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Buying into Development? Brand Aid Forms of Cause-Related
Stefano Pontea and Lisa Ann Richeyb
a Department of Business and Politics, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
b Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, Denmark
Consumers, partnering with corporations and celebrities, are forming new
alliances in international development through what we call ‘Brand Aid’
initiatives. At a time of shifting relationships between public and private aid,
commodities are sold as the means for achieving development for recipients
and good feelings for consumers simultaneously. In this article, first we
formalize our conceptual model of Brand Aid at the triple interface of causes,
branded products and celebrities. Then, we conduct a systematic empirical
analysis of contemporary Brand Aid initiatives including three in-depth case
studies of: ‘Win One Give One’, TOMS shoes and Product (RED). We argue
that these not only use imaginaries of development to sell products to Northern
consumers, but also engage in the work of a ‘story factory’ – producing truths
about international development and consumer engagement that make
development appear simplified, manageable and marketable. We conclude
that, in Brand Aid, the problems themselves and the people who experience
them are branded and marketed to Western consumers (through celebritized
multi-media story-telling) just as effectively as the products that will ‘save’
Keywords – brand aid, cause-related marketing, business, consumption,
What links a bottle of vodka with a pair of Emporio Armani (RED) sunglasses, or a
pair of canvas shoes with a box of Fruit-Flavored Shapes Transformers? Bono assures
us that a percentage of the profits of all (RED) co-branded products goes directly to
the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. Dr. Michele Borba, celebrity
educator, advises parents that Betty Crocker fruit-flavored snacks can contribute to
kids’ altruism. Blake Mycoskie identified a development ‘need’ in Latin America
linked to his performance in the US television show, ‘The Amazing Race’ and
launched a youth movement and TOMS shoes. All of these products are marketed
through celebrities to consumers who want to shop for a better world. These
consumers, allied with corporations, are becoming new actors in international
development through what we call ‘Brand Aid’ initiatives. Brand Aid entails specific
forms of Cause-Related Marketing (CRM) where the purchase of a product triggers a
business donation (typically to a nonprofit organization) for the purpose of solving a
social, environmental or animal welfare ‘cause’. Unlike other CRM campaigns, Brand
Aid initiatives address specific ‘international development’ causes and involve
celebrities in their launch, mediation and/or management.
Brand Aid, the combination of causes, branded products and celebrity, is one of the
newest alliances in international development, and it comes at a time of shifting
relationships between public and private aid.1 Private funding is becoming more
important as traditional sources are under stress from the contemporary economic
crisis. This is reflected by a historical trend of shifting patterns of resource transfers
from North to South. Sources of development financing outside traditional ODA are
growing,2 and this is shaping the funding and agenda of development. In the
contemporary context in which ‘economic scarcity’ refers not only to the ‘lacking’
economies in the developing world, but also to their ‘donors’, the activities of new
actors and alliances becomes increasingly prescient. However, the power of Brand
Aid for shaping international development is not simply a material one. On the basis
of substantial empirical work on CRM initiatives supporting the 30 most recognizable
non-profit organizations dealing with ‘international needs’, a recent article in this
journal found that the promotional aspects of partnering with corporations were more
important than the actual financial benefits from the CRM engagement.3 These
findings raise important questions about the role of consumption in funding
international development initiatives: in short, if it is not for the money, then why
would development organizations benefit from CRM?
To begin to answer this question, we develop a conceptual model of ‘Brand Aid’,
where ‘brand’ incorporates material value and fantasy. Companies are of course the
core actors in branding for profit. Celebrities are personified through their own
brands, or personae. And slowly, it is becoming recognized that non-profit
organizations working in international development are also branded entities.4 Our
purpose in this article is to provide a framework to help understanding how
development actors such as consumers5 and celebrities6 overlap in new alliances. We
also test the model empirically through a systematic study of contemporary Brand Aid
initiatives in order to examine its possibilities and limitations.
We distinguish between the selling of ideas together with the ‘cargo’ of development7
and using imaginaries of development to sell products to Northern consumers. We
focus on the latter. Development as a commodity for exchange can be linked to
trajectories as diverse as selling improved seeds in the Green Revolution or selling
condoms through social marketing initiatives for family planning. But the increasing
‘privatization of helping’ has made engaging in development such a desirable
practice, that admission to such a process can be sold to consumers as one might sell
entrance tickets to a concert or amusement park. Development outcomes
themselves—such as primary education for a child, vaccines provided to a health
clinic, or a community well for clean water—become so imbued with symbolic and
‘ethical’ value that they are used to market consumer goods to Western buyers.
Trusted celebrities are important for creating the caring brand that sells development.8
Commodities are sold as the means for achieving development for recipients and good
feelings for consumers simultaneously. In the process, ‘development’ becomes
ontologically ingrained as ‘having the right things.’
Our analysis of Brand Aid initiatives focuses on those with a direct purchase-
contribution link. This is a choice that reflects the different kinds of social relations
surrounding these forms of CRM. First, the focus on buying a particular product
directly links a product with a cause in ways that draw on the awareness raised by
decades of activism for fair trade and ethical consumption. But this also pushes the
meaning of ethical consumption away from the attributes of the product itself (the
social, environmental or animal welfare conditions of its production) and places them
onto the worthy cause, as the basis for ‘ethical’ engagement.9 Second, the focus on
purchase-linked donation encourages increasing consumption.10 As you spend money,
purchase products and consume, you are actively ‘helping’. Third, in the direct
purchase-contribution model, the point of action or engagement is clear and distinct. It
is the point of purchase. This clear action for consumers is a way of defining
development ‘goods’ and the entry point for everyday consumers into activism,
providing ‘development’ or just ‘helping’ needy others. When the purchase has been
made, the consumer has completed her/his job in the process of helping, and the
product itself becomes a marker of that good act. You buy something so that
someone else can have something, and imaginaries of development, ‘yours’ and
‘theirs,’ are constructed on the basis of these ‘things.’
In the next section, we briefly review the current debates on cause-related marketing,
celebrity and development. Sections 3 and 4 lay out our conceptual model and
methodology. In Section 5, we present four case studies of Brand Aid initiatives,
followed by a conclusion.
