On the Spot: Bobby Shriver

NEW YORK Bobby Shriver comes from a philanthropic family. His mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, started the Special Olympics, and his father, Sargent, was the first director of the Peace Corps.

He has followed their example by founding, along with Bono, (Product) Red, a program that donates a portion of the sales from designated products to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, with the dollars earmarked to fight AIDS in Africa.

He was named Advertising Person of the Year by the Advertising Club and will be roasted by his associates on Sept. 24 at an Advertising Week lunch.

Q: (Product) Red has been lauded by everyone from the NAACP to the Committee for Economic Development. How does being honored by the ad community compare?
A: Being “honored” is the wrong word. Having the ad community notice this issue was our goal. 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 the meeting feeling distressed because we knew it was true. We did need to communicate in the way that Gap and Motorola do, but we had no idea how to do it. Suddenly, it dawned on us that we shouldn’t be like Gap, they should be like us.

How did you decide to go in this direction?
We called people we knew. We had the idea of emergency, and using the color red as a brand. We started to call people who did brand identity. Omnicom’s Wolff Olins, they helped us with the logo and positioning. Bono always wanted to work with American Express, because it had a financial quality and it had integrity as a brand. The integrity of that brand was so enormous that to have them involved as the first partner would have tremendous reverberation throughout the branding community.

Which brands declined to participate? Why?
I couldn’t tell you that. Our mission statement is to get the world’s iconic brands involved. If you made a list of the top 10 iconic brands, there would be Motorola, Gap and American Express. Suffice it to say, we did visit others. They were very good and took meetings, but they said no. Certain people felt they would be criticized for doing it. Some people feel like Gap should pay its African workers more, or Motorola [which manufactures its phone packaging in Africa] should make more stuff there or that, instead of advertising products, they should donate their ad budgets and not advertise. Some felt it makes it seem like the Red products are the good products and their other products are bad. Other people felt like [they should] wait and see. People who said no didn’t have the guts. They were afraid. It took a lot of guts for the companies to go for it. As it becomes proven, the people who said no will say yes because they will see it as a commercial necessity because their competitors will have an advantage.

Red came under criticism for its collective ad spend of $50 million compared to the $45 million raised for the Global Fund so far. How do you respond?
The basic idea is we never spent a penny. The money they spent is the money they spend in the ordinary course of advertising. Our job isn’t to tell them how to spend their marketing money. Our job is to give them an idea that will distinguish them from their competitors. Our job is to make (Product) Red known to people in the same way Paul Newman’s salad dressing is. Endowing the logo with the same integrity as Paul Newman’s face is a tall order.

Red is planning on using smaller brands, such as skateboards and surfboards, for upcoming campaigns. Why is that?
We thought it would be fun to have a surfboard or skateboard or some cool things like that. It would be a nice complement to the gigantic companies we already work with.

Is it to attract younger buyers?
Those products came to us. I try to assess the integrity of the company and the seriousness of the people who work there. It’s more than I need to know if more women in Michigan should be buying this product.

Does Red ever get overshadowed by Bono’s other celebrity-activist projects?
Not so far. I’ve worked with him on his non-music activities for a long time. There’s absolutely no downside.

What’s been the most difficult part of this whole journey?
There hasn’t been a genuinely tough thing. There’s been a tremendous amount of work. But that’s not tough. Tough would be some sort of disaster for one of the partners.

During Advertising Week, you will be roasted by friends such as Russell Simmons, RUSH Communications; Richard Plepler, HBO; David Maddocks, Converse, and Mark Dowley, Endeavor. What story are you most worried about them telling?
There are so many I’m worried about. I just want to say I have a comeback. If Plepler or Russell gets too aggressive, they will face a bad situation. There are no bad stories, and I’ve known most of them for a long time.

Who has most influenced your career?
My parents. I got a lot of stuff from them. Talk about cause-related marketing: They are the Roger Federer and Tiger Woods of cause-related marketing.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I get it from being mad. I get it from there being a lot of women who can’t afford medicine and will die in agony because I didn’t get my shit together. That drives me insane.

