Commentary

Give RED a chance

A few weeks ago, I targeted the RED campaign as an example of philanthropist wanna-be’s showing off for one another. Since then, I have changed my perspective almost completely.

I am currently studying illness prevention/awareness campaigns for my rhetoric class. Because marketing is such an integral part of fundraising these days I wanted to look at the way these foundations use advertising techniques to sell their product—which, morbidly enough, is preventing deadly diseases. Because of the media hype surrounding Bono and Bobby Shriver’s RED campaign, it was easy to find sources and statistics on the creation, popularity, and success of this product. It’s also very easy to find criticism.

The campaign was launched, originally, in the UK because people across the pond have a history of “conscientious consumerism.” It was then launched in the US where we just revel in consumerism. Lately, I have read scathing articles about the outright failure of this campaign—supposedly spending $100 million on advertising and earning only $18 million. Rebuttals from the Bono/Shriver camp have fired back with quotes of $25+ million in revenue, while reinforcing that around 40% of the profits are going the Global Fund.

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Yes, both sides are skewed. The RED companies chose the set percentage of their proceeds to donate (GAP donates 50%, $17 from each MotoRazor, $10 from each iPod, etc.) which, save GAP, are nowhere close to 40% of their individual profits. But, as Shriver pointed out, no money has been expended by the Global Fund so whatever it receives is pure profit. It should also be noted that this campaign was created so American corporations would actually donate money to the Global Fund. Yeah, that’s some of you guys. In one year, the Global Fund has seen donations multiply 12 fold from corporations. AND, because American corporations donated ZERO to the fund directly before this year, any donations from this part of the world are pretty significant.

So, ethically, how appropriate is it for American consumerism to raise money for the poor? Well, giving is giving. So, who cares?! RED uses American consumerism to raise money…what fundraiser doesn’t? I don’t see bloggers tackling cookie-toting Girl Scouts in the streets. As long as there have been foundations there have been products to buy. I don’t believe this will dissuade other donors from giving to the fund if they want. But, let's be honest, the fact is there will never be a throng of people surrounding money jars. Ever. So we should raise and donate whenever possible. Before RED, some individuals did actually donate to the fund; American corporations didn’t. American businesses are giving now with the help of consumers. Even if it is the most obvious form of conspicuous consumerism out there, it’s still helping - which can't be bad.

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