Cause-Related Marketing, Celebrity and Development
Brand Aid initiatives are CRM campaigns that employ an international development
‘cause’ and celebrities as mediators. In earlier work,11 we argued that this specific
configuration of CRM is new and can be ascribed to the birth of Product (RED) in
2006. However, CRM campaigns have a much longer history and are accompanied by
a well-developed literature in business studies,12 only recently expanding to
development studies.13 In its simplest form, CRM is essentially marketing – it is
devised to sell a product or service to consumers by highlighting that part of the profit
or sale price will be donated to a ‘good cause’. The size of the donation is typically
linked to the volume of sales during the CRM campaign.
The birth of CRM dates back to the American Express campaigns of the early 1980s,
when card-holders were encouraged to use their credit cards in specified campaign
periods to support a number of US local causes.14 The success of these initiatives led
AmEx to legally trademark the term ‘cause-related marketing’ in 1983, when it began
piloting the approach nationally with a three-month campaign to restore the Statue of
Liberty. This campaign cost $4 million in advertising, raised $1.7 million for the
cause, and also triggered a 27% rise in AmEx card use and 45% increase in new card
applications.15 The experience demonstrated to AmEx and many other companies
after it that they could ‘do well by doing good’.
The business studies literature concurs that the number and size of CRM campaigns
have experienced a consistently upward trend since their beginning.16 Historically,
CRM has evolved from being predominantly a one-off tactic to increase sales, to an
approach aimed at building brand reputation and customer loyalty through deeper
long-term commitment linking a brand with a cause organically, and even toward
becoming the public face of ‘responsibility’ for the most advanced companies in this
realm.17 The explosion of CRM has been fueled by the expansion of social media and
the ‘word- of-mouth’ marketing that it enables.18 It has also moved from an almost
exclusive focus on local causes to also cover ‘distant’ ones. Part of the attractiveness
of CRM from the point of view of consumers is that it triggers a donation with every
purchase.19 Einstein20 argues that tying a product to a cause not only increases profits
but also leads to ‘increased sales for the entire line of products connected to the brand
. . . These sales increases bring in earnings well above the cost of the company’s
Critics question the consequences that CRM campaigns have on power dynamics,
distribution and redistribution of resources, portrayals of ‘communities in need’ and
the possibility of stimulating social change. Nickel and Eikenberry,21 for example,
argue that CRM is especially insidious as it ‘creates the appearance of giving back,
disguising the fact that it is already based in taking away’. From an analysis of dozens
of mostly US-based CRM campaigns, Einstein concludes that most are self-
congratulatory and serve to further corporate interest, while rarely affecting real
change, and that they lead to an expectation of return when acting magnanimously
because ‘when you give you get’.22 King’s work on the Pink Ribbon breast cancer
campaigns to support the Komen Foundation shows how CRM is based on the
‘assumption that quick, convenient, and relatively inexpensive acts of giving have
nonetheless powerful effects and deep spiritual meaning’.23 Critics also argue that
CRM campaigns often describe donations terms of ‘lives saved’ or ‘litres of water
purified’ – making it more difficult to monetize the donation size and highlight the
contradictions between profit and donation. They also perpetuate gender stereotypes
of both the consumers and the recipients.24
CRM with a development cause has also been heavily criticized. Brei and Bohm25
analyzed ten brands of bottled water that claim to contribute to campaigns aimed at
providing drinking water to ‘poor African people,’ concluding that these companies
are mainly attempting to create a better image for an industry beset by environmental
and social criticism. Hawkins suggests that women in the South are typically
portrayed as being closer to nature, but at the same time unable to fulfill their role of
responsible mothers due to environmental conditions. She highlights how CRM
campaigns emphasize individual action and market-based solutions to complex issues
and how ‘everyday lives in the North are constituted as separate from natural
environments except through consumption choices, a dangerous idea that constitutes
the market as the only route to “participate” in development interventions, caring, and
environmentally responsible actions’. 26
These critiques focus thoughtfully on the relations between profitable companies,
products and the causes they claim to support; however they do not engage the role of
public approval—a point of important access for celebrity advocates. Celebrities are
often found advertising the products, representing the benefits of the cause and co-
branding helping as cool, and are important for the ‘fit’ between a cause and a
company.27 It is through the celebritization of development information that the cause
in CRM becomes marketable.
Celebrity marketing of development causes can be linked to the rise of global
celebrity ‘do-gooding’,28 the growing engagement of celebrity politics in the United
States29 and the United Kingdom,30 and to the rise of celebrity diplomacy
internationally.31 Celebrities are themselves commodities: ‘produced, traded and
marketed by the media and publicity industries’.32 They are brands whose images are
packaged, bought and sold across national borders.33 Celebrities are also ‘politics
made flesh’ – as a both commoditizers and commodities – and an important element
of why international development causes are being bought by Western consumers.34
Debates on how causes can be wrapped around consumer products with the mediation
of celebrity to deliver ‘development’ have so far been mostly compartmentalized. The
business literature has examined CRM, but has mostly focused on its marketing
aspects. The emerging literature on celebrities as global actors has focused primarily
on famous Hollywood celebrities, not on the aid celebrities whose expertise becomes
celebritized and marketed as part of the product of development intervention.35 The
large political and ethical consumption literature has thoroughly examined the role of
fair trade and other labels in promoting (or in failing to promote) ‘development’, but
has so far failed to recognize that CRM and Brand Aid initiatives are moving attention
away from the social and environmental conditions of production and towards the
beneficiaries of causes that have little or no relation to the product itself. In the rest of
this article, we argue that there are important overlaps between these aspects that need
to be examined systematically. In next section, we develop a conceptual framework
for such analysis, followed by a methodological and empirical example of how it can
In our previous work,36 we developed the concept of ‘Brand Aid’ to describe how
branded products are sold as ethical items through their mediation by celebrities who
link them to worthy causes in developing countries. Brand Aid, we argued, is ‘aid to
brands’ because it helps sell products and improve a brand’s ethical profile and value.
It is also ‘brands that provide aid’ because a proportion of the profit or sales is
devoted to helping others.
Figure 1. Brand Aid Conceptual Model
In this article, we introduce a conceptual model as illustrated in Figure 1, where Brand
Aid appears at the triple interface of causes, branded products and celebrities. The
model also shows other forms of interaction: generic CRM (the combination of
branded products and causes); celebrity-driven issue campaigns (the combination of
celebrities and causes – for example, George Clooney’s Save Darfur campaign); and
marketing campaigns using celebrities (the well-established combination of celebrities
and branded products). These other categories fall outside the scope of this article, but
structured comparisons between them are part of our agenda for future research.
