"Red” reminds most people of love, passion or devotion. But for others, it may hold other meanings. RED is a nonprofit organization that has been campaigning to increase awareness of AIDS. Partners of the group including Apple, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola are using the color red to help create an AIDS-free generation. With help from Visual AIDS—an organization that utilizes art to fight the disease—and red ribbons to raise awareness of AIDS, red is now regarded as the color that symbolizes the illness.
Product RED is a campaign led by RED. The partners of the campaign contribute their profits from the sale of RED-branded products. All of the money contributed by the partners goes directly to the Global Fund to support the AIDS program. Bobby Shriver, one of the founders of the organization, said that the color red was chosen not only to represent the disease itself but to evoke a sense of urgency to deal with the disease. Shriver said, “Red expresses an emergency. Anyone would admit the fact that 6,000 people die every day due to a curable disease, yet no one seems to handle the problem seriously. I hope they learn that it is an emergency.”
How Did the Product RED Start?
The concept of RED was founded in 2006 by Bono, the lead vocalist of the Irish rock band U2, together with Shriver. After visiting an orphanage in Ethiopia, Bono was greatly shocked by the severe poverty in Africa and promised to work for human rights in the region. After establishing a Non-Governmental Organization(NGO) called Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa (DATA), Bono and Shriver founded RED and initiated the Product RED campaign. Making red-colored goods to be the symbolic product of RED, the campaign itself has eventually become a distinctive brand.
What led to the triumph of the campaign was the idea that a connection between daily products and donations would naturally create a generation without AIDS while gaining profit. This so-called “cause-related marketing” encourages corporations to earn profits as they pursue charity and the agenda of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Even though it is impossible to predict the long-term sustainability of RED, it is likely that the campaign’s success will generate other RED-like initiatives that use shopping as a means for solving global concerns. In fact, this course of action by RED has continued for the last 12 years.
▲ Partners of Red. Provided by Red.
Apple, the Core Red
To date, RED has generated over 500 million United States Dollars (USD) and Apple, having raised over 160 million USD for the Global Fund, is the organization’s biggest corporate donor. Apple has continually expanded its line of devices and accessories starting with the release of iPod Nano Red in 2006. In 2013, a special Mac Pro product created by two famed designers was sold for 977,000 USD at Sotheby’s, a renowned international auction house in New York. Through such product development, both Apple and its customers have helped provide an equivalent of 475 million days of lifesaving medication. The connection between the product and the campaign helps customers to join Apple in creating the first AIDS-free generation.
The most recent RED-branded mobile product of Apple—iPhone 8 Red—went up for sale in over 40 parts of the world last April, but one market where the tiein went unnoticed is China. Despite the great benefit for sales in China, the red iPhone was not promoted using the branding of Product RED. On Apple’s China retail website, a description for the product reads as “Now in Red” when translated in English while the Taiwanese site uses the brand name just like all the other countries do.
As Apple made no comments on the matter, a few assumptions have been made about Apple’s silent stance. One possibility is that Apple is trying to be considerate of certain states that are sensitive to particular topics; for instance, AIDS has been a tricky subject in China. As the disease continued to spread across the country after it was first identified, the government kept denying the problem and it is still a taboo topic in China. This shows that although Product RED seems absolutely right, it is something that still has to be dealt with carefully.
According to Tamsin Smith, the former president of RED, the organization opens the window and lets consumers to see, feel and participate in the challenge of eradicating a preventable disease. However, RED has a relatively low level of public awareness in South Korea since there are no Korean companies that partner with such a meaningful organization. Yet, advertising could be the key solution for invigorating the campaign in the country. As a form of persuasive communication, advertising makes the brand more purposeful, memorable and emotional for consumers.
However, why should Product RED be revved up? It is true that ideas, products or services with good intentions and results are worth spreading but this does not mean they have to be. As Professor Chong Sang Soo (Department of Media Content, Cheongju University) explained, “The campaign has its limits in that the donation is not made voluntarily because neither Apple nor RED have asked prior approval of consumers for charitable activities.” Apple not showing the logo of Product RED in commercials for iPhone 8 Red could be explained in a similar vein; that is, the company is aware of the possibility that there may be consumers dissatisfied with the way that the contribution is taking place.
▲ Professor Chong Sang Soo.
Photographed by Lee Jae Eun
There is little doubt that the fundraising mechanism of RED is influential. By showing that the campaign is not a one-time event and with more transparency, RED may find itself in a stronger fundraising position through potential corporate partners. At the same time, many corporations may face great competition in business with CSR compliance, encouraging them to increase and deepen their philanthropic and social commitments. Generating charities with a steadier stride, RED will save much more lives out there.