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A Decade of Doing the (RED) Thing

Values, CompanyDanielle Robles, Gap Inc. bloggerComment

(RED)’s game-changing solutions to the AIDS pandemic forged a path for a new kind of charitable spending.


Product (RED) is not your parents' philanthropy. In the global fight against AIDS, a newer, fresher course of action was needed to ensure this and future generations would not only join the fight — but see it come to an end once and for all.

One solution was galvanizing the biggest names in retail and the consumers who love them into a different kind of philanthropic powerhouse.

As cofounder, U2 frontman Bono, said himself: "(RED) is more like punk rock, hip hop; this should feel like hard commerce."

In 2006, Bono and Bobby Shriver — an activist, journalist and member of the Kennedy family — embarked on a mission to get people involved in the fight against AIDS in exciting new ways. They knew that private charitable giving has little impact on third-world economies, and that, for better or worse, many are more compelled to spend their hard-earned income on something you can hold instead of something intangibly charitable.

And so the seeds of Product (RED) were sewn.

At ideation, (RED) attempted to bring the private sector and the consumers who love them into a larger alliance that supports the cause. The premise being: If you're going to buy a product, say a T-shirt, you might as well buy the (RED) one and do something good.

And (RED)'s game-changing solutions to the pandemic forged a path for a new kind of charitable spending. (RED)'s VP of Global Communications Huw Davies says its partnerships with companies, like Gap and Apple, have helped it to pioneer a trend of "conscious consumerism" since its foundation.

"In the nearly 10 years since then, innovation and creativity have been at the core of what (RED) does," he said.

Do the (RED) thing

From being the first nonprofit to reach one million followers on both Facebook and Twitter, to Apps for Red — which turned the Apple App Store turn Red for two weeks — the project has revolutionized the way nonprofits raise money. It's also infiltrated popular culture by creating campaigns and programs across multiple platforms and categories in music, fashion, technology and consumerism.

The first imprint of the project launched in 2006 with Gap's “Do The (RED) Thing" campaign. The print advertisement series, shot by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, featured celebrities Jennifer Garner, Penelope Cruz, Don Cheadle, Chris Rock, Christy Turlington, Steven Spielberg, Mary J. Blige, Dakota Fanning and Apolo Ohno sporting their favorite Gap x (RED) clothes, with the tagline, “Can a T-shirt change the world? This one can. All Gap (PRODUCT) RED clothing is designed to help eliminate AIDS in Africa."

The campaign culled some of the most influential names of the time, elevating it to icon status. People were paying attention — they were captivated and intrigued.

"To date, we [(RED) and its partners] have generated more than $320 million to fight AIDS in eight African countries and continue our efforts to consign AIDS to the history books," Davies says.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently about 36.9 million people living with HIV and AIDS around the world. And since the epidemic began, approximately 39 million people worldwide have died of AIDS-related causes.

"But with the help of the money raised from the campaign, 15 million people are now on lifesaving treatment," Davies says.

(RED)'s main focus, he said, is to help end the mother-to-baby transmission of HIV — "Something which can be achieved with medication which now costs as little as 30 cents a day in sub-Saharan Africa."

Davies says 100 percent of the money raised by (RED) is used to fund programs that have proved to be key pillars in the fight against AIDS, namely testing, treatment, prevention and counseling.

By remaining focused on raising money with finance programs and continuing to build awareness via branded programs, such as the ones with Gap, to help keep the overall issue on the agenda, (RED) hopes to make an AIDS-free generation a reality. The question is no longer “Can we do it?" — it's “When?"

The answer? Hopefully, today.