Each of the circles in our conceptual model represents a regime of value that contains
both material and symbolic forms. Appadurai37 described the arrangements of
meanings created by signifying images and objects as ‘regimes of value’ – constructs
of the social imaginary which give significance to experience through discourse.
Value for Appadurai refers to both economic or material value and also to the non-
economic categories and understandings of particular commodity arrangements. New
imaginaries of development are created in which consumption becomes the
mechanism for action and purchase creates partnership between individual consumers,
corporations, nonprofits and ultimately beneficiaries in developing countries. The
relationship is created, not simply documented, through the discourses, images,
narratives and truths communicated as part of Brand Aid.
Regimes of value exist within an institutional framework that constitutes and supports
them (see actors and relations in Figure 1 outside the overlapping circles).
Traditionally, international development operated through public and private sector
interactions between international organizations, NGOs and states. However, as
corporations and the popular culture industry become actors in promoting
international causes, new alliances are formed and new forms of institutional
embedding takes place. In relation to the lower right corner of Figure 1, for example,
celebrities engaging in Brand Aid initiatives should be understood through the
mediated context of the popular culture industry, which now includes agencies that
match the right product/brand/corporation to the right celebrity, or the right
international development cause/NGO to the right celebrity, or both.38 Celebrities also
interact directly with the public sector when they are called to endorse public-service
campaigns, or, more controversially, when they move residence to lower taxation
locations. Similar observations can be made on the interactions between corporations
and the public sector (see top left corner in Figure 1; e.g. via public-private
partnerships) and between NGOs and their public donors (see lower left corner).
Thus, Brand Aid enacts complex regimes of value on the basis of an expanded
institutional framework – forging both new alliances and linking new actors in
In our model, we are engaging with ‘development’ as an interactive process of
material exchange and conceptual engagement that links the technical and specialized
activities practiced in the South by particular ‘experts’ and ‘organizations’ with a
network and communication media of non-expert publics in the North. Our focus in
on what Smith and Yanacopulos39 describe as the ‘public faces of development’ or the
various ways in which development organizations convey meanings and
representations of the global South and the concept of development itself to a
Northern public. Celebrity remains a key component for our conceptual model for its
role signifying the communication of development causes specifically to an audience
of non-specialists. As described by Brockington in this special issue, the increasing
presence of corporate actors in relationships between NGOs and celebrities reflects
the rise of CRM initiatives: ‘it is good business sense to build relationships with
NGOs, particularly if it then results in associations between that business and famous
In this article, we use the conceptual model of Brand Aid provided in Figure 1 to
analyze empirical material documenting contemporary CRM initiatives that have an
international development cause and celebrity involvement. Because consumer
initiatives are not documented as sources of development financing which would
appear in the AidData database,40 and many are linked to private corporations whose
financial reports are not public information, systematic documentation faced serious
challenges.41 We settled on a selection process based on existing databases and lists
constituted by definition from at least one selection criteria of the Brand Aid42 model.
Our first data search focused on the combination of two elements of Brand Aid:
‘product’ and ‘cause’. After examining a dozen sites dedicated to CRM, we selected
the most comprehensive list of ‘new CRM campaigns’ compiled by Cause Marketing
Forum (CMF).43 We conducted a data search covering the period from January 2011
(when CMF started to compile a comprehensive list) to April 2012. The CMF search
generated 99 hits that were analyzed by reading the campaign press releases and the
websites dedicated to them. In order to qualify as Brand Aid, however, these
initiatives need to address not just any cause, but an international development cause.
This filter left us with 21 instances – a sizeable minority, given that the CRM
literature in business studies typically advises corporations to link their campaigns to
local causes. Of these 21 CRM campaigns, seven mentioned a celebrity prominently
in their press release and therefore fully qualified as ‘Brand Aid’ according to our
conceptual framework. Of these, we selected the four that were ‘transactional’ in
nature (they required the purchase of a product, not just a ‘brand experience’ such as
visiting a website, leaving a message, or ’liking’ a Facebook page) for further
Our second data search focused on the ‘celebrity’ involvement criterion and was
targeted to identify other initiatives that may have not been captured by the CRM
search. We collected data from a prominent set of celebrity newsletters that are sent
several times a week to subscribers by the UK-based site ‘The Red Pages’
(www.theredpages.co.uk), over the same time period covered by the CMF database.
This led to the compilation of a list of 1,822 news items on celebrity endorsement,
charity work, and involvement in marketing and other events. These items were
filtered to assess whether the celebrity was involved in a Brand Aid initiative as
defined above. This yielded three new Brand Aid entries and two entries that had
already been captured in the CMF database. A final step entailed merging these two
filtered databases and eliminating double-entries, which produced a short list of eight
case studies (see Table 1).
Details of international development cause Nonprofit Involved Name of Campaign Donation Product/brand/company Main celebrities involved
Provision of laptop computers to school children in
One Laptop Per Child Win One Give One
in Africa, up to 1725 laptops; in the US,
up to 259 laptops
General Mills (Betty Crocker Fruit
Dr. Michelle Borba; Nicholas
Negroponte OLPC founder and aid
2Shoes for chilren in need
One to One over 1 million new pars of shoes TOMS + The Row (shoes)
Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen
designed for TOMS; other celebrity
links for the 'one day without shoes'
campaign; Blake Mycoskie, the
founder of TOMS, is a celebrity
AIDS medication to selected Global Fund programs in
Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis & Malaria
(Product) RED: Penfolds and Belvedere
15% of sales of two varieties of wine
during promotional periods (Penfolds);
50% of profits (Belvedere)
Penfolds Wines, Belvedere Vodka
Bono, Mary J. Blige, Usher and
many other photo-op celebs on
4 Fight hunger in the Horn of Africa
Save the Children, International
Rescue Committee and Mercy
We Can Be Heroes Up to $ 1 million
DC Comics and Warner Bros.
Entertainment (superhero gadgets)
Superhero characters and US Vice-
Pres. spouse Dr. Jill Biden
Support the healthy development of mothers and
babies while also addressing the basic care needs of
families during crisis situations
Save the Children Johnson's Baby Cares unknown
Johnson & Johnson (Baby Care
6 Helping children through sport in violence prone areas Fight for Peace LUTA clothing unknown LUTA clothing (boxing clothing)
Former boxing champion Luke
Dowdney owns the clothing
business; actor Idris Elba supports it
7 Specially deisgned shoes donating funds to charity OneKid OneWorld
Celebrity Shoe Design Program for
unknown ShoeDazzle (shoes) Kristin Cavallari
Free T-shirts to children in Africa (and art programs for
low-income children in the U.S.)
Young Audiences Arts for
Learning, Starkey Hearing
Support the Youth unknown Akomplice Clothing (selected
NFL star and playmaker Vernon
Table 1. Shortlist of Brand Aid initiatives
In this article we carry out three case studies (see entries 1 to 3 in Table 1) from the
short list in order to provide meaningful detail in our analysis. We selected those that
represent all three models of business engagement in CRM: the commercial model,
the social enterprise model, and the umbrella model. The first case is General Mills’
‘Win One Give One’ initiative, involving a ‘commercial model’ in which existing
companies select specific products to enhance their ethical value through their link
with development causes. The second case is TOMS shoes, which follows a ‘social
enterprise model’ in which social value is the raison d’etre of the business itself. The
third case covers the Penfolds and Belvedere Product (RED) campaigns, which are
part of the ‘umbrella model’ where ethical value is mediated and managed by a co-
branding initiative. As we have analyzed Product (RED) extensively elsewhere,44 we
only update and summarize its main features in this article. !
‘Win One Give One’: Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks
The ‘Win One Give One’ (WOGO) campaign is an instance of Brand Aid because it
combines a cause, a branded product and a celebrity (see Figure 1, central overlap),
but with an important twist—the beneficiaries of the cause are simultaneously
American children (and their moms) and Rwandan school children. The mechanism
enacting Brand Aid in this case is as follows: from 15 November 2011 until 31 July
2012, consumers who entered a UPC code from boxes of General Mills’ ‘Betty
Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks’ (‘the branded product’) would be registered to win an
XO Laptop (the commodity carrying the solution to ‘the cause’: addressing poor
educational infrastructure) provided by an organization founded in 2005 by Nicolas
Negroponte (‘the celebrity’). Linked to this ‘instant win game,’ for every 100 UPC
codes entered on the website, Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks pledged to donate
one XO laptop to a kid in Africa, up to 1,725 laptops, or in the US, up to 259 laptops.
These ‘fruit flavored snacks’ come in 38 varieties, ranging from ‘Fruit-Flavored
Shapes My Little Pony’ to ‘Fruit Gushers Mood Morphers Fruit Punch’.45 Almost all
of the 38 varieties are made from the same ingredients: a combination of concentrated
pears, corn syrup, modified corn starch, preservatives, and colors of red, yellow and
blue. Sugar constitutes approximately half of the total product weight.
What could link fruit-flavored snacks and concerned American mothers with a top-
down development techno-fix and ‘kids in Africa’? The homepage of the initiative’s
‘Win & Give’ website centers around a portrait of a young Rwandan boy in a well-
pressed school uniform in front of the Rwandan flag.46 The child has tightly shaved
hair, looks to be around eight years old, and wears an expression of alertness. He is
framed with the caption, ‘Take a trip to Rwanda with Jean-Luc. See how XO
LaptopsTM are making futures brighter’. You can click the bold link under the photo
that reads, ‘Explore’. To the left side of Jean-Luc is a photo of the computer with a
smiling black boy on the screen, and three boxes of fruit flavored snacks. Their
caption reads ‘Enter a UPC code’. These are linked to the words ‘Enter Here!’ To the
right side is a photograph of a Rwandan boy in the same starched uniform, who may
or may not be ‘Jean-Luc’. His portrait is superimposed slightly behind a portrait of a
smiling, supposedly American, boy in a striped casual, collared shirt with pale skin
and freckles, under the caption ‘See the impact you can make’. These boys have a link
that reads, ‘Learn More’. In small text in the right bottom corner of the page is an old-
fashioned propeller airplane, pulling a banner that reads, ‘Hey kids, this is
Advertising’. While the advertising for the fruit snacks is obvious, the subtler, and
arguably more hard-sell, approach is for an imaginary of international development
delivered through the provision of a commodity.
In terms of the institutional framework within which this Brand Aid initiative
operates, it is important to point out that the XO Laptop comes from ‘One Laptop per
Child,’ an international development initiative that has backing from the computer
industry and works in more than 30 developing countries, with the idea of producing a
durable laptop computer costing only $100 that could make technology accessible to
developing country children. One Laptop per Child (OLPC) has been controversial
since its inception by the development celebrity Nicolas Negroponte. In this
development scheme, the low cost laptop would result from a ‘tripartite perfect storm’
where both business and the public sector play an important role: first, sales would be
only to governments and in quantities above one million; second, open-source
software would bypass Microsoft software and Intel processors; and third, commodity
parts would keep the price low. Funding was sought from education ministries on
Negroponte’s mantra: ‘It’s an education project, not a technology project.’
One line of criticism has been directed at the technology itself. The best thing about
the OLPC computer is that it is inexpensive. However, it has yet to meet the price
point of $100, and has remained at twice that price. The physical computer was
designed to prevent water and soil damage, to be readable in direct sunlight for
children who school outside, and to operate on less power consumption to allow for
possible solar or crank powering. A scathing technology critique in The Economist
described how the laptop has bugs that cause occasional crashes.47 Additionally the
‘cumbersome operating system’ makes it quite difficult, even in a world of abundant
electricity and bandwidth, to perform basic activities. This initiative has been
characterized in the press as ‘a high-profile deal of one man evangelizing top
government officials on how he can save their poor children and in the end these
politicians abandoned him’.48
The politics of global trade and local power relations have also proved problematic
for OLPC across its interventions. Consumers in industrialized economies, many of
whom still also lack computer access at school, wanted the possibility of buying
cheap laptops as well. Countries like Nigeria and Brazil wanted locally – produced
laptops. Libya and Nigeria cancelled their informal commitments to purchase the
computers when they realized that they were untried, more expensive than $100, and
were not the only cheap laptops available. Other businesses such as Intel wanted to
produce their own cheap laptops and thus, OLPC came to be perceived as creating a
monopoly in the market. Another line of criticism has been that OLPC reflects some
of the traditionally ‘worst practices’ in international development. It is a top-down
model, developed without consultation on the needs or interests of the local recipients,
and it is implemented in a blueprint formula in countries that are extremely diverse.
In Rwanda, where the WOGO computers are donated, OLPC began with a specific
deal reached between the country’s government in 2007 and OLPC. By March 2012,
80,000 laptops had been donated to schools around the country. The OLPC
Coordinator in the Ministry of Education, ‘pointed out that the use of laptops on a
daily basis in all schools was going to drastically increase with the current
deployment of servers in schools. They will enable all lessons to be covered through
digital courses’.49 However, The Economist concluded that ‘giving a child a computer
does not seem to turn him or her into a future Bill Gates—indeed it does not
accomplish anything in particular’.50 An evaluation done of OLPC in Peru by the
Inter-American Development Bank found that children receiving the 850000
computers in which the government invested $225 million, did not show any
improvement in math or reading.51 The IDB report found no evidence that access to a
laptop increased motivation or time devoted to homework or reading.52
Businessweek declared OLPC a failure in 2007, which it attributed to the project’s
rejection of the fundamental rule of product development: ‘design from the bottom
up, not top down.’53 ‘Near-finished prototypes were tested out late in development,
brought to village kids as a “gift”’.54 Nonetheless, OLPC continues to operate. In spite
of the criticism of the laptop’s aesthetic design, awkward software and inappropriate
business model for technology diffusion, and with no mention of the relatively high
sugar and color content of the supposedly ‘healthy’ fruit snacks, the links between
them as part of a Brand Aid version of CRM were effective.
Whatever the impact on African children, the WOGO initiative assures American
mothers that ‘any kid can help.’ When you click to ‘Learn More,’ instead of
information on OLPC or Rwanda, there are two links: the first is to the ‘Kid’s
Altruism Indicator.’ This is described as ‘a joint research initiative with Parenting
Magazine to uncover kids’ views on giving back and helping others. As a component
of the partnership, The Parenting Group’s MomConnection® research provided
insights on how moms instill altruistic values in their kids.’ The questions and
‘findings’ reported as ‘According to Kids: Who do you think you can help?’ are
interesting. 83% of kids responded that they could help ‘Kids in another country, such
as Haiti, Africa [sic], or Chile.’ This is only slightly less than those who reported
confidence in helping ‘kids at my school’ or ‘my family.’55 The second webpage link
takes you to a ‘What’s your giving style’ quiz, to determine your family’s giving style
and ‘receive special tips from Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert’.56 After you take
the quiz, you can also download a coupon for Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks.’
In WOGO, a first celebrity expert promotes a technological solution to a problem,
embedded into the laptop, while a second celebrity expert guarantees that this
modality of consumption is linked to the development of altruism in American
children, and in this development imaginary, giving donors will produce development
in villages like Jean-Luc’s in Rwanda. Whether the results indicate that you are a
‘global do-gooder,’ ‘neighborhood helper,’ or ‘project seeker’ the same tips appear,
including the final suggestion: ‘Find easy ways to help others around the world
through opportunities such as the Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks “Win & Give”
campaign.’ And with each opportunity, large buttons on the top of the webpage
encourage you to ‘Print a Coupon,’ ‘Share on Facebook,’ or ‘Post on Twitter,’
because it is not sufficient to become more empathetic, or ‘incorporate giving into
your everyday life’ but you should share your brand of giving with others.
TOMS shoes is a social entrepreneurship model in which the cause itself is
inextricably linked to the objective of the business. TOMS was founded in May 2006
by Blake Mycoskie (‘the celebrity’ in our conceptual framework, see Figure 1), who
became famous for his participation in the American TV show called ‘The Amazing
Race.’ The genesis story of the brand is that Mycoskie was in Argentina playing polo
when he joined a group of foreigners donating used shoes in a village. This was a life
changing experience, and thus he started a company that sells an alpargata shoe (‘the
branded product’) inspired by those worn by Argentinian farmers, priced at twice the
product value, to permit the company to donate a pair of shoes ‘to a child in need’57
for every pair purchased by the consumer (according to TOMS, shoes are a
fundamental resource for protecting children’s health, ‘the cause’). This ‘Buy One,
Give One’ (BOGO) marketing strategy links the purchase-donation directly with the
product and brand of TOMS. It is now advertised as ‘One person buys. One person is
helped’58 as the company expanded its product line to include TOMS glasses, which
works in partnership with the Seva foundation.59 Along with WOGO, TOMS’ version
of Brand Aid entails the delivery of a commodity to address a development ‘cause’.
TOMS operates in an institutional framework where interactions with the public
sector are mostly absent, invisible or indirect (see its engagement with schools
below); where a complex set of alliances and mechanisms govern shoe production,
sale and giving; and where a multitude of supporting ‘communities’ bring together
consumers-cum-activists as ‘development actors’. TOMS is allied with a variety of
‘giving partners,’ works in over 60 countries, and ‘as of June 2013, TOMS has given
more than 10 million pairs of new shoes to children in need’.60 The ‘giving pair’ of
shoes is most frequently ‘a black, unisex canvas slip-on with a sturdy sole,’ except in
Argentina where TOMS gives shoes ‘similar to our colorful Classics,’ and in
Ethiopia, where they give ‘a variety of locally produced shoes’.61
Its donation missions, termed ‘giving trips,’ reward TOMS’ staff and contest winners
with the opportunity to visit their ‘Giving Partners’ in developing countries. These
trips are well-documented on the blog with colorful photos of young, attractive
students, traveling to places like El Salvador to distribute shoes together with
organizations like Save the Children. Photos of thin, beautiful university students
kneeling at the feet of Third World children to place a shoe, literally, on the feet of the
poor, invoke images of cultural Christianity that play on Western consumers’
imaginaries of beneficence.62
Linked to TOMS is also the ‘One for One’TM Movement, where ‘compassionate
young people’ are ‘getting involved’ through campus clubs, internships and branded
interactions on social media. The most famous TOMS brand activity is the ‘One Day
Without Shoes’ campaign in which supporters go barefoot to ‘spread awareness of the
impact a pair of shoes can have on a child’s life’. On this day, supporters are
encouraged by the brand to walk barefoot, photograph their feet, stencil-shirts (‘Go
without shoes so kids don’t have to!’ and ‘Ask me about my feet’), share the TOMS
giving videos, and hold concerts with shoeless musicians.
