Buy Less Crap. Give More

kinnon —  March 7, 2007 — 2 Comments

RidiculouscrapI may be a Bono fan – but I’m less than impressed with Red. Some people feel even more strongly. Doug Groothius points to this site – BuyLessCrap.

“The Red campaign proposes consumption as the cure to the world’s evils,” said Ben Davis, creative director at Word Pictures Ideas, co-creator of the site. “Can’t we just focus on the real solution — giving money?”

Let’s see, $100 million in marketing to raise $18 million…must be new math.

UPDATE: The $100 million in marketing costs estimate came from this past week’s AdAge cover story. UK’s The Independent reacts quite strongly to the article.

But wouldn’t people be better off giving more to charity rather than buying luxury items they don’t need?

If only that were the choice. But most people wouldn’t give the cost of a new iPod to the Global Fund. Some idealists might hope so. The Ad Age article was inspired by a website called which attacks Product RED for proposing consumption as the cure to the world’s evils. “Can’t we just focus on the real solution – giving money?” it says.

This is a rather romantic, and American, notion. Private charitable giving has never offered a solution to the major structural problems in the Third World. At best, charities like aid agencies create exemplars of ideal projects, or help build a public mood that something has to be done, forcing governments to act. Aids is too massive a problem for anyone but governments to tackle.

Bono set up RED because he thought that Make Poverty History, Live8 and the One Campaign (a massive lobby in the United States) had successfully put on the pressure to get governmental action at the international level. But not every one wants to join such campaigns. And not everyone gives to charities. There were two areas yet untapped – the private sector and consumers who like buying stuff, like the idea of helping others, but who are too idle or too self-centred to actually get up and do anything. RED was the attempt to draw into the wider coalition for Africa people who, if they didn’t buy a RED iPod would just have bought one of another colour.

I still find the idea behind RED, appealing to our materialism in order to impact the health crisis in Africa, to be rather sad. But I guess it’s more an indictment of who we are – rather than attack on the effectiveness of the RED campaign.


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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

2 responses to Buy Less Crap. Give More

  1. See, I’m not so sure about that critique. As the singular/central solution to the world problems, I agree, it is ridiculous, but in a culture where consumerism is rampantly selfish anyway, why not subvert a portion of it? After all, Jerusalem was rebuilt from the riches of a pagan King’s spoils conquer.

    Further, the money figures are not accurate, as they don’t account for what these companies would have spent on marketing anyway, the local markets created 9as many of the products are made at fair trade value in Africa), how a significant portion of the profits made came from people who would otherwise not have given to charity, how it has been one of the single most successful awareness campaigns in some time, etc.

    Finally, I find Davis’ statement “Can’t we just focus on the real solution — giving money?” more frightening. Bono has clearly said that this is one small contribution, where this suggests that financial giving is the “real” solution. As Christian, we have to see that this becomes little more than paying missional indulgences.

    So, while I agree it is not perfect, I think too many of the critiques have not been entirely fair. Anyway, just a few thoughts. Thanks for keeping us wrestling with this!


  2. The problem is that simplistic approaches to solving complex problems either don’t work, or make matters worse by glossing over what is truly needed to be done. What these campaigns are intended to do is change human behavior. Ultimately, this all becomes self-referential. I give money to charity, I feel better. I buy less crap, I feel better. I take a mission trip, I feel better.
    But once those things are done, there really isn’t much long-term sustainable change that has taken place. Partly because the experience is either self-focused or transient.
    This is one of the things that I like about WorldVision’s approach to missional work. They work with local groups like churches to build relationships between them and a geographic area of need. They are focused on the conditions needed for children to thrive. Typically these projects take 18 years to reach completion. A church can take on an Area Development Project, and focus on developing the full infrastructure needed to make life in the area suitable for human development. As a result, the church is transformed because there is an organizational structure that helps to sustain the relationships over time.
    What they have learned is that focusing on the conditions that affect young girls ends up serving the whole community. Girls are the lynch-pin to effective sustainable development. And in particular, when girls/women are educated, they create all sorts of synergy for economic and social development.
    While these campaigns may raise awareness, they also may do the disservice of relieving people of their sense of obligation to do more. This is why the kind of change that is needed has come out of communities of people committed together to change, not simply one person deciding to buy a RED phone or stop buying more crap.


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