Friday, February 27, 2009

(RED) with Frustration

So the other day I'm sitting in my front room, watching T.V. (likely something on either the History Channel, ESPN, or the Discovery Channel) and I see an ad wherein a handsome, young hipster - straight out of the pages of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog - struts down the streets of a European metropolis. The denizens of the city swarm him like teenage girls to a Disney Network television star, smacking his butt, patting his shoulders, and even kissing him passionately. I sat there wondering why he was being lauded with such hormonal, almost fanatic, praise. Had he just found Osama Bin Laden? Did he create the cure for cancer? Surely, he must have done something that will change the lives of our children forever, right? Not quite. The answer sat in a stylish, red laptop he had tucked under his arm, branded with the ever-growing, trend-setting phenomenon called (RED).

If you haven't heard of (RED) yet, here's a quick rundown. This is quoted from official website here:
(RED) is a business model created to raise awareness and money for the Global Fund by teaming up with the world's most iconic brands to produce (PRODUCT) RED branded products. A portion of profits from each (PRODUCT) RED product sold goes directly to the Global Fund to invest in African AIDS programs, with a focus on women and children.
Great. I'm all for abolishing AIDS in third world countries. In fact, I am a huge proponent of prosperous countries like the USA doing their part to help with the various crises that plague so many less fortunate countries around the world. (RED) seems like a noble cause. So what's my beef with it?

My problem with the (RED) idea is that a brand has been created that focuses so much on trendiness and popularity, it almost entirely overshadows it's charitable purposes. The Dell ad, for example, places obscene emphasis on how popular and beautiful you will be to others when you purchase their cherry red laptop. There is no mention of where the money goes or who it helps. If you want that information, you're left with a very small link to the (RED) website at the end of the commercial. I noticed that there was no mention of the cost of the (RED) Dell laptop over it's typical counterpart, nor how much of the money goes toward charitable purposes. With my curiosity piqued, I did some research and found this from
Counterspin Cynics, including our tart-tongued droogs over at Consumerist, have raised some important questions about Dell's (RED) pricing scheme. The laptop featured in this ad, for example, costs US$150 more than its plain-Jane peer, yet only US$50 of that goes toward the Global Fund. The only spec difference is that the (RED) model runs a tweaked version of Vista. Is that really worth an extra US$100? Or has Dell built in a way to make a little coin off consumers' best intentions?
Now, whether or not Dell is making more money off of their (RED) brand laptop computers is up to debate. Nonetheless, I have always held contempt for businesses that spin charity to heavily market a product, because more often than not, that company formulates such marketing tactics to self-aggrandize and build profits rather than to actually help those in need. Likewise, I disdain consumers that buy said products only for the sense of popularity and trendiness they bring. My opinion is that if you're going to donate, do so privately. Don't perch yourself on the allegorical street corners of life to show everybody how wonderful you are. With that in mind, I hope that most consumers do their research before buying a (RED) branded product. I did find that the 8GB (RED) Apple iPod costs the same as it's vanilla-flavored twin with 10 dollars of proceeds still going to the charity. (Apple fanatics, rejoice.) Even then, though, I ask myself how much of that money (RED) spends on branding, marketing, and developing costs and how much they actually put toward helping people. (RED) makes it very clear, on their website, that they are NOT a charity. And something about that worries me.



  1. You just said, very eloquently, what I've been thinking whenever I've seen those ads!

    I'm annoyed with people who think it's trendy and fashionable to be "green" or be part of some cause and flaunt it around in a very "Look at me! Look at me! I'm helping! I matter!" kind of way.

  2. I love that the red campaign states "a portion" of the sales. Like what? a buck?
    I am kind of disgusted with the fact that we will only give or care if there is something in it for us, like a shiny new laptop or a shirt that advertises our philanthropic nature.
    But having said that, something is better than nothing and if it tricks the trendy people into giving a buck, then so be it!

  3. Did you say girls were smacking his butt, kissing his face, and patting his shoulders? Wow, you would think this would keep someone from buying something "red". That seems to cross a lot of bounderies.

  4. It bothers me too. You just put it better than I do. The whole yellow bracelet "livestrong" trend was just funny to me. I realize that maybe the profits went to help fight cancer, but I don't think people really cared about that. They just wanted the bracelet. Real charitable people to me don't announce it to the world. I could go off on certain political activists who don't really practice what they preach, but I'll stop there. Good post!