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Straus: American millennials have good reason to care about fighting HIV/AIDS, and the red iPhone is an outlet to show it

Courtesy of Apple

Apple has contributed more than $130 million to the Global Fund through its Product(RED) products since 2006.

The tech company recently revamped its Product(RED) line with the introduction of a special edition, red iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The company will donate a portion of profits from each device to the AIDS-fighting Global Fund to accelerate the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic: a move that can and has restarted the conversation about the epidemic in the United States, especially among millennials.

Those interested in purchasing the red iPhone are presented with a question: “Do I actually care about the fight against HIV/AIDS or do I just want a red phone?” It effectively doesn’t matter, because the donation will be the same regardless. But those who initially buy the phone just for its color may end up feeling more invested in fighting the epidemic, which can be difficult in a country like the U.S., where HIV/AIDs rates have been significantly declining.

But American millennials have good reason to care about fighting HIV/AIDS. Among all demographics, people ages 13 to 24 have the highest rates of undiagnosed HIV, according to Because millennials are unattached to the epidemic and consider it a largely international issue, it can be hard for them to feel motivated to generate awareness or fundraise for the cause. National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, held annually on April 10, gives young people a reason to start their fight against the epidemic, and the red iPhones give them an outlet to continue the conversation.

As a millennial-favorite company, it seems Apple has caught on to increasing expectations of corporate social responsibility (CSR) from one of its key audiences. Millennial attitudes toward CSR are no longer “oh, isn’t that great,” but instead “if you’re going to make this much money off me, you better be doing something good with it.” This is especially true for a company like Apple, which sits on a pile of more than $246 billion in cash, according to CNN Money.

RED-branded accessories were previously available for the iPhone, with the special edition red device color exclusive to iPods. The red iPhone 7 costs a minimum of $749, and the 7 Plus a minimum of $869. While Apple has not released its per-device donation amount for the red iPhone, it has contributed more than $130 million to the Global Fund through its Product(RED) products since 2006, when the company partnered with RED, a foundation that aims to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Rebecca Ortiz, an assistant professor of advertising at Syracuse University, said she believes that in accordance with the commitment and consistency principle of marketing, those who purchase the red iPhone may develop an attachment to the HIV/AIDS cause that goes beyond the device.

“When you publicly say something about yourself, commit to it and show others that that’s something that’s important to you, you’re more likely to follow through on that,” she said.

Purchasing the red iPhone is a public declaration because people are always using their phones. Even if someone secretly opted for red because it’s their favorite color, buying the phone is still an expression of support for the fight against HIV/AIDS, and over time they may be more inclined to care about the cause — or at least pretend they do.

“If I have red iPhone and someone comes up to me and asks, ‘Will you donate $5 to the HIV/AIDS fund?’ it’s a little harder to say no, because here you are with a device that insinuates you care about the issue,” Ortiz said.

Because the vast majority of people with HIV/AIDS live in low-income countries, particularly those located in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s difficult for many in the U.S. to find a personal connection to the cause, as opposed to more familiar diseases, like cancer. But the red iPhone gives Americans, and millennials especially, an opportunity to become invested in the fight against the epidemic and continue the conversation around it, especially given the significant progress in the treatment and quality of life for those living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

Whether Apple feels a legitimate responsibility to help eradicate HIV/AIDS or just wants to appear that way as it continues to amass its fortune, the company has stirred up conversations about the epidemic once again and has given customers a new opportunity to express their support for the cause.

Alex Straus is a sophomore public relations major and finance minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at




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