Reuters: ALERT NET March 9, 2007
Blogged by: Nina Brenjo
He's at it again. Bono's never-ending efforts to save Africa are about to get a new lease of life as the U2 singer prepares to guest-edit the July issue of American magazine Vanity Fair, focusing on the African continent, writes The New York Times.
The move may achieve some much needed face-saving for his RED campaign, which lets consumers give a percentage of a special red Amex card bill or proceeds from trendy goods such as a red Armani watch to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It turns out the much-touted campaign has so far spent $100.3 million on marketing and raised just $17.4 million for the fund, according to Britain's Daily Mail.
"Africa is sexy and people need to know that," The New York Times quotes Bono as saying. "We've got to get better at telling the success stories of Africa in addition to the horror stories."
But how do you tell stories about Africa without making "blanket statements" about a continent with 900 million people, numerous faiths, tribes and nations, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Karen Heller asks. Well, you start with "the magazine of serious fabulousness," she continues scathingly. "Vanity Fair, which views the environment through the green hemp-gauze of Hollywood, is just the publication to pounce on the philanthropy zeitgeist. Can't wait for the African version of the Oscar party." The U.S.- based Daily Intelligencer questions how Bono's editing job will resolve "a few hundred years of turmoil" on the African continent.
Meanwhile, The New York Times notes that there is a danger "the effort to chic out Africa" may come across as a hobby born out of extreme wealth. "Really?" answers Bono. "What is more interesting to me is that we are losing the fight against AIDS in Africa. There are still 5,000 Africans dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, dying for lack of drugs that are available at any corner drugstore."
The RED campaign gets media flak elsewhere.
Advertising Age voices scepticism about "philanthropic fashionistas decked out in Red T-shirts and iPods" saving children dying of AIDS in Africa. The magazine quotes Mark Rosenman, professor at the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati: "There is a broadening concern that business is ... crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it," he says. "It benefits the for-profit partners much more than the charitable causes."
Back to Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer: It says everything about our current climate, she says, that RED's "ambition is huge yet deceptively accessible and acquisitional: Shop so the unfortunate can live."
Bloggers are even less sympathetic.
"Bono is a busy little chap," says hecklerspray. "Not content with helping to eradicate poverty, he also took a bit of time out last year to edit a special edition of (Britain's) Independent (on AIDS in Africa)." hecklerspray thinks that's what got Bono the gig with the Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Either that or Carter needed a holiday.
"(Expect) lots of heart-wrenching stories about poverty (commissioned by a millionaire), lots of rhetoric about how dreadfully over-privileged you are (commissioned by a millionaire), lots of ways for you to give all your money away (commissioned by a millionaire)," hecklerspraysays.
"(If you wear) a yellow bracelet and (listen) to a red iPod, you are a caring person and have a good soul. If not, you aren't and you don't," Crunchnotes says mockingly. Raja is none too kind to "senseless advertising campaigns" that may raise money for charities but in the long run only harm those issues by desensitising people to them.
Elle, a commentator on Perezhilton's blog, also has a problem with the logic of buying clothes or accessories to fight AIDS: "If you're going to get charged double (for a RED product) and half goes to charity then logic tells you to buy the cheaper item and give the money to charity on your own."
Gawker makes fun of RED director Bob Shriver who claimed that the $100 million spent on advertising actually helped raise AIDS in Africa as a serious problem and that the "value of that communication" is enormous.
"Oh, that's what those signs and billboards were trying to tell us! We thought they were just about how, like, a red iPod is cool-looking and Penelope Cruz is hot. We're dumb or something!" Annansi Chronicles defends Bono's efforts, saying the rocker is good at "(developing) initiatives which explore new avenues to address Africa's issues."
thought thinks all the fuss about RED's advertising millions is misplaced. Writing on Ambuscading's blog, thought notes that the money spent on advertising would have been spent by the companies participating in the RED campaign anyway, but instead of on a black or white iPod, it has been spent on a "red" iPod. "It's not like this $100 million has been diverted from charity to pay for advertising... it's been diverted from advertising traditional products to advertising project Red products, which in fact generate revenue for charity."
And if you are "ti(RED) of hearing about this", as ti(RED) says on Perezhilton's blog, you may want to join Pat Flanagan of Britain's Mirror newspaper to organise a campaign that will "make pop stars who come up with hare-brained charity schemes history."