How (RED) United the Social Web in the Fight Against AIDS

From Mashable:

Chances are, Product RED first came on your radar in 2006, when The Gap debuted its line of desi(RED), ado(RED) and inspi(RED) t-shirts.

The t-shirts were the start of a viral movement, which today is recognizable in distinctive digital campaigns and partnerships with some of the world’s most popular brands, including Coca-Cola, Apple and Starbucks. Social campaigning has bolstered awareness for RED’s iconic products, the profits from which have resulted in $190 million in donations toward the global fight against AIDS.

In the non-profit’s short history, it has embraced what it means to be a distinctive brand in the social space. RED is the only non-profit with more than 1 million followers on both Twitter and Facebook, having more than 3 million followers on all platforms, including Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest and Myspace.

“RED as a brand is all about innovation — it disrupted the whole notion of what corporate philanthropy consumer giving is all about,” Chrysi Philalithes, RED’s chief digital officer, told Mashable. “The fact we were born the same year as Twitter is no coincidence to the RED brand, and to the fact that digital is at our roots.”

RED’s Beginnings

RED was created to provide a sustainable flow of funding toward The Global Fund, the organization Kofi Annan started in 2002 to fund the fight against the spread of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The aim was to drive private sector money toward The Global Fund, because governments from countries like the U.S. had been providing the vast majority of money during its first five years of existence. Rather than tackling all three diseases, RED chose to target AIDS specifically, as it’s the number-one killer of women of reproductive age. To raise money, RED’s founders decided to create a brand, represented in a family of high-quality products from the world’s most iconic companies. (You can see some of the tech products in the below gallery.)

“When you make a RED choice, it’s a self-identity thing, since consumers demand that their companies are doing good in the world,” says Philalithes. “When I say I have the RED Mophie, it says I’m making a difference every way that I can. It’s not just about me being aware with my purchase, RED’s about spreading awareness to others.”

Though late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was know for his aversion to philanthropy, the company’s RED products alone contributed $50 million toward The Global Fund.

RED’s recent efforts have focused on the Millenium Development Goal of creating an AIDS-free generation by 2015. This could be achieved by ending the transmission of the fatal disease between mothers and their children.

World AIDS Day: A Social Holiday

Since 2009, RED has made its biggest splash of the year on World AIDS Day, celebrated Dec. 1, when it turns the social web red.

One Color Unites Us, the 2009 campaign, most strongly manifested on Twitter. Tweets containing the hashtag #red or #WorldAIDSDay would turn links, hashtags and usernames red. Celebrity influencers like Ashton Kutsher, Kim Kardashian, Shakira and Ryan Seacrest tweeted for World AIDS Day. Twitter even changed the color of its homepage. In addition to RED, World AIDS Day and HIV, and the campaign’s name, One Color Unites Us, trended on Twitter.

“The fact that you could change the color of your tweet is incredible,” says Philianthes. “The fact that you’re doing it for a cause, as well, is like ‘oh my goodness!’”

RED created six different iterations of Facebook downloadable profile pictures, and Facebook users could opt to turn their Facebook news feeds red. The non-profit gained 111 Twitter followers per minute and 148 Facebook fans per minute during World AIDS Day.

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