumers we must grant RED the grace to wisely and openly adapt on its way to becoming a truly sustainable success.

It would seem that RED’s first order of business is winning back consumer confidence. This can be accomplished in three bold, yet simple steps:

1) RED and its partners provide administrative transparency. Let consumers know exactly what has been spent, by whom, and on what. Just as non-profits must provide administrative accountings of how they spend our donations, let RED and its corporate partners be proud of their accomplishments and disclose the figures publicly. This will genuinely answer questions and address consumer concerns.

2) Adopt reformed contribution models that make clear how much money goes to The Global Fund with each purchase–replacing the current models that do not. Consumers require the confidence of knowing exactly how much money goes to charity with each purchase. Remove all doubt and include this information right on the price tag.

3) Make it possible and easy to donate to The Global Fund directly–without requiring a purchase–via clear web links and by installing informational kiosks and/or clearly marked ways to give at check-out counters in retail locations. Doing this would eliminate consumer confusion and cynicism about RED partners and their contributions. And, the links and kiosks would increase awareness about the African AIDS crisis and create a new and valuable stream of money to help save lives.

The immediate implementation of these steps would demonstrate RED’s commitment to regaining, respecting and rewarding consumer trust. In addition, making these sensible changes would help establish a set of best practices for future cause-related marketing efforts that may pattern themselves on RED’s success. This would create an even greater and lasting positive legacy for RED.

Ben Davis –San Francisco, CA

Buy Less Crap hits (RED) hard on its website (to the point I almost have to question their motives), but I agree with Mr. Davis’ letter and his requests seem reasonable.

Do you think Buy Less Crap has gone too far, or should cause marketing be held to the same standard as any for-profit enterprise?

Comment below to weigh in.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • I’ve been struggling to get my head around the issues with cause marketing. I think that setting standards similiar to a nonprofit is a way to start, especially with transparency. Thanks for the post.

  • Andrew says:

    I do not feel that RED or its’ partners are encouraging consumers to over consume, or buy more products than they would have anyways. The partner companies are not making different products; instead, they are making the same products, charging the same prices, and giving consumers the power to choose. That said, I do not see any reason why RED or its’ partners should disclose the marketing dollars spent. While I understand the argument that the marketing $’s could be donated, any donation from RED is more than would have existed had RED never been developed.

  • Andrew,

    I believe RED is brilliant. The companies would have spent the $ on the marketing anyway. The $100M number has been disputed, but it’s a big number nonetheless.

    But Buy Less Crap has a point. Consumerism doesn’t help the Third World as much as cold hard cash.

    Thanks for the great thinking and for contributing it to the conversation.

  • Joseph Mc Grath says:

    Friends,
    RED will not solve all the problems of the world, however we are beginning to understand that we are Global Citizens, with responsibilities to fellow citizens in far away places. Bono challenges us to be citizens first and consumers second – that can only be good. Reflect on what another Irishman wrote a long time ago:
    “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little”. Edmund Burke.

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