Thursday, March 15, 2007

Arguing for better design

Someone agrees with me.

And while I admire their mission, I have to disagree with this tactic of spoof design. Especially poorly executed spoof design.

It is one thing to hijack someone's campaign for humorous, tangential purposes (saw a HAMME(RED) T-shirt at the Vegas airport last week.) It is another thing to hijack the concept - in this case rather lamely - and sic it on itself.

Say what you will about the Product(RED) campaign - and I realize that I have said plenty. The photography is fucking great. Seriously. The typography is pretty damn good. The campaign (aside from its wishy-washy premise: buy an iPod for charity) is pretty nice. Cuts through the clutter. Great media placements. Nothing new, but certainly created by someone who has both taste and style.

The folks have a lot to learn.

I do like the option of donating right to the causes without having to advertise "I'm a giver" with red clothing, ipods and phones. But everything else about this execution comes up a little short.

Which brings up a different question I've grappled with recently:
Why is it that pro bono clients equate "shitty design" with fiscal responsibility? "Print it on some 40lb glossy stock, so we don't look like we're spending a fortune on our business materials."

Huh? Why not just credit the agency, the paper company and the printer on the piece and get all that stuff donated?

People need good design. Even if it is for non-profit causes. Just like they need good strategies, good media placement, and a good product.

We need good design for our toiletries and our frozen dinners and our houses and our clothes and, yes, our charities.


Make the logo bigger said...

I’ve see an ironically oppositical thing happen with clients and paper selection though. Some choose uncoated so as not to appear too slick or ‘expensive’ as a brand, even though that uncoated stock cost way more than the house LOE gloss. Perception and reality, ain’t it great.

Look at me gettin all paper n shit.

Ben said...

Hi James,

This comment is from Ben Davis, one of the initiators of buylesscrap. In my book, good design is all about function. With a marketing budget of zero and working only in the fringe hours of our spare time, buylesscrap was conceived of and released into the world. Two weeks later, we're helping to shape a constructive debate about how to reform cause-related marketing efforts on a global scale. Design, the power of parody, the stickiness of the URL, and our desire to play a positive role, all were critical to early traction.

Following is a letter we've sent to RED CEO Bobby Shriver. We still await his reply. Would love you and your readers' thoughts.


Dear Mr. Shriver,

RED is an extraordinary and innovative endeavor founded and supported by some of our generation's most remarkable personalities, entrepreneurs, thinkers and leaders, as well as some of the world's most talented product designers and marketers -- giving RED products instant credibility and appeal with consumers. Clearly RED has the potential to do amazing good.

The recent questions about the effectiveness of RED's business model suggest that consumers, when buying certain RED products, cannot know exactly how much money makes it to charity. Additionally, there is the concern about how much money has been spent on advertising by RED's partners. Hence, RED is experiencing its first crisis as a brand: a lack of consumer confidence.

Perhaps it's time for RED to assert innovation and leadership once more -- rising to the challenge of hearing and addressing these consumer concerns head on. After all, RED is a new revenue model. It's only natural that it make smart, on-the-fly adjustments and improvements. And, as consumers we must grant RED the grace to wisely and openly adapt on its way to becoming a truly sustainable success.

It would seem that RED's first order of business is winning back consumer confidence. This can be accomplished in three bold, yet simple steps:

1) RED and its partners provide administrative transparency. Let consumers know exactly what has been spent, by whom, and on what. Just as non-profits must provide administrative accountings of how they spend our donations, let RED and its corporate partners be proud of their accomplishments and disclose the figures publicly. This will genuinely answer questions and address consumer concerns.

2) Adopt reformed contribution models that make clear how much money goes to The Global Fund with each purchase--replacing the current models that do not. Consumers require the confidence of knowing exactly how much money goes to charity with each purchase. Remove all doubt and include this information right on the price tag.

3) Make it possible and easy to donate to The Global Fund directly--without requiring a purchase--via clear web links and by installing informational kiosks and/or clearly marked ways to give at check-out counters in retail locations. Doing this would eliminate consumer confusion and cynicism about RED partners and their contributions. And, the links and kiosks would increase awareness about the African AIDS crisis and create a new and valuable stream of money to help save lives.

The immediate implementation of these steps would demonstrate RED's commitment to regaining, respecting and rewarding consumer trust. In addition, making these sensible changes would help establish a set of best practices for future cause-related marketing efforts that may pattern themselves on RED's success. This would create an even greater and lasting positive legacy for RED.

Ben Davis –San Francisco, CA

J_Fox said...

Some pro bono clients are actually great about letting creative folks be creative. The United Way in Kansas City gave us nearly free reign to do as we pleased -- assuming we stayed on strategy, of course. In doing so, they got a *lot* more stuff donated (including rather heft production costs) and consistently beat their fund-raising goals even in the wake of 9/11. If only we had sold shirts, too.

James-H said...


Kudos on

I applaud your desire to play a positive role, the sticky url, and I admit that the Product red campaign is screaming for a parody.

I just found your parody ho-hum in its execution: specifically the type design and lack of compelling photography.

I think you have a powerful idea for a website here. I just argue that it could be even more powerful if it was designed with more care and thought.

That's the M.O. of this blog. At least when I'm not just flaking off and writing about my favorite movies or my talentless friends.