A controversy about the effectiveness and results of the RED Campaign, fronted by Bono, has marketers and philanthropists seeing red. And while the marketing ROI is unclear, it is becoming evident that Americans are not shopping their way to good deeds.
Reporter Mya Frazier outlined the incredible line-up of participating personalities (Oprah, Spielberg, Chris Rock and Christy Turlington) and the heavy duty line-up of participating brands (GAP, Motorola, American Express, Emporio Armani and Apple) and wondered how so much time, money and energy could yield so little in earned contributions. Since then RED CEO Bobby Shriver and RED Marketing Chief Julie Cordua have jumped into the fray and offered explanations ( RED isn't a campaign its a brand), alternative data ( 18 is really 25) and a dose of vituperation.
Evidently RED works on several levels. Brands buy into RED by making donations to the Global Fund to Fight Aids,Tuberculosis & Malaria. These "rights" payments go to run the charity. Participating brands then have the right to make and market RED stuff and donate a portion of those proceeds to the fund. Its this level where either sales are off or the cause and the merchandise don't have enough appeal in spite of the star talent and the weight of free and paid media.
Like most brand campaigns its hard to measure effectiveness because there is no benchmark, nobody set a clear goal either in terms of exposure or sales and nobody is really keeping track of how all this hangs together since each participating brand is using RED to serve its own agenda and the RED guys are just trying to collect as much cash from the capitalists as quickly as they can before this initiative becomes old news.
We also seem to be seeing several cultural developments which could affect long term efforts at cause related marketing ...
1. Over the Top is Over the Top. RED might just be too big, too bold and too unwieldy for its own good.We never heard of the Global Fund before and we are inundated with big charities trying to solve big problems with big gestures. None of us can save the world on this scale and some of us are put off by all this overt do-gooding so we don't buy the act and we don't bother trying.
2. Africa is The Forgotten Continent. AIDS, Darfur, corruption, post-colonialism, poverty, racism pick your poison Africa has it. But Africa doesn't strike a chord among white folks or even black folks in white countries. We have all seen and heard the starving kids in Africa routine too many times and too many of us didn't care in the first place.
3. You Can't Shop Your Way to Heaven. Cause-related marketing has explored many avenues but in the end good deeds and consumerism cut against each other. Maybe its our Puritan legacy or some lingering sense of Catholic/Jewish/Muslim guilt but spending the wages of sin doesn't seem to motivate acts of lovingkindness. And for some of us we get creeped out along the way.
RED is a brilliant idea with heart, strung together loosely and executed inconsistently. Its not all that different from the general state of advertising and marketing, yet in this case we hope the cash flows in and the services get deliveredto the Africans who truly need it.