You could argue that these are early days, that it’s too soon to judge the Red campaign. On the other hand, you could say that this much firepower, publicity and currency should have produced a bigger effect.
It would be a lovely case study. There are lots of bits and pieces here for scrutinizing. Does the fault lay with any or all of the following factors:
1. Bono fatigue
2. the association with big brands
3. the association these big brands (the Gap, American Express, Motorola, iPod)
4. using a color as the thread
5. using this particular color
6. something about the marketing execution
I think none of these is the culprit. I think the RED campaign was killed by the skeptics, the ones who insisted that RED was too little, a distraction from real problems and real solutions, and/or a way of disguising or obscuring personal and corporate responsibility. These arguments established a shadow of doubt and this did the rest.
After the skeptics, the RED project carried a secret message, one that suggested that the bearer of a Motorola was perhaps a poor, clueness dope who didn’t get a) how serious are the problems of this world, b) how little corporations care, c) now little this particular campaign could hope to do. Now the consumer has to worry that the RED campaign positions him or her as someone who "just doesn’t get it." And let’s face it, in certain circles, on these issues particularly, no one wants to look like someone who just doesn’t get it. In a flash, all one’s credibility as a social actor disappears.
Now, when someone wears a Gap t-shirt in hostile circumstances (a particularly hip coffee house, say), there is always the outside chance that he is doing so ironically, that it was a gift from a girlfriend, or that he got it as a give-away. When the product is a simple t-shirt, the consumer is not obliged to "own" the brand. And even if he IS obliged to own the brand ("but we have pictures of you buying it!)", it’s finally just a t-shirt , no real harm, no real foul.
But if the consumer is seen packing an American Express credit card, after the skeptics have spoken, he really has to own the card, and its new shadow, the imputation that the bearer really has no idea of the larger, most pressing issues of the day. Not so good.
Now, I am betting that most of the skeptics lodged their skepticism reflexively. On the grounds that you just can’t let the corporations get away with this act of white wash, green wash, red wash. I mean you have to say something, if only because you don’t get a chance to state the position often enough. We know the drill here.
But if the effect is the killing of the RED initiative and if funding is denied AIDS prevention in Africa, yikes, the skeptics have a lot to answer for. There is suffering in the world that can be put at their doorstep.
The larger marketing issue is also clear. People build personal identities out of the meanings accessed from the branded world. In this case, the intended meanings of the RED brand were subverted so that now RED adoption must necessarily diminish the consumer’s claim to intelligence, sensitivity, worldliness. People will pay any number prices to aid in the amelioration of social problems. Participating in the ritual destruction of the social self is probably not one of them. And we would be naive to expect otherwise.
The take-away for RED, take it down and start again. This campaign is truly cooked.
Join the Red campaign here.
Fawkes, Piers. 2007. After Huge Marketing Effort, RED only Delivers $11.3 M.
PSFK. February 19, 2007. here.