TOMS effectively manages many of the features of ‘new marketing’, such as word-
by-mouth through social media, real and virtual events, video storytelling, education-
cum-marketing, and engaging a movement of consumer-activists. Mycoskie himself is
extremely apt at navigating the popular culture industry and its current need for multi-
product and multi-media strategies. He has authored a book Start Something That
Matters with a teaching guide that can be downloaded for free. TOMS includes a
‘Campus Programs Department’ to provide resources for students and teachers who
have ‘embraced the TOMS philosophy and shared it with their communities inside
and outside the classroom.’63 Detailed instructions are given on how to form a TOMS
campus club, including registering all events with the company, and hosting at least
one event per semester to ‘raise awareness of the TOMS story.’
With a catchy slogan and easy to understand truisms, TOMS has become the brand of
compassion for many American young people. The author of the popular book and
blog, ‘Where Am I Wearing’ sums up how TOMS fits with American values: ‘I’ve
met so many raving TOMS fans that have no idea where TOMS are made [in China].
All they know is that a pair was given away somewhere—probably Africa—because
they bought a pair. And that’s enough for them to feel swell about their shoes.’64 The
development imaginary linking America and Africa is complicated by the inclusion of
productive (not merely recipient) ‘Others’ in China who are actually making TOMS
TOMS uses a multi-channel integration strategy to bring awareness to their cause, and
to sell their products, framed in terms of inspirational story-telling, not advertising. It
relies heavily on its online community for marketing, and has an extensive network on
Facebook with over 1.5 million ‘likes’, including over 4,000 people who have added
their own photos or videos to the page. Additionally, TOMS is active on Twitter and
has its own YouTube channel. Its charismatic founder Mycoskie has a popular blog
that he uses to keep consumers informed on the products and their social impacts, and
where he often characterizes himself as the ‘chief giver’.65 He is also a popular
speaker at American church groups, university TOMS clubs and on US television.
TOMS has been critiqued for labour conditions in shoe production in China (where it
sources its shoes for sale), Ethiopia and Argentina (where it sources its shoes for
donation). The company has responded that it is third-party audited to insure that no
child labor is used and fair wages are paid.66 In response to the sustainability of shoes
for children whose feet grow, TOMS ‘strives to set up long-term giving partnerships
that allow us to keep giving as children grow’. How often this is practically achieved,
given the mobility of families and development partners is not documented. Little is
actually known about TOMS giving partners’ work, beyond the distribution of shoes,
and even less about the actual details of production, volume of sales, and nature of
partnerships between the company and its beneficiaries. Other serious critiques are
also levied against TOMS because giving in-kind distorts local economies of
production.67 A counter-campaign to TOMS’ ‘A Day Without Shoes’ was launched
on the blog ‘Good Intentions Are Not Enough’68 and entitled ‘A Day Without
Dignity.’ It asked aid workers, the diaspora and people from areas that receive shoe
drops and other forms of charity to speak up on blogs, twitter and at school. They
posted numerous interventions from critics of the initiative, including videos and
photos documenting the widespread availability of shoes in local Third World
Still, Mycoskie has won awards from the Smithsonian Institution in 2007, and the US
Secretary of State’s award for Corporate Excellence in 2009.69 TOMS imaginary of
development is one in which growing up barefoot is the primary obstacle to receiving
education and avoiding disease: ‘Shoes are a fundamental resource for protecting
children’s health and providing them with opportunity.’70 TOMS is an award-winning
social entreprise model built around cause-related marketing, transmitted in a three-
minute video with emotional music, smiling brown children with white saints sitting
at their feet. ‘Aid-vertising’71 clearly works to get a buy-in from consumers, based on
stories they tell themselves.
Product (RED) Belvedere Vodka and Penfolds Wine
The Product (RED)TM initiative was launched by Bono the Irish rock star (‘the
celebrity’) at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2006. Product RED is ‘a brand
created to raise awareness and money for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria by teaming up with iconic brands to produce RED-branded
products’.72 With the engagement of iconic brands, such as American Express, Apple,
Armani, Gap, and Starbucks (‘the branded products’), consumers can help HIV/AIDS
patients in Africa (‘the cause’). From a RED Bugaboo baby stroller to a RED iPod TM
and from (Starbucks)RED whole bean coffee to a Belvedere special edition RED
vodka, a percentage of the profits from the sale of all RED co-branded products is
contributed by the ‘iconic’ partners directly to The Global Fund.
As we have documented in detail elsewhere,73 understanding the dynamics of RED is
tightly linked to the institutional framework surrounding it, and specifically the actual
and perceived roles of public and private donors in financing The Global Fund. The
Global Fund is an international mechanism to channel aid financing to developing
countries, and it controls the second largest pool of donor funds in the world (after the
UN itself). Companies that come under the umbrella of RED pay a licensing fee and
commit to a multi-year partnership. According to RED’s website, as of August 2013,
RED had donated nearly $210 million to the Global Fund. RED grants are made
through the Fund’s standard disbursement processes and have been dedicated to the
Fund’s best-performing programs for AIDS in Africa.
Two of the RED products were captured in our sampling framework.74 The first,
Belvedere Vodka, has a RED website that can only be accessed after the input of your
country and birthday, because viewers must be of legal drinking age in their country,
or 18 years old if the country has no drinking age. The vodka company has partnered
with RED to produce a Special Edition Bottle the sale of which will donate 50% of
the profits to the Global Fund. The artist and celebrity Usher has teamed up with
Belvedere RED Vodka ‘to encourage consumers to support programs that offer
education and medication on the ground in Africa.’
The second, Penfolds wines from Australia, has a similar contribution and
communication model, and has partnered with RED for its Koonunga Hill and
Thomas Hyland wines for ‘Inspired Wine, Inspi(RED) Purpose’. In June 2012,
Penfolds launched a Special Edition bottle, ‘for every bottle purchased Penfolds will
make a contribution on your behalf to the Global Fund to help eliminate AIDS in
Africa. Keep an eye out for this Special Edition pack this summer and help us deliver
an AIDS free Generation by 2015’.75 During the promotions period only, Penfolds
contributed 15% of its profits to the Global Fund.
