New York Times Examines Issues Surrounding Product RED Campaign
The New York Times on Wednesday examined issues surrounding the Product RED campaign, which benefits the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Product RED -- which was created by musician and HIV/AIDS advocate Bono and Bobby Shriver -- and its partners to date have given more than $59 million to the Global Fund. The campaign also has helped to provide more than 30,000 people with antiretroviral drugs and more than 300,000 HIV-positive pregnant women with counseling and treatment, according to data from the Global Fund and Product RED. In addition, Product RED and its partners have contributed almost all the corporate money that has gone to the Global Fund, which had $2.4 billion in 2007.
According to the Times, the campaign has generated $22 million to combat HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. Rwandan officials say Product RED funds have helped to build 33 HIV testing and treatment centers; provided medicine for more than 6,000 women to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission; and funded counseling and testing services for thousands of people. "The money we get from RED through the Global Fund is helping to save lives," Anita Asiimwe of the Treatment and Research AIDS Center in Kigali said, adding, "That's the important thing."
However, some people have criticized a "lack of transparency at the company and its partners over how much they make from RED products, and whether they spend more money on Africa or advertising," the Times reports. According to a March 2007 article published in Advertising Age magazine, Product RED companies at the time collectively had spent up to $100 million on advertising and raised $18 million for the Global Fund. Product RED officials disputed the numbers, saying companies had spent $50 million on advertising and raised $25 million for the Global Fund, the Times reports.
Inger Stole, communications professor at the University of Illinois, said that Product RED ads "seem to be more about promoting the [partner] companies and how good they are than the issue" of HIV/AIDS. However, Susan Smith Ellis, chief executive of Product RED, said the campaign itself does not advertise. According to Ellis, companies pay Product RED to label one or more of their products and pay a portion of the sales to the Global Fund. Product RED contributions, which make up about 2% of the Global Fund's total budget, have allowed the organization to divert funds to programs in 136 countries and raise its visibility, Christoph Benn, an official at the Global Fund, said.
Some critics of Product RED say the "primary beneficiaries of cause-marketing campaigns are businesses," the Times reports. Mark Rosenman, a professor of public service at Union Institute and University-Cincinnati, said that there is a "broadening concern that business marketing is taking on the patina of philanthropy and crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it." Tamsin Smith, president of Product RED, said such criticism fails to understand the campaign's motives. "We're not encouraging people to buy more, but if they're going to buy a pair of Armani sunglasses, we're trying to get a cut of that for a good cause," she said, adding that Product RED "is not a charity; it's a business." Shriver said, "I hate begging for money. In most cases when you go and ask for a corporate donation, they'll cut you a check and that's it. We wanted something that was more sustainable" (Nixon, New York Times, 2/6).