The second pillar of Brand Aid is the aid celebrity. Aid celebrities transport the modalities of the celebrity into the realm of international development. They embody a manufactured consensus, let simple moral truths substitute for rational debate, and thus manage the affect of those who would solve the world’s problems. There is a “felt need” for grounding the impulse to “do good”.
In Brand Aid. Shopping Well to Save the World, we are not critiquing the impulse to do good globally, for Africa or elsewhere, but suggest that this is where the power of Brand Aid exists beyond the material realm of stylish clothes and smart gadgetry: it exists through the mobilization of affect to produce certain kinds of donors who care. Within Brand Aid there is no expertise outside of the celebrity modality.
We make a distinction in our analysis of RED between the celebrities who are brought in as a supporting cast for various products, performances, and the brand itself and the “aid celebrities” who are fundamental to the social contract on which RED is founded. Famous faces abound in all aspects of the RED campaign; celebrity models like Gisele Bündchen and Christy Turlington, actresses like Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson, singers like Joss Stone, and artists like Damien Hirst engage in highly publicized activities in support of RED and its products.
The use of celebrities to sell products is of course nothing new, but RED moves beyond mere celebrity endorsement by relying on the appeal of aid celebrities for the brand’s credibility.
In Product RED, Paul Farmer provides the ethical guarantee that AIDS is an important problem that can be solved in poor countries, Jeffrey Sachs provides the efficiency guarantee that the RED brand and the Global Fund are effective means for solving this problem, and Bono provides the attention guarantee that exposure and access will come from linking aid celebrities to other famous celebrities to insure the cool quotient of the initiative.
This photograph of Gisele Bündchen and Keseme Ole Parsapaet was used in the RED American Express campaign “my card” (referring to the supermodel), “my life” (referring to the Maasai warrior), a spin from the company’s previous campaign “my life, my card.” The image appeared in outdoor landmark sites around London and in high-end glossy magazines in September and October 2006.
See an introduction to the study of celebrities in Dan Brockington’s blog (School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester)