How (RED) Stays Innovative In The Fight Against AIDS

10 years in, the organization is finding new products to color red to so it can add to the $360 million it’s already raised.

Red may not have invented conscious consumerism, exactly. Ten years ago, companies were already selling products by selling causes. But since Red was founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006, it’s certainly done a lot to push the field forward. In that time, it’s raised $360 million to fight AIDS around the world and licensed its (brightly red colored) livery to dozens of products, from iPhones to elegant Le Creuset kitchenware.


At a Fast Company Innovation Festival event this morning, CEO Deborah Dugan shared how a 20-person team in a smallish office pulls in such impressive numbers. Her answer: “piling on” when a marketing idea is working, aligning campaigns with people’s passions (food is a big theme), staying away from sappy advertising, saying no to the wrong corporate partners, and staying up with modern trends and technology.

It’s notable that Red, despite doing philanthropy, doesn’t employee people from the traditional nonprofit world. The staff in the (very red) Manhattan office tend to be from an agency or similar background. Dugan said that keeping Red fresh after a decade means constant re-evaluation. Every few months, it reassesses its campaigns and assesses the meaning of trends that might initially seem unconnected with Red’s mission, including artificial intelligence, blockchain and virtual reality.

Dugan says the brand is paramount and it needs to be policed: Red doesn’t work with oil and gas companies, pharma (because of possible conflict of interest issues over AIDS drugs), and it turned down a lot of money from a tuna company because of its policy on dolphins. Dugan seeks out value-driven CEOs like Marc Benioff of (Red recently raised $3 million at Dreamforce, the company’s customer conference).

Raising $360 million in 10 years is a lot of money. But Red is far from finished. Dugan recently committed to raising another $100 million over the next three years and it continues to look for new ways to paint products and platforms red. “We have to do some big things,” she says.

Correction: This article initially stated that RED helped develop a Snapchat filter at Dreamforce. We regret the error.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.