Red Alert

The 27-year-old woman wearing an “I Love New York” T-shirt looked healthy. Her visit to New York from her home in Zambia included plans to see Wicked, sing karaoke and attend, last week, a star-studded screening of The Lazarus Effect, a 30-minute documentary at the Museum of Modern Art.

Concilla Muhau is one of four HIV-positive Zambians in the film, all of whom shared their stories with filmmaker/director Lance Bangs who went to Africa to demonstrate the dramatic transformation of their lives before and after taking antiretroviral drugs.

The documentary, exec produced by Spike Jonze and produced by Anonymous Content and (Red) — the organization that touts using commerce to help fight AIDS via co-branded products — debuts May 24 on HBO, YouTube and Britain’s Channel 4. It shows Muhau first as a skeletal figure, barely able to move from a chair. “It was like I was already dead,” she says in the film. Ninety days later, the documentary shows, she gained weight, is mobile and can be a mother to her daughter.

Speaking to Adweek after the screening, Muhau says it was hard to share her story with the world, but she did it to help others like her.

Like most documentaries, The Lazarus Effect (its title was taken from the name of a similar print piece in a 2007 issue of Vanity Fair co-edited by Bono and refers to the biblical Lazarus rising from the dead) didn’t have a distribution plan in place when the project began (though it later found a home as an HBO documentary film). But unlike most, this one was screened at MoMa to a room of famous faces. The approximate 400 “friends of (Red)” included co-founder Bono, a number of the 31 celebrity supporters from Hollywood and the fashion and music industries featured in a PSA about the cost of the antiretroviral drugs showing on HBO, as well as on ABC, CBS and CNN.

As they arrived, celebs such as Gabourey Sidibe, Hayden Christensen, and supermodels Iman and Christy Turlington made their way down the red carpet and answered questions from the media, including a Facebook-facilitated live Q&A from those following the action online. As Bono discussed the work of the organization, officially described as “designed to eliminate AIDS in Africa,” he proudly displayed samples of (Red) products he carried with him, such as Apple’s (Red) iPod and a box of Nike (Red) soccer shoelaces.

(Red) was launched in 2006 with charter partners Gap, Emporio Armani, American Express and Apple. It was co-founded by Bono and  Bobby Shriver to engage the private sector in raising awareness about AIDs and money for the Global Fund — an international partnership of public and private constituents dedicated to financing programs that work to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. Brands that have since joined with (Red) include Hallmark and Bugaboo, and smaller ones that have produced special-edition products such as Beats by Dr. Dre, Girl Skateboards and Channel Island Surfboards.

The brands, which represent consumer segments that, combined, reach a broad target, primarily 18 to 35 year olds, receive category exclusivity for the duration of the partnerships. Portions of the profits from the sale of the co-branded products, up to 50 percent depending on the agreement between the marketer and (Red), go to support the Global Fund. The funds raised by (Red) products, $150 million so far, support AIDS programs that have reached more than 5 million people in Swaziland, Rwanda, Ghana, Lesotho, Zambia and South Africa.
The concern, however, is that the momentum the Global Fund has gained in Africa will slow down or reverse, due to recession-related economic problems, and this may put supplies of the drug regimens responsible for the lifesaving transformative effects pictured in the documentary at a critical level. Global Fund supports about 50 percent of all patients receiving AIDS treatment in Africa, says its executive director Michel Kazatchkine. Which is why having (Red), its largest private contributor, with its new dual effort (the film and PSA) pitching in “so important.”

“At a time of great progress, to see things backslide would really be criminal,” adds Susan Smith Ellis, (Red) CEO and former Omnicom exec. “Will various governments continue to fund the Global Fund on the same level? It’s really important to tell these stories, especially now.”

See also: “Seeing (Red): Video Interview With Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Fund”

The organization stresses that it’s not a charity, but a unique business model designed to create a sustainable flow of money from the private sector. A lean operation of 22 employees primarily based in New York, (Red) is funded by those licensing fees, flat fees with contractual commitments for three to five years.

Public-facing communications efforts to date have mostly been celebrity driven, with the advertising paid for by the marketing budgets of the partner firms.