The Brand Aid modality of merging shopping and helping that we described as a new
frontier in international development76 is maturing into a hybrid institution with
likelihood of longer duration. The modalities of engagement within Product RED are
expanding: now the model includes CRM, corporate philanthropy (with the new Coca
Cola sponsorship which has no direct product link), and activism (now that RED is
officially a division of ONE, the international NGO also founded by Bono). The
supporting cast of celebrities changes with each event under RED, but the grounding
of Bono remains stable.
Product RED now has two levels of cooperation with business: ‘partners’ and ‘Special
Editions’. Additionally, from 1 December 2011, there has been a new partnership
between RED and Coca-Cola to ‘fund marketing awareness campaigns activated
through global Coca-Cola music initiatives and programs.’ The company will donate
more than $5 million over the next four years, with a minimum of $3 million to be
donated directly to the Global Fund to purchase anti-retroviral medicine and distribute
literature.77 RED continues to brand celebrity events such as concerts and a virtual
AIDS quilt, and the Global Fund has taken up the RED story-telling model in its
Analysis and Conclusion
A fundamental problem with Brand Aid initiatives is that they are teaching people
how to give from a narrowly individualistic and consumption-oriented perspective.
Products are manufactured and then linked to ‘needs’ identified in the developing
world, primarily Africa which supplies a convenient trope for ‘needy.’ In this process,
‘development’ itself is sold as commodity transfer: development interventions equal
donations of commodities, things that needy people need. Companies that both
produce these necessary goods and sacrifice their corporate profit to share them with
the global poor, invite consumers to ‘partner’ with them through the purchase of the
Brand Aid products. Through real time and virtual events where people come together
to share experiences with others who share their deep frame values,79 these companies
provide not just the commodities themselves, but construct an entire realm in which
these products become meaningful — Appadurai’s regimes of value.80
Large, media-savvy development organizations (primarily international NGOs)
‘partner’ in constructing these regimes of value for development, resonating with
years of promotion of public-private partnerships. ‘Private’ has now fused with
‘corporate’, celebrities are becoming the public faces of development, and the
distinction between non-profit and for-profit is obfuscated. In this article, we provided
a conceptual model that can help examine increasingly complex sets of actors,
alliances and relations in development interventions, in the context of a broader
institutional framework. We focused on the new overlap between international
development causes, branded products and ‘celebrities’ and applied the conceptual
model to analyze three case studies of Brand Aid.
Brand Aid provides an easy solution to current crises in linking the global economy to
international development – one that enables corporations to brand themselves as
‘caring’ without substantially changing their normal business practices, while
consumers engage in low-cost heroism without meaningfully increasing their
awareness of the struggles of people they are supposed to help. In Brand Aid, the
problems themselves, whether they be low educational achievement, shoelessness or
AIDS, and the people who experience them are branded and marketed to Western
consumers through celebritized multi-media story-telling, just as effectively as the
products that will ‘save’ them.
Brand Aid initiatives tend to reduce ‘development’ to a process of identifying a lack,
locating a supplier, providing a commodity, and managing the distribution of the
needed commodity to its intended recipients. Our case studies were selected to
explore different models of Brand Aid– the commercial business, social enterprise,
and umbrella models. Yet, they showed little variation in the imaginary of
development as ‘providing needed commodities’. In all of these initiatives, products
(laptops, shoes, pills) are given to beneficiaries without regard to the underpinning
relations of production, consumption or donation. The ethical value is placed
exclusively in the realm of the Northern consumer through the purchase of a
particular product or the donation within a branded experience. ‘Buying’ is ‘buying
into’ an imaginary of development in which consumers can make a difference.
Making a donation in a branded environment, or sharing a story that will trigger a
matching donation by a branded host, is a way of blending the experience of giving
and the feeling of empathy with that brand, reflecting calls for corporate
philanthropy81 to become more strategically related to brand reputation. Thus,
engagement in Brand Aid pulls the marketing, corporate philanthropy and brand
management sides of business together. Corporate philanthropy becomes shared with
the consumer, publicized and celebritized – it is not anonymous, as in past forms.
Instead, Brand Aid is embedded in the public relationship between the consumer and
the branded product through the mediating role of the celebrity. Given that consumers
authorize the development interventions through their purchases, there is no concern
in Brand Aid for participation of the recipient communities or accountability to these
Whether business is good for development is an ongoing debate,82 and like the larger
debates on aid effectiveness, it often suffers from the basic flaw of over-aggregation.83
However, the scope and diversity of contemporary Brand Aid initiatives suggest that
‘buying into development’, at least in some form, is good for business. In this article,
we offered a material and a symbolic interpretation of why this may be the case. A
material interpretation is that when consumers ‘buy into’ development through the
purchase of CRM products that support international causes, they could encounter
opportunities to link material consumption with global production relations in distant
places. In this interpretation, Brand Aid could act as a sort of gateway into more
substantial changes in consumption patterns as supported by fair trade forms of
engagement. However, on the basis of our empirical analysis of contemporary Brand
Aid, there are few indications that this is the case. Thus far, Brand Aid has not opened
up significant space for greater public debate over the production of products in
developing countries or the development interventions that are supposed to ‘help’ the
global poor. If individuals are becoming more aware, through their role as consumers
of Brand Aid goods, they are keeping this to themselves.
A symbolic interpretation of why ‘buying into development’ may be good for
business is linked to the increasing involvement of business and corporate
philanthropy in financing development aid and in shaping its agenda. Individuals are
unlikely to have a ‘Gates effect’84 on development as consumers; however in the
aggregation of preferences defined by purchase, Brand Aid may add a democratic
perception that links to the current trends of market-led development goals and
practices. Consumers could, through their purchases, have the potential to shape aid
agendas in ways that are more participatory for Northern publics than the traditional
forms of engagement through ODA (which has also never been driven by particularly
democratic engagement). Thus far, however, it appears that Brand Aid initiatives tend
to drive rather than be driven by consumer’s visions of international development.