Red works with companies such as Gap, Converse and Motorola. How did you select your partners?
In Gap’s case, I knew the Fishers [Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher] from being in high school with Bob [Fisher], who is now the chairman. I knew the family had a lot of integrity and were serious people. I knew they had wide distribution and had manufactured products in Africa for a long time. We ask every partner if there’s any part of their thing that they can make in Africa.

Red has so far raised $45 million for the Global Fund. What was the projected number?
We weren’t projecting any number. We were trying to get the thing up and running. In start-up mode, you’re so desperate to get going that all you want is to have a phone, answer it, get to the meeting on time, have a credible presentation. Our job was to talk about the brand and the aspect of the brand the company could rely on. Once they accepted, the number of hoodies the Gap expected to sell was their business.

What would your partners like (Product) Red to do better?
We’re doing our damndest to explain the model, and I think we continue to do that. Part of our job is to show the ad community how powerful their contribution could be. I would say to people working in the advertising industry, you’re already working on ads for these brands. Motorola and Gap paid their agencies, they bought all the space. Call up Ford Motor Co. or any of the large coffee chains or large furniture retailers or large beverage companies, and say, “Here’s how it would work and why it’s good for our brand,” and then call up our CEO. There will be a cure for AIDS in five or 10 years. Ask yourself, “What did we do while it was happening?” Red is a way of doing something powerful.

Which (Product) Red initiative are you the most proud of?
Best moment: when I was Rwanda. I was talking to a nurse at a clinic where the first Red money had gone. And she was explaining to me what she does and showed me some of the drugs she gives out. I was holding a jar of medicine in my hand when a lady walked up. The nurse handed her the medicine and she walked off. That’s the whole thing: A lady walks in and she gets her medicine. Five years ago, there was no medicine and that lady would have been dead.

Which demographic is buying the most (Product) Red?
Because we don’t generate our own product, it would be different at Armani, Gap, or Apple.

A lot of recent advertising seems to hitch its wagon to a good cause. Are you concerned that consumers will be maxed out on cause-related marketing?
No. I welcome that. If people start studying this stuff, if they look at the label, I think Red will look pretty good. If you study some other projects around, the percentage of money going to social capital is modest. If I buy this bottle of water, the good guys make a penny. If I buy Bono’s water, they get 50 cents. [Partners donate, on average, 40 percent of gross margins on Red products to The Global Fund.]

What other cause-related businesses are doing innovative things to get people involved?
Paul Newman continues to make really great products. Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, they seem to have a lot of good products. MAC Cosmetics and their AIDS fund seem to do good job.

Which charity or cause could most use an advertising campaign to refresh its image?
The government. I think the government does a lot of dumb things, but it also does a lot of smart things. There’s so much distrust and disdain for public service and bureaucracy. People think they are terrible, but they do a lot of good things like Medicare, Social Security and schools. But because they don’t promote themselves, every bad thing they do gets the press. It makes people think they’re all terrible.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?
Getting into the music business even though it was not to make money. I was trained as a lawyer and worked in venture capital in New York. Six months later, I found myself in the record business. I’m no longer in the record business because people no longer buy records. [Shriver co-founded, with Jimmy Iovine, Special Olympics Records, which produced A Very Special Christmas to benefit the organization.]

And what’s the dumbest?
Probably not to get into the record business earlier. I didn’t have the wherewithal or insight into myself to know that. I’m always jealous of guys like Spielberg who made a movie at 12 and knew what they wanted to do. It took me a while to figure it out.

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out in the charity business?
Go with what you love. Whatever you love is the right thing. If something makes hair stand up your arms, that’s what it is. When you see that thing, go after it.

What is the ideal brand to work with?
A couple of ones we will announce soon.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.
I think Ikea is a cool brand and they’d be a great partner.

You’re a city councilman and former mayor of Santa Monica, Calif. New York Post gossip columnist Liz Smith recently wrote that you plan to run for governor of California once your brother-in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office. Is she right?
No. I’m trying to do my work on the homeless matter in Los Angeles with the Veterans Administration. The biggest population of homeless people in the U.S. is in the Los Angeles jail. I don’t have time to see my kid, much less to run for higher office. It’s nice that people have encouraged me, and they have, but I’m just overwhelmed. I’m having a good time right now. It beats some of the things I could be doing.