N.Y. Ad Club to Honor Bobby Shriver

NEW YORK Bobby Shriver believes in the power of using marketing to achieve social change.

The city council member from Santa Monica, Calif., who last year began
(Product) Red with Bono, will be honored during Advertising Week on Sept. 24 with a luncheon and roast where he will be named the Ad Club of New York’s Advertising Person of the Year.

Shriver is being honored for starting last year, along with U2’s lead singer, (Product) Red, a program designed to engage large brands in fighting AIDS in
Africa. Since its launch, companies such as American Express, Converse and Motorola have participated by donating a percentage of profits from specially designed products.

“It was an obvious decision, because a lot of what our industry is focusing on is the whole issue of social responsibility,” said Gina Grillo, executive director of the Ad Club. “From our perspective, it was a stroke of brilliance for someone to get the biggest marketers in the world to help the world’s poorest.”

While Shriver is no longer the CEO (Susan Smith Ellis, a former evp at Omnicom, took up the position in June), he retains the title of chairman. “It’s a very small company, so my involvement is still 24 hours a day,” he said. The company has about 16 employees and is based in Los Angeles.

For his part, Shriver thinks that the advertising agencies should be getting the award. “It’s deeply unjust that I’m getting this award, the people who did the ads should get it,” he said. “When we first started, someone said you have to be more like Nike or Gap, you’ve got to tell your story and spend your money. We walked out of meeting feeling distressed because we knew it was true. Suddenly it dawned on us, we shouldn’t be like Gap, they should be like us.”

Shriver doesn’t want the ad industry’s current embrace of causes to be temporary. “I hope it’s not a fad. The big challenge for Red is making it sustainable,” he said.

Shriver is part of the Kennedy family. His mother is Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics.

His involvement in politics has led some newspaper writers, such as Liz Smith in the New York Post, to suggest that he may be thinking of higher office. Shriver said he would not rule it out, but added, “I couldn’t really be thinking of that now.”

Looking forward, Shriver wants to involve smaller companies and expects a new campaign to debut in October.

“We’re going to do some smaller companies this year, maybe a surfboard or skateboard company,” he said. “Red is a not charity—it’s a business model. [Participants provide] ordinary products that people want already.”