Back in March, an article in Advertising Age criticized the hypocrisy of (Product) Red for raising a “meager $18 million” while spending $100 million on marketing. Since then, the project’s CEO Bobby Shriver has responded to this clarifying that the Red Campaign does not actually have a marketing budget (its manifesto states that it “is not a charity.it is simply a business model”) and that the companies that are affiliated with it (Motorola, Apple, The Gap, and since then, Armani, Converse and American Express) are not spending any more on marketing then they normally would; it is simply that a portion of their budgets have been allocated to raising public awareness of the health crisis that is AIDS in Africa and raising money to deliver the needed medication to the women and children who can benefit from it most. Personally, I find it near genius that the campaign’s focus is not so much on changing the public’s moral actions as it is simply tapping into the pre-existing materialistic culture and its obsession with brand names and celebrities in order raise its funds. It is exploitation in its most noble form. Bono must be having a good chuckle about it all.
Most recently from the campaign comes this month’s Vanity Fair. Guest edited by Bono, the issue features 20 different covers, shot, of course, by Annie Lebovitz, with portraits of a diverse but united-to-the-cause group of famous faces including Desmond Tutu, Brad Pitt, Maya Angelou and George Bush. By purchasing a copy of the magazine, I am informed on the (Product) Red website that I have generated “enough money to provide 74 single dose (nevirapine) treatments for mother and baby, to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child”. Which is a mere drop in the bucket when 5500 Africans are dying of untreated AIDS everyday. But as Bono writes, “Our habit–and we have to kick it–is to reduce this mesmerizing, entrepreneurial, dynamic continent of 53 diverse countries to a hopeless deathbed of war, disease, and corruption…From here, what’s needed is a leg up, not a handout. Targeted debt cancellation and aid mean 20 million more African kids are in school, 1.3 million Africans are on lifesaving drugs. Amazing.”