Product (RED): How Celebrities Push the Boundaries of ‘Causumerism

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    Abstract

    (PRODUCT)RED™ (hereafter RED) is a cobranding initiative launched in 2006 by the aid celebrity Bono to raise money from product sales to support The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In this paper we argue that RED is shifting the boundaries of ‘causumerism’ (shopping for a better world) by enrolling consumers in ways that do not rely on accurate knowledge of the products or specific understanding of the cause that The Global Fund engages but, instead, rely on a system of more general, affective affinity between the ‘aid celebrities’ who are behind RED (such as Bono) and the consumers who buy iconic brand products to help ‘distant others’. While in many other forms of causumerism, labels or certification systems ‘prove’ that a product is just, in RED, aid celebrities provide the proof. From the consumer point of view both labels and celebrities provide a similar simplification of complex social, economic, and environmental processes. At the same time, we argue that there are important distinctions as well—labels and certifications are ultimately about improving the conditions of production, whereas RED is about accepting existing production and trade systems and donating a proportion of sales income to help distant others in Africa. The iconic brands sitting under the RED umbrella also play an important role as they offer a consistent and known venue for channeling consumer affect. We argue that celebrity validation, backed up by iconic brands, facilitates at least three shifts in the realm of causumerism: from ‘conscious consumption’ (mainly based on product-related information) to ‘compassionate consumption’ (mainly based on the management of consumer affect); from attention to the product and its production process toward the medical treatment of the ‘people with the problem’ (AIDS patients in Africa); and from addressing the causes of problems to solving their manifestations.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEnvironment and Planning A
    Volume43
    Issue number9
    Pages (from-to)2060-2075
    ISSN0308-518X
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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