This year, leading up to (Red)’s most active period — World’s Aids Day on Dec. 1 and the holiday shopping season — those involved feel it’s essential that the story about Global Fund and the life-saving drugs  gets out. “This is the culmination of what our purpose is” says Ellis. “We want to get as many people to see the film as possible.”

The PSA equates the cost of a daily dose of anti-viral drugs, 40 cents, to equivalent purchases such as a piece of gum, demonstrated by Penelope Cruz blowing a bubble, or a smear of lipstick, as shown on the red lips of Javier Bardem. Bono then delivers the weighty message behind it: Two pills a day, at the cost of 40 cents, can save the life of someone with AIDS.

While (Red) is a private organization, it has the advantage of being able to lean on “friends of (Red)” to help fulfill its communications needs by providing services at reduced rates or for free. From the production of the PSA and film to the media distribution and on- and offline advertising for the film’s debut tonight, costs for (Red)’s activities are significantly supplemented by favors and good will. Lew Willig, for instance, a creative director at Euro RSCG and husband of (Red) global CMO Jenifer Willig, donated his time on the creative for the campaign.

“Free is our favorite kind of budget,” quips Ellis. She adds that “in every case, whether it’s the film, the PSA or outreach to the media, it’s proof of the power of the network. (Red) is a group of people and then there are all these concentric circles that keep flowing out, all of us reaching out to people we know from our past lives in media …  and, because of Bono, [we also get a] certain level of celebrity. It’s an amazing ripple effect.”

The powerful appeal of the (Red) brand comes from, among other attributes, the fact that “[the brand] lives in the solution and not the problem. That is the first lens people look through these days,” says Kirk Souder, a partner and ecd at Washington, D.C.-based GMMB, an agency that helped get President Obama elected and carries the mission statement “Cause the effect.” The fact that it cuts across multiple “giant, pop-culture brands at once,” he adds, is amazing.

“Anyone in the biz knows how hard it is to even get two of these entities in a room with each other. To have gotten so many different brands to come together and give birth to a brand doing good is remarkable and a testament that we’re moving into a new time.” He’s also impressed, he says, “by the beautiful and sublime elegance of having this brand [(Red)] be as simple as a color.”

That the logo is easily adaptable by marketing partners to create a co-branded badge of support and the ease of simply using the color of the brand — the color of emergency — has played a powerful part in the communications efforts, agree others in the industry. For example, brands such as Google, Facebook and Twitter showed their support during World AIDS Day last year by turning their home pages red and, in the case of Twitter, turning 550,000 tweets red.

Brand awareness continues to grow, says Willig, and a tracking study conducted by Hall and Partners earlier this year shows 69 percent awareness among 18- to 24-year-olds and 77 percent for teens. “We’ve seen some great increases, especially among teens,” she says. She attributes the increase to “a little bit of everything” the brand and its partners have contributed over the years.

Terry Davenport, svp, global brand and creative at Starbucks, says the (Red) partnership perfectly aligns with the company’s “Shared Planet” strategy. And the resulting monetary contributions made to the Global Fund — for example, 5 cents for each cup of coffee bought — are measured and “talked about not in the amount of dollars, but in days of life,” he adds. “For Starbucks, it’s 14 million days of medicine that [are] the result of providing the medicine, which is an amazing number.”

Bugaboo, the Dutch maker of baby strollers, which joined the partnership earlier this year, donates 1 percent of the company’s total revenue to (Red) and the Global Fund. Madeleen Klaasen, CMO of Bugaboo, says the partnership has resulted, in its first six months, in 21,000 pregnant women getting the drugs. Plus, she says, “it’s nice to be associated with those [other] cool brands.”

The (Red) team says the documentary is one way for it to say thank you to the corporate partners for their efforts. By showing the work that the Global Fund, (Red) and its partners have done, it tells their stories as well.

David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG, predicts that (Red)’s best days are ahead of it. The progressive business model was perhaps ahead of its time when it launched, he says, but “conscientious consumption is absolutely what people are looking for today. We’re going into a decade now that if you don’t do this kind of thing, consumers will vote against you with the way they spend. I think they will have a more successful story in this decade than they did in the last one.”