Emily Tan
Jun 23, 2014

Ad industry could propel first AIDS-free generation: Bono

CANNES – The world is about a year away from its first AIDS-free generation and if we lose focus, it may never happen, said U2's lead singer, Bono at the Cannes Lions 2014 on Saturday.

Bono: discretion not helping the AIDS cause
Bono: discretion not helping the AIDS cause

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“It's really about noise and heat. Genuinely, this is the most important room for (Red) to ever be in,” said Bono to a riveted audience in a packed session with Apple's SVP of design, Jonathan (Jony) Ive, moderated by co-founder and CEO of Vice, Shane Smith. “If an accident of geography can decide whether you live or die, it's fair to say a trend can too... this room understands heat. You're all heat-seeking missiles.”

In 2006, Bono co-founded Product Red with activist and attorney Bobby Shriver of One Campaign. The project worked with partner companies, of which Apple was an early supporter, to produce items, in red, branded with the project's logo. A percentage of the profit gained by each partner through the sales of the product was donated to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Since its launch, Red has raised a reported US$240 million to help supply antiretroviral medication to countries with a high incidence of mother-child pregnancy.

But the money raised by Red is only part of the project's goal. “The real budgets, are government budgets and there's an enormous threat to next year's budget,” said Bono. Before it was launched, politicians would be reluctant to allocate budgets to AIDS-relief organisations because they weren't feeling an interest from their constituents, he explained. “When Red started turning up in shopping malls, they cared.”

However, without sufficient noise, said Bono, the project may not reach its goal of an AIDS-free generation by 2015. “I was speaking to a top newspaper in England and they told me, 'We're not doing AIDS day this year. We've done that.' How do we keep this going? We have to ask you.”

Discreet brands like Apple aren't helping with the publicity factor, said Bono, half jokingly to Ive. “Apple is so f*cking quiet about the fact that they raised 75 million dollars. Nobody f*cking knows about it. We need them to tell people.”

To further prove his point, Bono got up and took the Red cover off his iPad. “My eyesight isn't the best but really, [but] you can't see the logo, nobody can.” he said urging the camera to zoom in. “This is the Apple way, they're like a religious cult.”

“Our logo is there too,” said Ive.

“Can't see that either,” retorted Bono contrasting Apple's discrete logo with Starbucks' participation. “We wanted our logo on Starbuck's cups because we see them as a media company.”

Turning the audience, Bono urged them to hand over their name cards and to volunteer ideas that would help Red. Most wasted no time in grabbing the chance to pitch to Bono. Ideas that were proposed included a Red debit card, a pop up store, for marathoners to stop before the finish line to raise awareness and one attendee offered to donate the domain, Red.hiv, to the project for the next 100 years.

“We can finish it (AIDS) in 2015 if we have this excitement. We can do it. This generation is doing it,” urged Bono.

That evening, Bono received the festival's inaugural humanitarian Lionheart Award for achieving greater good for humankind.  

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