Friday 3 December 2010

Is the #turnred (RED) "AIDS-free generation by 2015" campaign lacking something?

As you may know, it was World AIDS Day yesterday, raising awareness of the global fight to eradicate the HIV/AIDS disease. I missed the day itself but was greeted by this popup today inviting me to "join RED" and help make the AIDS-free generation by 2015 a reality.

In case you're not familiar, RED is an initiative whereby you buy a particular variant of your product in red with a special (RED) brand - everything from iPods to shoes, clothing, coffee and books - and the manufacturer donates a portion (typically about 20%) to the global fight against AIDS (and possibly other causes as well, I'm not sure). Which is great, and they are having huge successes, having raised $160 million in 5 years.

I wholeheartedly support the goal of eradicating AIDS, and I love the idea of making such a bold statement that "We can have the first AIDS-free generation by 2015". But a number of things bugged me about this campaign.

1) The call to action is confusing

You click the banner and you are taken to this page. What does it want you to do? What does "join RED" mean? It turns out they want you to change your twitter avatar or facebook picture to the logo for the campaign. I thought I'd missed something, but after much searching this really does seem to be all they are asking people to do (and perhaps also to buy RED products). Is it just me or is this a bit odd?

2) When did social media attention become more important than money?

I can see that having people change their profiles on social media can help raise awareness (though perhaps not as much as the high profile stunts like lighting world buildings such as the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge in red - see video here) but it's hardly the most valuable thing people can do. Surely the thing that will make the most difference is PEOPLE DONATING MONEY. And yet there is no facility to do that on the campaign's website. That is just ridiculous.

3) What's the basis for the statement that in 2015 we could have the first AIDS-free generation?

My first thought when I read the bold claim was, well that sounds great, but how are they going to do it? There's no information easily findable on the campaign site, or in most of the media coverage. It's completely not obvious where this claim comes from. Where's the science? Don't people care about science any more? Eventually I found a brief paragraph on the RED blog which explains that there is now medication available that can prevent HIV-positive mothers from passing the disease to their children, but that it is not always available. The implication is that the campaign can help with that.

Isn't that a pretty important fact for supporters to understand? Why is this barely covered anywhere?

4) How can people help make an AIDS-free generation a reality?

The question remains largely unanswered, by the campaign and even by high profile coverage like that on CNN. Is the best answer we can come up with "Buy more products but pick the ones with a (RED) logo?" It's a pretty sad state of affairs if that's the best society can do. Have we really become so capitalist that the only way we can mobilize people to helping a charity is to get them to buy more products?

Or by plastering their Twitter and Facebook profiles red? Is that the best we can do?

I think this is part of a disturbing trend. Ask people to do something trivial like that, and sure, they'll do it, you'll get lots of attention.. but nobody really made a difference by doing that did they? They might feel like they did but it's a meaningless gesture in terms of actually buying treatments and helping the lives of real AIDS sufferers.

I'm probably being controversial but I am appalled by how badly thought out this campaign is, and what it says about society. We have become the one-click generation. Click your mouse and you've done your bit, swipe your credit card and leave with a clear conscience. Perish the thought we might actually go out of our way to make some effort and really make a difference.

If you want to help fight AIDS, go and make a donation right now with an organization like the UK's National AIDS Trust. But don't think that you have made any difference at all if all you did was paint your profile red. 

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