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Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World “Has there ever been a better reason to shop?” asks an ad for the Product RED American Express card, telling members who use the card that buying “cappuccinos or cashmere” will help to fight AIDS in Africa.
Based on their recent book Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), Richey and Ponte offer a deeply informed and stinging critique of “compassionate consumption” as an instrument of sustainability. Cause-related campaigns like Product RED and its precursors, such as Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong and the Pink-Ribbon project in support of breast cancer research, advance the expansion of consumption far more than they meet the needs of the people they ostensibly serve.
Using Product RED as its focal point, but also examining other current campaigns, Richey and Ponte explore how corporations like American Express, Armani, Gap and General Mills promote compassionate consumption to improve their ethical profile and value without significantly altering their business model, protecting themselves from the threat to their bottom lines posed by a genuinely engaged consumer activism. Coupled with the phenomenon of celebrity activism and expertise as embodied by Bono, they argue that this ‘causumerism’ represents a deeply troubling shift in relief efforts, effectively delinking the receivers of help from the social and environmental conditions of production.