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I really enjoyed reading this article on the Financial Times this morning titled "Shopping Saints", by Vanessa Friedman.

You can read the full article at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/cda69ee6-7b21-11db-bf9b-0000779e2340.html, but here are the bits about the irritating Product Red initiative by Bono that echoed sentiments straight out of my heart -

"In effect, two divergent forms of retailing are emerging: on the one hand, the traditional mass consumption that ordinary folk perform, and on the other, the sort the more aware consumer indulges in: still mass consumption but more upmarket and rendered morally superior because it comes with an ethical label attached.

The apotheosis of this new form of consumption must surely be Product Red, launched this year by rock singer Bono and his American business partner Bobby Shriver. Product Red licenses the Red brand to companies that launch products under the Red logo and agree to donate a portion of the revenues to charity.Companies so far signing up include American Express, Apple Computer, Gap and Giorgio Armani. American Express has recruited Brazilian supermodel Gisele B√ľndchen to advertise its new American Express Red credit card and recently used her in posters showing her draped around a Masai warrior.

The point about Product Red is that it is not for everyone; just the sort of people who get approved for American Express cards and enjoy shopping for fashionable and expensive goods. For these consumers, Product Red has a soothing, subliminal message as they spend: “Don’t worry. Greed is good. The more you spend on yourself, the more you help other people. See: even the smiling Masai warrior agrees.”"

As Ms Friedman wrote, ethical comsumption today is "about affluence, since ethical products sell at premium prices that only the better-off can easily afford."

It's like those people who went arounding parading those yellow Livestrong bands from Nike, which had acquired something like cult status amongst wannabes. We all know at least one person who told you they wanted one because they thought it was cool. Were they thinking of cancer patients? I think not.

Below is the concluding bit of the FT article -

"Let us not be too cynical. Today, we are better informed about problems around the world than we once were, and many people are genuinely concerned about the environment and the plight of the poor. Yet there are at least two reasons to suspect that a lot of our newly found kindness is not all it seems.

First, it is highly ostentatious compared with conventional charitable giving. As with those wristbands, today’s ethical consumers parade their virtue, brandishing their bright red American Express cards, flaunting the labels on their eco-friendly clothes and driving around in their hybrid cars instead of just taking the bus.

Second, it typically benefits the donor as much as the cause. Giving a goat for Christmas involves no sacrifice because you were going to buy a present anyway and it saves you the bother of having to choose one. Certainly, we buy organic food because we think it is better for the environment, but we buy it mostly because we think it is better for us.


Perhaps predictably in a consumer society, charity and ethics have turned into a form of consumption. Once, people just gave to charity; now, they give and get back. Good causes come attached to products and are bought by consumers who display them, like brands, as part of their image.

Does that make this upsurge in altruism downright hypocritical? Well, yes. Bring back good old crass materialism, you might say. Except, of course, you never would, because of that one characteristic of the new piety that stifles all criticism, brooks no argument and ends all discussion: it’s for charidee."

Indeed.

"Be cool! Buy this T-shirt and let everyone know you a) shop at Gap, and b) are a charitable, ethical consumer!"

Pictures from joinred.com

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