In the (RED)

Red_1"You need to market this like Nike" was the advice former treasury secretary Robert Rubin gave Bono on raising awareness of AIDS in Africa.  The message didn't fall on deaf ears.  "It sowed the seeds in my mind about how to go about this," said the U2 front man.  The "this" was getting more money from companies for AIDS relief in Africa.

US companies alone gave $69 million to the AIDS fight in 2003, but this isn't even half of what just one private foundation--okay, so it was the Gates Foundation--has given, and is minuscule compared to the $425 million companies donated to Tsunami-relief.  To raise more money for Africa beyond the usual one-off that's typical for companies, Bono has signed five-year partnership agreements with retailers to offer "Red" products with up to 50% of sales going to AIDS.

But the early signs are that (RED) is a long way from being in the black, at least in the UK.

When we look at the impact of Project Red on these so-called superbrands [four so far, American Express, Armini, GAP and Nike] ... the scores are as flat as a pancake and the British public hasn't reacted in the manner that these companies, at least in private, would have hoped for." He suggests a recent spate of other ethical-issue affinity products in the U.K. may have resulted in "consumer apathy towards Project Red, which even Bono can't overcome."

Some of the suggestions out there on how to put (RED) in the black include:

  • "Sponsor a musical recording involving Bono".  The project could definitely benefit from some additional exposure and Bono is the obvious ringmaster.  (RED) needs to recapture and sustain the buzz.  Hey, we live in an "attention economy" and yesterday's news is old news--even when it's being delivered by one of the biggest rock stars on the planet.
  • "Ask companies to give a percentage of their after-tax profits to the fund".  Huh?  You're back to begging for nickels and dimes.  The purpose of (RED) is to go beyond charity and make a bigger pie.  Bono's on the right track.  (RED) just needs be tweaked and promoted, not abandoned.  (RED)'s Bobby Shriver is right: "No private-sector company whose job is to make profits is going to on a sustainable basis give away money." 
  • "Recruit more retailers to participate".  This would help a lot.  The more (RED) products there are the more likely consumers will buy them and be exposed the mission behind the brand. 

Sticking with the four superbrands it currently has is like an ice cream shop with only four flavors.  In the world of affinity marketing, (RED) needs to be Baskin-Robbins.

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