Seeing RED Through Rose-Colored Glasses

_41259646_bonoafp203If December is the season of giving, October must be the season of qualified discontent.

In scrolling through the many good nonprofit blogs I follow, it's hard to find one that isn't praising Bono's RED on the one hand and complaining about it on the other.  It makes a cause marketer feel a bit like Harry Truman, who once said that he wanted to meet a one-armed economist so he couldn't say on the other hand.

The npMarketing Blog pretty much captures what most people are saying about RED and the torn feelings toward it:

Ok, at a very high level, this all makes great sense.  Yes, I'm probably going to get myself some (Red) shirts at The Gap....And yep, I'll feel oh so good about myself.  But here's the thing.  I feel uncomfortable and a little shallow about it.  Is that just me?  I might not be able to explain it in words on a blog, but it just feels empty.

The Nonprofiteer continues:

And let no one doubt that feel-good capitalism (or charitable consumerism, or cause-related marketing) works: according to USA Today, less than $2 million worth of corporate support went to the [RED] Fund from the United Kingdom before the campaign, while contributions since its March launch exceed $10 million. 

But--and you knew the Nonprofiteer was going to cavil because that's what she does--the more successful this sort of high-profile, charity-as-fashion-statement effort is, the more difficult life becomes for charities without celebrity champions or poster-child appeal.

Mixed feelings about RED are understandable, especially when you're not wearing your RED-issued rose-colored glasses.  Wearing them will allow you to see the value of RED more clearly.  Allow me.

Without rose-colored glasses: You see RED as a distraction from the real problems in Africa. Instead of pushing consumerism we should be working toward political solutions.

With rose-colored glasses: You see RED creating the awareness that generates political capital.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what breast cancer walks and pink ribbons have done to drive the political dialogue on cancer issues.

Without rose-colored glasses: You see the star-power of RED just making it harder for charities that aren’t chic or smart or elegant to attract donors and media.

With rose-colored glasses: You see that raising the bar for charities will hurt some, but will make others better because they’ll have to think strategically, act progressively and embrace this new-fangled thing called marketing.

Without rose-colored glasses: You see some of RED's partners (e.g. Armani) as too exclusive and not within the reach of the "common man".

With rose-colored glasses: You see that it’s more important to be cool than inclusive, or popular--having, of course, read my post on Merchants of Cool.

Without rose-colored glasses: You see RED teaching our kids that we can shop our way out of problems like AIDS in Africa.

With rose-colored glasses: You see RED educating our kids about a serious problem with a language they understand and respect.

Without rose-colored glasses: You see the problem.

With rose-colored glasses: You are the solution.