AmEx, Gap Join Bono's Product Red to Fund African Initiatives

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- Rock star Bono is taking his brand of social activism to corporate America, lending his image to raise money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa with the creation of a global brand, Product Red.
Photo: AP

Bono announced the ambitious initiative today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, along with American Express, Converse, Gap Inc. and Giorgio Armani, brands eager to find a way to market to a growing segment of consumers concerned about social issues.

Donating percentage of profits
As partners, the brands commit to donating a percentage of profits to the Global Fund, an international organization that since 2002 has committed $4.5 billion to fight AIDS. In exchange, the brands can tap into Bono’s stardom and in specially designed products that use the Product Red logo –- an eagle between two parentheses raised to the power of red, as in a math formula.

"I think doing the Red thing, doing good, will turn out to be good business," Bono said in a press release.

Products will hit store shelves in March 2006 and include the rock singer’s signature wraparound sunglasses by Armani and red T-shirts manufactured in Africa and sold at Gap stores in the U.K. Converse is incorporating the logo to launch a new Chuck Taylor All Star shoe. American Express plans to roll out in the U.K. a credit card that donates 1% of all purchases to Global Fund.

Bono began meeting with American Express, including John Hayes, chief marketing officer in charge of global branding, more than 18 months ago.

'Conscience consumers'
Doug Smith, an AmEx spokesman, said the timing was serendipitous because the company was looking for a way to market to the newly identified customer segment of so-called conscience consumers.

“These are consumers who are basically making decisions about which brands to purchase based on their social values,” Mr. Smith said, adding that in the U.K. American Express has identified this segment as 1.5 million strong, with that number expected to grow to 4 million by 2009.

“A coalition of big brands that could do good through commerce for a cause, it was exciting for us,” Mr. Smith said.

American Express has no plans at this time to bring the Product Red-branded card to the U.S. And the card will not include matching funds from America Express.

Gap Inc. was actively courting the same consumer segment in the U.S. In 2003, the retailer released its first social responsibility report, outlining the company’s efforts at combating sweatshop labor and closely monitoring factories where its clothing is made. Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Gap Inc., said the retailer did not hesitate when approached last fall by the U2 lead singer to join the initiative.

Not just a marketing initiative
“This is not just a cause-related marketing initiative, but will generate profits,” Mr. Rossiter said. “There will be profits to the brands that will enable us to make the programs sustainable and support jobs.”

For now, Gap plans to launch Product Red-branded T-shirts in the U.K. only, but this fall the retailer will launch an entire line of fashion using the Red logo in U.S. stores. All products will be 100% African made.

“From the cotton grown in Africa and produced all in Africa among factories,” Mr. Rossiter added.

As for marketing and media spending behind the fall launch, Mr. Rossiter said, “We are really in the early stages, but Cynthia Harriss [president of Gap Brand North America] and her team are working on that right now."

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