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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

End AIDS with your c(RED)it card

posted by on November 28 at 14:32 PM

I’m glad we’ve moved into the retail-crazed countdown to Christmas. Why? Because Thanksgiving Day rings the death knell for downtown’s corporate charity window displays. Until recently, 4th and Pine seemed like the epicenter for the Gap Product (RED) campaign.

It’s easy to hate on the Gap for any number of reasons (sweatshops, commercials), but this specific campaign always rubbed me the wrong way. Last year, celebrity charity WonderTwins Bono and Bill Gates convinced Gap — and a group of other major corporations — to donate some of the profits from (RED) products to a global AIDS fund. And the campaign has raised a lot of money! $10 million so far. That’s fantastic! So why does the campaign still make me squirm? Because it’s not a charity campaign, it’s an ad campaign. And while it raises bundles of money to fight AIDS, Gap and others aren’t hosting it because of altruism or commitment to improving The Condition of Man. The campaign is good for business — not only does it make the corporation look good, but it makes their customers feel warm and fuzzy with righteousness.

As the Executive Director of the Global Fund said in an October NYT article, “I could go with my begging bowl every year to a major corporation and say `give me some money,’ and they might give me a one-off contribution, but it wouldn’t be large and it wouldn’t be sustainable. Red is intrinsically sustainable because Red is good for the companies.”

Rob Walker, the (in my opinion) stud who writes the Consumed column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, summed this all up well on his blog:

“I don’t really want to come across as being against something that funnels at least some money to people who need it. But the way the participating brands are using this, it seems to me, is pure marketing. It’s a way to give a “halo” (as they say in the trade) to an entire brand, without giving up profits from the brand’s entire product line… And now that I think about, that’s basically the same thing Red consumers get: Give me good product, and throw in a little “I care about others” with that, willya?”

Thanks, Rob. The Onion says it well, too.

Remember how the cure for 9/11 was to revitalize the economy via more shopping? Campaigns like this tell Americans that they can help fix the world — from the environment to the AIDS crisis — not by changing their lifestyles or actively committing to reform but… buying iPods…


and Armani watches…

Which is a lot easier (but no necessarily more effective) and soothes American consciences into complacency. Thank you for reading today’s scathing-critique-of-capitalism Slog post.

RSS icon Comments


Does this mean that if you don't buy a red iPod, AIDS wins?

Posted by Kim | November 28, 2006 2:48 PM

What about the horrible advertising on TV for this stuff? Some celebrity (i have no idea who he was...) was yelling at at the camera for me to buy a (red) phone. I was kinda shocked at the tactic to guilt people into buying a phone (probably a crappy one at that).

what the hell?!?! ugh.

Posted by Monique | November 28, 2006 2:53 PM

As much as the 20-year old me would love to agree with you, the (even more) cynical 30-something me can't quite do it. That $10 million is probably roughly $10 million more than they would have gotten if they had just asked the same corporations and suburban shoppers to contribute out of the goodness of their hearts. Unfortunatley, it's a lot more realistic to work within the system than wait who-knows-how-long for Americans (and most of the world in general) to realize the error of our ways and radically change our lifestyles. Maybe it's because my expectations are so incedibly low after 6 years of the Bush reign, but I applaud anyone who's able to pull something good out of the muck. The Red exec seems to be pretty much right on in his quote. It shouldn't be that way... but it is.

Posted by XXX | November 28, 2006 3:04 PM

$$$$$$$ for the cause, geez who gives a rat's shit how tricky it is, marketing of course, buy red- sure, $$$$$$$$$ and more $$$$$$$$ - some of those dollars pay for the meds in states that don't have the never fail support plan like Washington.

Easy to deal in ivory tower crap when your friends are not dying around you. Sarah, get up to speed, the clue bus comes by the Stranger every 10 days, there on Pine.

Cash is cash is cash.

Posted by JACKIE | November 28, 2006 3:09 PM

$$$$$$$ for the cause, geez who gives a rat's shit how tricky it is, marketing of course, buy red- sure, $$$$$$$$$ and more $$$$$$$$ - some of those dollars pay for the meds in states that don't have the never fail support plan like Washington.

Easy to deal in ivory tower crap when your friends are not dying around you. Sarah, get up to speed, the clue bus comes by the Stranger every 10 days, there on Pine.

Cash is cash is cash.

Posted by JACKIE | November 28, 2006 3:09 PM

It's true that this isn't philanthropy, it's cause-related marketing. Fine.

I need a new phone. Instead of getting a regular one, I'll probably get a RED phone because I know that at least some of my purchase will go toward a cause I think is important. (Plus, the RED phone is the kind I wanted anyway, but in red.)

