15 January, 2007

Seeing (Red)

AIDS in Africa is a tragic issue that we'd all do well to be concerned about. Bono is a good man for trying to bring this concern to the fore.

All the (RED) products, however....

I feel much the same way about (Red) as I do about 'pink'.

In short, if you are truly concerned about making a difference for the stated cause, send the charity a check. In the case of (Red), that would be The Global Fund. It doesn't have to be a big check; the amount of the proceeds donated for any of the purchases at The Gap would probably be less than $1.00 per clothing item. So just send $5.00 to the charity and don't feel you have to tell the world about it.

That's what gets me about (Red) products. I've got to look at the ad for the Gap line on the back cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly and everytime I see it, the cynic in me wants to throw up. Since I'm already in the bathroom that's very convenient. But all the shirts and belts worn by the shiny happy people have this air of smugness about them. When people buy these products are they paying for the item or for the smug? Because those things--especially the shirts, with slogans like Desi(red)--are now so ubiquitous, when a person wears one they may as well hang a sign from their neck.
World: I am a Good Person. Probably Better Than You. Because Eighty-Three Cents From This Shirt Purchase Was Sent To Some Charity Somewhere That Bono Thinks Is Cool.

I've never been a big fan of bragging about one's charitable deeds. To my mind once you tell people about it, it ceases to be charity and becomes publicity.


Huh. This is interesting. In a kind of backhanded way. The (Product)Red website offers an Impact Calculator which allows us all to gauge the value of our (Red) purchases. Kind of. I think it's rather clever of them, because instead of revealing the dollar amount they receive for each purchase, they tell what the like-value is. For instance the Impact of a Gap T-Shirt is "41 single-dose (nevaripine) treatments to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child." That's probably better than telling people the actual monetary amount received by the charity. I myself have seen enough of those Sally Struthers commercials to know that Africa is this bizarro world where $20 can feed, clothe, medicate, house and educate a human being. Ironically, according to Medilinks Africa, the African cost of Nevaripine is
Free as two doses for mother and infant treatment

Yes. You read that correctly. Nevaripine is offered free by the drug manufacturer for mother/child treatment. The 41 single-doses the T-shirt "pays for" are most likely the cost of a technician who distributes the pills as needed. So, about eighty-three cents.

Don't worry, though. If you aren't getting enough smug for your buck when you buy (Red), you can feel free to send Impact Cards to your friends and family. In short, you can send them an email letting them know exactly how much your consumerism has helped the dying of Africa and guilt them into helping too.


At 9:23 AM, January 15, 2007, Blogger Slartibartfast said...

Ah! A subject near and dear to me! The secular equivalent of really large bibles and WWJD charm bracelets.

I wonder how many Prius purchases fall under this category? It's not for me to judge, but I DO know human nature. It's not just us musicians that desire applause.

At 12:50 PM, January 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your post. But, I think that if the charity can get a little extra from the smug and snotty among us, then I won't slam them for trying anyway they can. I've done my fair share of fund raising and I know it's so much easier when you can show that you're going to credit someone with the donation. Every big charity in town does it. Some people will give anonymously, but most folks want their name in the program. It's a weird human trait, isn't it? But if it's helping a cause??

BTW, for Christmas, one of the relatives bought all the teenagers in the family (red) products. The kids LOVED it.


At 1:55 PM, January 15, 2007, Blogger Patrick said...

However, if you're gonna buy a product anyway, buying the (RED) one means you'll probably be giving an infinite percentage more (even if it's an infinitesimally small portion of the purchase price) than you would have if you hadn't bought it.

Like the pink things, I wouldn't buy the Cheerios just because they're in a pink box, but I would buy the Cheerios if I wanted to eat Cheerios... and the fact that they're in a pink box is just a side benefit for the cancer society.

