Issue: Bono’s Red Campaign Has Not Burst
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
AdAge set off a firestorm this week by suggesting that the RED campaign has yielded just $18mm for the Bono charity which benefits the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. RED CEO Bobby Shriver fired back that the total number was now $25 million, that there were a lot of other publicity benefits for the charity and that the promotional partners also saw incremental profit and sales from the campaign.
From a brand standpoint, the much more interesting question is this: Why did a campaign with six huge corporate sponsors, dozens of celebrities and an enormous amount of publicity get beat by a simple yellow band promoted by one athlete?
That’s right, that simple yellow band brought in over $50 million for LiveStrong, the Lance Armstrong foundation which benefits people affected by Cancer. One celebrity, one SKU, twice the results.
This advertising blog doesn’t think that is any accident. Lance Armstrong did four things right:
- Simple – The LiveStrong campaign was easy to understand – pay a buck, take a stand, fight cancer
- Shareable – The LiveStrong campaign had a shareable message – wear the yellow and join the fight
- Self-Reinforcing – When a consumer became aware of the campaign, every yellow wristband reinforced the message.
- Sustainable – With simple execution, low manufacturing costs and no need to keep multiple partners on board, this campaign has been easy to maintain.
The RED campaign hasn’t surpassed the Yellow campaign for just one reason – Execution. RED sounds like a brilliant plan and when it hatched in Bono’s mind, it probably was. But it was compromised in several ways in its execution:
- What is RED and what is just red? – Because the RED campaign had multiple partners, it was harder to distinguish at a glance which products were RED sponsored and which merely sported a similar color. This created consumer confusion and cost the campaign valuable momentum.
- Commercial motives – To entice partners, 60% of profits were retained commercially with the remaining 40% going to RED. This compromised the integrity and authenticity of the movement and made it a promotion instead. A movement (as LiveStrong was) has much stronger brand equity than a promotion.
- Too much noise – Multiple partners and multiple products also racheted up the noise. To understand the promotion, consumers had to pay attention and investigate. The extra work required of the consumer made the campaign much less appealing.
We believe that RED is pursuing noble goals. Unfortunately, the meager results have left the ground open to critics from the nonprofit sector who claim that this is the inevitable result of the privatization of charity. The hurt feelings created by the Gates Foundation stealing the limelight from more established players are resurfacing in this debate. But a privatization of charity and more stringent application of business principles to keep charitable giving effective are desperately needed. The lesson of RED is that it has to be smart business, and strong branding.