Cause Marketing in Real Life: Product (RED)

While the cause marketing effort Product (RED) is aptly named for the victims of HIV/AIDS with infected blood, it also covers the two reactions people generally have to the cause. Either they’re red-faced from gushing over its marketing prowess and success or are seeing red from what they view as a marketing scheme that profits big corporate brands.

U2 front man Bono and Kennedy scion Bobby Shriver started Product (RED)’s portion of sales cause marketing program in 2006 to help AIDS-ravaged Africa. Consumers buy items from Product (RED) partners like the Gap, Apple, Nike, and others, and a portion of the proceeds goes to buying the medicine Africans with HIV/AIDS need to stay alive.

To date Product (RED) has raised more than $160 million — an impressive amount in such a short time.

Product (RED) is pure play cause marketing. It was founded to develop cause marketing programs with retailers to raise money and fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Yes, Product (RED) is heaven on earth for cause marketers!

But Product (RED) is not without its critics who complain that retailers are cashing in on the cause. This bubbled over in 2007 when it was revealed that (RED) partners like the Gap had spent tens of millions of dollars on marketing (RED). In some cases, spending had exceeded what companies had raised for the cause.

But what Product (RED) has gained is undeniable. Since 2006, it has received millions of dollars in donations as promised. And the promotion, which came at no cost to (RED), has helped position it as a top philanthropic brand in perhaps the shortest time period in history. (Consider that top cause brands like the Salvation Army have been at it for over a hundred years and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for nearly 50.)

Product (RED) highlights an important distinction about cause marketing. Both Product (RED) and its partners are focused on mutual profit. While the goals of cause marketing are charitable, it’s not charity. Cause marketing is a business.

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