Bono’s (Product) RED isn’t Making the Green

By Andre Banks Mar 06, 2007

In 2002 I was working for this organization Africa Action on a HIV/AIDS campaign trying to get federal $$ to buy AIDS drugs in Africa. At that time there was one name that made us curse, swear and moan. B O N O . Sure there was some hateration: Bono could get attention on the issues we cared about no matter what he was saying or who he was saying it to (like his cheery press conferences in the Bush White House.) But at the end of the day, his celebrity activism always seemed more invested in celebrity as opposed to activism. Maybe I was just being old-fashioned. But then the world saw (RED). Last year Bono meant business: Big Business. With one of the largest ad buys I can remember, he and a star-studded, crimson wrapped cast rolled out the (Product ) RED campaign. The idea seemed simple enough: get major corps to make red RAZRs, red IPODS and red GAP t-shirts (you can even find an Armani watch on the (RED) website). With each purchase, the companies send a few bucks off to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Bono, it was argued, was charting a new course for corporate giving and building a brand that would force companies like Motorola, Apple and Gap to address issues of global poverty. No justice, No Peace, No matter. Buy more, Bono told us, and save Africa. But Advertising Age has a great article today challenging us to not drink the (RED) Kool-Aid without thinking. Though the roll-out cost an estimated $100 million the campaign has only raised a small fraction of that amount for the Global Fund, some $18 million. One of the more salient points:

Mark Rosenman, a longtime activist in the nonprofit sector and a public-service professor at the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, said the disparity between the marketing outlay and the money raised by Red is illustrative of some of the biggest fears of nonprofits in the U.S. "There is a broadening concern that business is taking on the patina of philanthropy and crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it," he said. "It benefits the for-profit partners much more than the charitable causes."

Sounds like they worked so hard to find an a-political solution with mass appeal that they forgot they’re dealing with a real political problem. If you think I’m being rough on Bono, of course you can jump in the comments section. But we also just put up a great piece over at colorlines about this new trend that Adam Elkus calls “Celebrity Colonialism”. It’s worth checking out.