Like Nedra at Spare Change — who posted on the topic today — I am late in coming to the conversation about Product (RED) and whether or not the HIV/AIDS campaign can be deemed a "success".
But my colleague, Rohit, tagged me to pipe in and so, I will. In his post, Rohit, explains that the issue for many of RED's critics is that the companies benefiting from their affiliation with the high-profile campaign should be writing checks directly to The Global Fund instead of sinking big bucks into marketing their RED products.
For my grad school thesis (yes, John, three years ago), I wrote a strategic plan for the Global Media AIDS Initiative, a project of the Kaiser Family Foundation that aims to leverage the power of the media to educate people and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. The Initiative — and Kaiser's Entertainment Media Partnerships program — has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars in donated air time from media companies around the world, including Kaiser's partnership with Viacom for the KNOW HIV/AIDS campaign.
In putting together the justification for the value that media companies brought to the table in the fight against HIV/AIDS, this same criticism arose -- why don't the companies just write a check?
Jen Kates, who is the Director of the Foundation's HIV Policy program and whom I interviewed for my thesis responded to the criticism in the following way:
“The value that we’re talking is in-kind value, not value that the company would ever be able to give to fight AIDS. If a media company said to me, ‘I could give you $100 million for care, treatment or prevention,’ I would say ‘Do that.’ But that’s not what they can do."
I have no idea where Jen would fall on the RED debate, but this is where I fall: it is not an either or situation. The companies that are participating in the campaign are not making the decision between spending money on an ad campaign or spending it on antiretrovirals.
The Global Business Coalition for AIDS, TB and Malaria works with companies to engage them in the fight against these three poverty-related diseases. The consistent message from the GBC is that their member companies should focus on utilizing their "core competencies" to contribute. So, in the case of the Global Media AIDS Initiative, media companies should use their power to reach a wide audience to help to educate, raise awareness and eliminate stigma — one of the greatest barriers to fighting AIDS. And, in the case of Product (RED), lifestyle companies -- companies that market "cool" products like phones and clothes and other things that we buy less out of necessity and more because we're trying to keep up with the Joneses -- should market the notion that giving a sh*t about HIV/AIDS is damn cool. Because, folks, is about more than the money being generated through individual donations. Campaigns like Product (RED) also help to create an environment in which voters support foreign aid packages that help provide funding for the Global Fund, as well as for PEPFAR, etc.
With that said, however, I heartily agree with Nedra that Product (RED) is not taking the campaign far enough. They could be engaging those consumers who — now that they are aware — could be mobilized to take further action. But I've kvetched about the campaign's missed opportunity in the past, so you'll have to click over and read what I said on the agency blog back in December.
Read what others have to say on the topic. Josh Spear, AdRants, Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog, Marketing Profs and AdAge are just some of the many who have shared their thoughts.
Anyone else I should read? What do YOU think?
Update: Now I'm annoyed. Folks, the money being spent on the marketing campaigns would not alternatively be spent on drugs, condoms and testing. It would be spend on a marketing campaign that promoted products — minus the RED.