January 26, 2006

Bono Backs ‘Red’ Brand with Bold Anti-AIDS Goal

By Mark Trevelyan

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Rock star Bono joined three leading fashion groups and American Express on Thursday to launch Product Red, an ambitious branding and fund-raising scheme with the declared aim of beating AIDS.

"This is really sexy to me. It is sexy to want to change the world," said Irish singer Bono, holding aloft a new Amex 'Red Card' whose reverse side carries the statement: "This card is designed to eliminate HIV in Africa."

One percent of money that customers spend on the card will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which supports nearly half a million people on AIDS treatment and a similar number of children orphaned by the disease.

Fellow launch partners Gap, Giorgio Armani and Converse, a subsidiary of Nike, will channel a portion of profits to the fund from selected 'Red-branded' goods -- including, respectively, T-shirts, wraparound sunglasses and training shoes made from African mudcloth.

"We sought out iconic companies who make iconic products," Product Red Chief Executive Bobby Shriver told a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The scheme is designed to dramatically increase funds for fighting disease, drawing on the spending power of so-called "conscience consumers" in affluent Western societies.

"An ordinary person can simply walk into a shop and feel that they can participate in helping the needy by simply buying a perfume," said Armani, one of the world's top fashion designers.

"And cynically I would add, without us changing the price of the product."


The companies stressed the scheme will only succeed and be sustainable if it also generates money for the businesses taking part.

John Hayes, chief marketing officer at American Express, said: "It's conscientious commerce, and it's our hope it will both reward our shareholders and the global community."

The companies will roll out the Red brand in different markets at different stages, mainly targeting Britain at first, where Amex expects a market of some 4 million 'conscience consumers' by 2009. It will launch its card in the UK in March.

But the participants were vague on some points.

They declined to reveal projections for how much money the scheme could raise, saying it would depend on consumer response and the speed with which the brand could be expanded to other corporations and countries.

Nor could they say what proportion of sales from Red-branded consumer goods would go to the Global Fund, saying this would depend on sales and on whether the products were sold directly or through a retailer.

Issues may also arise over which companies to approve for the scheme, both ethically and on competitive grounds as rivals of the launch partners may apply to join.

"Of course, Red will set standards about which brands, which corporations we will welcome into this family. Some could end up being turned down," Global Fund Executive Director Richard Feachem told Reuters.

Bono, asked if he was being used by big business, replied that he was not a "cheap date."

"We're not endorsing these products. I think these products are endorsing us," he said, referring to his long-running anti-AIDS and anti-poverty campaigning.