While Brand Aid products are tapping into expanded definitions of ‘quality’ that
include the product’s ability to support consumer values (justice and help), they do
not seem to have any direct link to the modalities of ‘helping’ for the causes being
Most complicated are the ethical dimensions of the Brand Aid initiatives. As a recent
critique of neoliberalism succinctly stated: ‘Consumerist activism, development
discourse, and pink-ribbon feminism all partake of the liberal fallacy that good will
and cooperation and compromise will suffice to fix the intractable problems of
poverty and inequality—problems that are imagined to be static and given, as if
outside the realm of history and politics’.85 All of the contemporary Brand Aid
initiatives we analyzed engage in what has been characterized by Flannery86 as the
work of a ‘story factory’ – producing truths about international development and
consumer engagement that make development appear simplified and manageable and
outside of history or politics. As phrased by a critic of TOMS, ‘We take the nugget of
a story that can be printed on a shoebox and we make up our own story.’87
When branded products become the mechanisms for action needed to save suffering
strangers in our personal stories, we have sold out our values and our non-
commodified ways of living those values. Consumption becomes the legitimate place
for manifesting meaning, and companies and celebrities are taking on the roles
traditionally assigned to philosophers and religious leaders of defining ‘the good life’.
Negroponte, Mycoskie and Bono define the values around which we are called to
mobilize and the branded mechanisms that provide the answers when individuals
want to ‘take action’ on global problems. The way of building relationships, making
meaning and living the good life rests on having the right things. In a symmetry that
belies equivalences: their development and our development become both based in
the things we have.
The authors would like to thank the International Development Research Group at
Roskilde University, the participants of the Sustainability Seminar series at
Copenhagen Business School, and an extremely helpful reviewer for their feedback
on earlier versions of this paper.
1 Richey and Ponte, Brand Aid.
2 Adelman, ‘Global philanthropy and remittances’.
3 Hawkins, ‘A new frontier in development?’, 1797.
4 See Biccum, ‘Interrupting the discourse of development’.
5 Hawkins, ‘A new frontier’.
6 Brockington, ‘The Production and construction of celebrity advocacy’.
7 See the classic Long and Van Der Ploeg, ‘Demythologizing planned intervention’.
8 See Brockington, ‘The Production’ and also Cameron and Haanstra, ‘Development Made Sexy’.
9 See Richey and Ponte, ‘Better (Red)TM than dead?’ and Brand Aid.
10 See Goodman, ‘The mirror of consumption’.
11 Richey and Ponte, Brand Aid.
12 See, inter alia, Adkins, Cause-related marketing; Berglind and Nakata, ‘Cause-related marketing’;
and a recent review in Vanhamme et al., ‘To do well by doing good’.
13 See Hawkins, ‘One Pack = One Vaccine’; ‘Shopping to save lives’; and ‘A new frontier in
14 Daw, Cause marketing for nonprofits, 3.
16 Daw, Cause marketing; CSR Europe, ‘Cause Related Marketing’; Einstein, Compassion, Inc.
17 Daw, Cause marketing.
18 Einstein, Compassion, Inc.
19 Integer Group, ‘M/A/R/C Research’.
20 Compassion, Inc., 35.
21 ‘A critique of the discourse of marketized philanthropy’.
22 Compassion, Inc., 137.
23 King, Pink ribbons, Inc., 73.
24 see Hawkins, ‘One Pack’; ‘Shopping’; and ‘A new frontier’; King, Pink ribbons ; and Richey and
Ponte, Brand Aid.
25 ‘Corporate social responsibility as cultural meaning’.
26 Hawkins, ‘Shopping’, 758.
27 See Hawkins, ‘A new frontier’, and Brockington, ‘The production’.
28 Littler, ‘I feel your pain’.
29 See for example, Marks and Fisher, ‘The King’s New Bodies’.
30 See for example, Street, ‘Do celebrity politics and celebrity politicians matter’, and ‘Celebrity
31 Cooper, Celebrity Diplomacy.
32 Turner, Understanding celebrity.
33 Littler, ‘Introduction’, 1
34 Boykoff and Goodman, ‘Conspicuous redemption?’.
35 For an exception, see Goodman and Barnes, ‘Star/poverty space’.
36 Richey and Ponte, Brand Aid.
37 ‘Commodities and the Politics of Value’.
38 See Brockington, ‘The production’.
39 ‘The public faces of development’.
41 For example, after several trials, we decided that we could not use an internet search focused on a set
of words or concepts to establish a ‘long-list’ of CRM initiatives, due to the many different definitions
used for CRM-like initiatives and to the transience of these initiatives on webpages (after CRM
initiatives end, they are typically ‘disappeared’ from companies’ websites). Hawkins 2012b describes
similar data challenges.
42 To be defined as Brand Aid, initiatives must: (1) be CRM initiatives; (2) involve at least one
celebrity; and (3) have a cause related to ‘international development’ broadly defined (see Richey and
Ponte, Brand Aid).
43 The database used comes from www.causemarketingforum.com, a website established in 2002 with
the stated goal of: ‘increasing the number of successful company/cause alliances by providing
businesses and nonprofit executives with the practical information and connections that they need to
44 Richey and Ponte, Brand Aid.
47 The Economist, One clunky laptop per child Great idea. Shame about the mediocre
computer Jan 4th 2008 www.economist.com/node/10472304.
49 The New Times. Rwanda: Project to Distribute 100,000 More Laptops, by Frank Kanyesigye, 6
March 2012: allafrica.com/stories/printable/201203060083.html
50 The Economist, Education in Peru: Error message: A disappointing return from an investment in
computing Apr 7th 2012. From the Print Edition: The Americas.
56 Dr. Michele Borba is ‘an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting
and child adolescent expert’ (as written on the product website). Among her most signaled credentials
are that she has ‘appeared more than 100 times as a parent expert on “Today” as well as countless talk
shows including “Dr. Phil,” “Dateline,” “The View,” “Dr. Drew,” “FOX & Friends,” “The Doctors,”
“CNN,” and “The Early Show”’.
59 The other ‘giving partners’ are not listed in TOMS public information, but Partners in Health, Paul
Farmer’s celebritized NGO has been a partner since 2009.
60 TOMS One for One Giving Report 2013.
61 Ethiopia has a competitive footwear industry run by Ethiopians, but this does not figure into the
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62 See Richey and Ponte, Brand Aid for an analysis of how this works in Product RED.
63 A letter from TOMS Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie, p 3.
67 See www.goodintents.org/in-kind-donations/a-day- without-dignity.
71 As aptly termed by Vivek Nemana on http://aidwatchers.com/2011/04/barefoot-on- broadway-
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