I think we have to remember that we aren't going to save the world with cause-related marketing and that some of it can get out of control (breast cancer, anyone?) but I'll take it. And I want Bono to win, win, win. I want politicians to listen to his message and act on it and that will only work if he's able to be successful in little ventures like this.

What I do think we need is specific guidelines and regulations on cause-related marketing so the consumer knows exactly how much is going toward the cause and who is receiving the money and how much. Some companies are donating significant amounts and others aren't. Also, what, specifically, is the money being used for? More "awareness" or actual AIDS research? That matters.

I'm all for it, but it needs some regulation.

Posted by red | November 28, 2006 3:13 PM

Charity means $$, which Americans give in staggering numbers out of the goodness of their hearts. But that can also mean business. I don't get it. That's $10 million dollars. Do you want them to take it away from the charity because it was gotten through capitalism? Just give it back to The Gap? That money's going to be there either way -- why not give some of it to a good cause? The "halo" you're talking about is one (but not the only) major motivation for people to give, so learn to deal with the complicated nature of human intentions. Besides, capitalism is messy for all of us -- I mean, I read the Slog even though it's framed by ugly ads for places thousands of miles from where I live.

Posted by John Williams | November 28, 2006 3:18 PM

It is a dirty system, but if Bono and friends have found a way to raise money without hurting people. Raise away.

The problem here is that GAP does hurt people with it's sweatshops. One reason why people are so poor is that GAP pays so little for its goods to be produced. So when GAP gives away profits really it is giving away money which should be someone's salary. Here, the sweatshop worker is the one making the donation, not the GAP.

Posted by Papayas | November 28, 2006 3:38 PM

sarah, do you not like the color red, or the fact that it's advertised, or the "stars who promote it? is raising money to help those with AIDS in africa too unhip to support for hipsters? seems fairly shallow to me.

so what if it's blatant marketing. they raised $10 million.

that would be $10 million the US gov wasn't giving, so why should you mock companies / celebrities for putting their time/space/energy out there for this charity.

it's no worse then selling pink shit to raise money for tit cancer? am i right?

i'm not buying any of this shit either, i already have a cell phone (btw the phone monique #2 has alluded to is a moto-razr, in red. seems to be the phone der riguer, not some cheap thing) and i don't need anymore damn t-shirts. but i say keep on selling shit and raising money. when you sell something i need, and the incentive is that part of the profits go to fighting AIDS in very poor african countries...i just might buy. guilt free. perhaps even humbled that i, at the very least, have that oppurtunity.

so seriously what's the gripe here?

Posted by terry miller | November 28, 2006 3:39 PM

ps. this post nearly reeks of the same comment baiting that ecb's "no more gimps on the bus" post a few weeks ago was.... now i'm kinda embarrassed i commented. sorry everyone.

Posted by terry miller | November 28, 2006 3:52 PM

I am so happy to find out that I am not the only Red hater. I swear every time I would walk by that GAP window I would begin to feel very very grumpy. Not because I am opposed to raising money for a worthy cause. But because it sickens me to see people buying something like a little lost sheep quite often for the wrong reasons. Those ridiculous plastic colored bands are like some hideous fad that needs to go away. Anyway, enough said, I shall now go make an online contribution to the worthy organization of my choosing. And I mean that.

Posted by nufsaid | November 28, 2006 4:41 PM

Terry's right, but I can't resist.

This is crap. Doing good and also doing good for the company is PERFECTLY FINE. You'd respect Gap more if they gave money away at the expense of their business? Why? If it doesn't hurt them, it's not really doing as much good?


This campaign is a brilliant way to raise money for an important cause. Doing it in a way that makes sense for the participating companies' bottom line is smart philanthropy. Where do you think all this money came from in the first place? This is capitalism and consumerism used for good.

Some people you can never please.

Posted by boo | November 28, 2006 4:59 PM

some of us, even those who have never shopped there, don't quite get why the oh so cool ones have decided overpriced T shirts from the GAP are more horrible than those from .... oh two hundred other overpriced retail outlets ..... i guess cool is not in my world view .... not since junior high

sarah, and many others, forget cool ..... go for thinking, being yourself and shop at value v. and the goodwill ..... recycled ..... way, way cool

Posted by Jakey | November 28, 2006 5:39 PM

Here's what the Gap has on their manufacturing history...

and here's where you can find the 2005 code (that's the Gap code) factory violations:

It's's like the Gap is the government or something.

Posted by also | November 28, 2006 6:16 PM

$10 million's not that fucking much, for how much The Gap is hammering this shit into everyone's skulls. Why not do something meaningful and actually pay their workers in Vietnam the fucking Vietnamese minimum wage?
This (red) thing doesn't show any actual commitment to charity or sustainability. It's just a band-aid, telling people to buy the *right* shit, when they should be buying *less* shit.

Posted by Rottin' in Denmark | November 30, 2006 2:30 AM

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