As author Mya Frazier notes:
It's been a year since the first Red T-shirts hit Gap shelves in London, and a parade of celebrity-splashed events has followeed: Steven Spielberg smiling down from billboards in San Francisco; Christy Turlington striking a yoga pose in a New Yorker ad; Bono cruising Chicago's Michigan Avenue with Oprah Winfrey, eagerly snapping up Red products; Chris Rock appearing in Motorola TV spots ("Use Red, nobody's dead"); and the Red room at the Grammy Awards. So you'd expect the money raised to be, well, big, right? Maybe $50 million, or even $100 million.There are many reasons for the failure of the Project(RED) campaign. Inferior-quality products selling at a premium over Gap's price point was the key issue in the clothing retailer's soft sales. Over-focus on celebrity instead of the charity's beneficiaries was also a large part of the problem: could anyone say what Project(RED) was actually about? No. But they could tell you it had something to do with Bono and Oprah, and maybe Gwyneth, too. Let's not even get started on the idiocy of American Express' "I am an African" campaign staring Giselle Bundchen and the aforementioned Ms. Paltrow (my cynicism about that campaign transcends rationality).
Try again: The tally raised worldwide is $18 million.
Motorola and Apple comprised the remaining Members of the Project(RED) quadrille: the former as a way of reviving its sagging RAZR sales amid the absence of new products, esp. in comparison to its closest competitor, high-end cell phone manufacturer Nokia. Apple, IMO, recognized early on that its Project(RED) contibution, the limited edition red Nano, was underperforming (a "fire sale" at it's Michigan Avenue store revealed many of them for resale, the reason for which was labelled as ((and I love this)) "Remorse") and put their participation on the back-burner. Smart move.
Around the time of the campaign's extravagant launch, I read an interview with one of the founders of Project(RED). He stated that creating a conduit for charity funding wasn't his real goal. Rather, (*and I paraphrase*), he wanted to engender a new business model whereby people were motivated to spend money by the cassociation of an item with a charitable cause (no matter how tangential the connection).
Project(RED)'s manifesto (see here: http://www.joinred.com/manifesto.asp ) bears this out:
RED is not a charity. It is a business model. You buy RED stuff. We get the money. Buy the pills and distribute them. They take the pills, stay alive and continue to take care of their families and contribute socially and economically in their communities.
If they don't get the pills, they die. We don't want them to die. We want to give them the pills. And we can. And you can. It's easy.
All you have to do is upgrade your choice.
While the founders of Project(RED) may think consumers weren't tuned into the blatant cynicism of such a statement, it would appear that in this, too, they underestimated their consumer.
So what do the charities think about endeavors such as this?
Non-profits are in fact quite concerned about what Project(RED) represents for the future of traditional giving, and whether such enterprises are a short-term or long-term trend:
Mark Rosenman, a longtime activist in the nonprofit sector and a public-service professor at the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, said the disparity between the marketing outlay and the money raised by Red is illustrative of some of the biggest fears of nonprofits in the U.S.
"There is a broadening concern that business is taking on the patina of philanthropy and crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it," he said. "It benefits the for-profit partners much more than the charitable causes."
High minded as RED may have seen itself, I think consumers saw through the "raising awareness" ploy. After all, 'awareness raising' seems to be all about a consumer experience, whether it is buying a pair of jeans or walking the Avon 3-Day Walk Against Breast Cancer. People are finding out that very little of the money they spend (or raise, as in the case of Avon) is actually seeing it's way to the charity, and they are getting hip to the fact that this may be just a high-minded appeal to conspicuous consumption.