Shopping and donating are different

  • Robert Peston
  • 8 Mar 07, 11:14 AM

It was a “trust-me-I’m-Bono” moment.

bono203_300_pa.jpgJust over a year ago, I was sitting on a sofa in a chichi Swiss hotel next to the evangelising rock star as he explained how shopping could change the world. “Please don’t be cynical” was his message to me and a handful of other hacks.

His big idea was a brand that would be attached to all sorts of consumer goods and services. The brand, “Red”, would tell the customer that a proportion of what they spent on those goods and services would go to his charity of choice, the huge Global Fund which fights Aids, Malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and the developing world.

So, for example, if you buy a “Red” Motorola mobile phone in the UK, a £10 contribution is made to the Global Fund and 5% of your monthly phone charges also goes to the charity.

Other big companies that have launched Red products are American Express, Gap and Apple.

So how’s Red doing? Well not terribly well, according to the magazine Advertising Age.

It estimates that these big companies have spent up to $100m advertising and marketing the Red products, but that only $18m has been raised for charity so far.

Now it may be early days. It’s premature to argue that it would have been better if that $100m had been paid directly to the charity (although that wasn’t an option).

amex203_pa.jpgWhat’s more, the Red team appears confident that significantly more will be raised – and $18m isn’t to be sniffed at.

However, on the basis of these early results, the rate of return on the marketing expenditure for the Global Fund is disappointing.

Am I surprised? Not really.

Rather than simplifying the basic activities of donating and shopping, it complicates them, because the decision about which charities to support and the choice of which goods and services to buy are different kinds of decision. Rolling them together is confusing.

But perhaps the more fundamental flaw in Red is that it appeals to our less attractive instincts, not our better ones – which is a turn off.

It’s predicated on the notion that most of us would like to give to charity, but only if we get something in return (a stylish mobile phone or an iPod) and only if we can flaunt a logo showing just how good we are. Also, it rather implies that we are too lazy to think about which charities we should support.

Most of us, surely, are better than that.

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