Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Brand Aid

Shopping Well to Save the World

2011
Authors:

Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte

Brand Aid

A critical account of the rise of celebrity-driven “compassionate consumption”

Cofounded by the rock star Bono in 2006, Product RED exemplifies a new trend in celebrity-driven international aid and development, one explicitly linked to commerce, not philanthropy. Brand Aid offers a deeply informed and stinging critique of “compassionate consumption,” arguing that such campaigns advance the expansion of consumption far more than they meet the needs of the people they ostensibly serve.

There is a desperate need for critical intervention in debates about Product RED and other manifestations of development capitalism. Brand Aid, a smart and edgy book, deftly meets that need. It asks big, penetrating questions about production, consumption, and global inequality and it answers them in rich and provocative ways.

Samantha King, Queens University

“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. Cofounded in 2006 by the rock star Bono, Product RED has been a particularly successful example of a new trend in celebrity-driven international aid and development, one explicitly linked to commerce, not philanthropy.

In Brand Aid, Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte offer a deeply informed and stinging critique of “compassionate consumption.” 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. At the same time, such campaigns sell both the suffering of Africans with AIDS (in the case of Product RED) and the power of the average consumer to ameliorate it through familiar and highly effective media representations.

Using Product RED as its focal point, this book explores how corporations like American Express, Armani, Gap, and Hallmark 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, Richey and Ponte argue that this “causumerism” represents a deeply troubling shift in relief efforts, effectively delinking the relationship between capitalist production and global poverty.

Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Brand Aid

Lisa Ann Richey is professor of international development studies at Roskilde University. She is the author of Population Politics and Development: From the Policies to the Clinics.

Stefano Ponte is senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He is the coauthor of Trading Down: Africa, Value Chains, and the Global Economy and The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade, and the Elusive Promise of Development.

Brand Aid

There is a desperate need for critical intervention in debates about Product RED and other manifestations of development capitalism. Brand Aid, a smart and edgy book, deftly meets that need. It asks big, penetrating questions about production, consumption, and global inequality and it answers them in rich and provocative ways.

Samantha King, Queens University

Brand Aid is an original and important contribution to the critique of international development. Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte argue that the celebritization of aid marks an important shift that in effect divests the wealthy of any responsibility for global poverty. Brand Aid is a great book.

Vinh Kim Nguyen, University of Montreal

Readers and academics interested in the ways corporate philanthropy is evolving will find this useful, as will armchair sociologists.

Publishers Weekly

This is a thoroughly researched and well-written book and one that pulls no punches; you know from the very first pages how the (RED) initiative will be dissected and found wanting. Thoughtful and highly critical.

Times Higher Education

Impressively matched by the rigorous research that went into it, Lisa Richey and Stefano Ponte’s Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World presents a titillating account of the star-studded RED campaign that whets the appetites of all kinds of readers.

Foreign Policy Digest

Richey and Ponte make a profound point about a world where better ideals would lead to better conditions.

Shepherd Express

An extremely readable and penetrating book.

Choice

Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World... is an edgy, provocative, and well-researched analysis of the Product RED campaign and its effect on branding, aid, celebrities, and international development. Brand Aid is an intriguing, comprehensive, and significant evaluation of a popular campaign that has altered the way consumers and corporations view international development.

Journal of Mass Media Ethics

This volume provides an intelligent and detailed critique of the evolution of ‘compassionate consumption’. Undoubtedly, it will take a leading place in the growing pantheon of a literature which considers the appropriateness of celebrity activism in an era of late modernity.

Journal of Development Studies

Brand Aid

Preface
Introduction: Product (RED) and the Reinvention of International Aid
1. Band Aid to Brand Aid: Celebrity Experts and Expert Celebrities
2. The Rock Man’s Burden: Vanity, Value, and Virtual Salvation
3. Saving Africa: AIDS and the Rebranding of Aid
4. Hard Commerce: Corporate Social Responsibility for Distant Others
5. Doing Good by Shopping Well: The Rise of “Causumer” Culture
Conclusion: Celebrities, Consumers, and Everyone Else
Notes
Works Cited
Index