On a side note, the way most of these promotions work, the manufacturer writes a check for a million dollars to the charity, then manufactures a million boxes that say, "a portion of the proceeds goes to..." not vice versa. Your paying for the box at the checkout doesn't trigger some instantaneous Rube Goldberg machine of digital events that drops the dollar in a jar at a non-profit. So in reality, even if the promotion fails miserably, the charity still gets the money... and you shouldn't feel guilty for not buying the pink Maserati.

I will confess that yes, I have the (RED) nano, mainly because that's the color I wanted.

At 2:01 PM, January 15, 2007, Anonymous nm said...

Mostly I agree with you, but isn't part of the Red program an attempt to raise public awareness of a problem and a set of potential solutions? If seeing someone wearing/carrying Red items, or seeing ads about it, makes someone think about donating additional money, I think it's worth it.

And I really don't agree that driving a Prius is similar, Slarti. If you drive a Prius, you do use less gas. That's different from donating money to a cause or promoting alternative fuel research or talking about pollution or whatever; it's making a change in one's own consumption.

At 3:08 PM, January 15, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...

On a side note, the way most of these promotions work, the manufacturer writes a check for a million dollars to the charity, then manufactures a million boxes that say, "a portion of the proceeds goes to..." not vice versa.

Not entirely correct. It's generally structured as a licensing agreement similar to what authors or musicians receive. The manufacturer guarantees an advance. Once the advance earns out, donations to the charity are calculated through the same mechanism as royalties on any other licensing agreement. The companies I worked with paid charitable donations to Komen in the exact same way they paid royalties to Disney.

That's where my bitterness comes in to play. These charities aren't high-minded sanctuaries of goodness. Their marketing reps are as hard-balled as any rep for any other license. And they treat the "charity" as a brand, just like any other license.

At 3:38 PM, January 16, 2007, Blogger saraclark said...

Much like Patrick, I bought the new Red Nano because I love the color. I did research to see if the price or features were any different and then all things being equal bought the color that I liked. Bonus for Bono.

Hipster cred with incidental charity.

At 3:41 PM, January 16, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Of all the (red) products, the Nano is the one I don't mind.

1) I'm clearly biased toward all things Mac.

2) It's a subtle thing, not like a t-shirt.

3) unlike the Gap T-shirts, I haven't had to stare at the insipid ad on the back of the EW all week.

4) unlike the Gap T-Shirts, the adverts for the Nano aren't excessively proud of themselves.

5) The Nano doesn't have a stupid (red) slogan all over it. [See: inspi(red)/desi(red), etc.]

6) I think that the (red) iPod Nano is your only chance to get a Nano in a true primary colour. If I recall correctly, all other Nano colours are hipster neon.

At 4:41 PM, June 15, 2007, Blogger barrybrake said...

heh -- you had to stare at the insipid ad on the back of the EW all week?

i was rereading goblet of fire.

At 6:33 PM, December 04, 2007, Anonymous Lauren said...

"These charities aren't high-minded sanctuaries of goodness. Their marketing reps are as hard-balled as any rep for any other license. And they treat the "charity" as a brand, just like any other license."

You are positively right. It IS a brand. Yes, people are walking around wearing shirts that say they gave to charity. But the thing is, everytime someone sees that shirt, it's a reminder that there are small things we can do to help. Posting a dying child on a billboard is going to upset people, but it's not necessarily going to motivate them to save a life. But if buying stuff that HELPS to save lives makes you look hip, then yeah people are gonna go out and buy it! I think it's fantastic that so many people are buying into this. Not every single person is going to buy a shirt and say "Look at how caring I am." Yes, some are, but I have a feeling that THOSE are the people who wouldn't have given anything in the first place. Maybe they aren't smug, maybe they're proud that they chose a red shirt that gives a buck to AIDS over a black dress that makes their boobs look great. Whatever. It shouldn't matter. All that does is that the more popular this thing gets, the more companies are going to want to be involved and eventually, more money will be raised for those who are struggling.


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