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From The Sunday Times, 26th February 2006 / By Tiffanie Darke
The actress Scarlett Johansson is the sizzling face of Bono’s new ethical brand — doing the right thing has never been so glamorous
We don’t want your money — we want you” read the banner topping the huge stage for last summer’s Live 8 concert in Hyde Park. And they got us. More than three billion of us watched the concert in the end. That’s almost half the world’s population.
But just suppose you could harness the euphoria and commitment from that audience in the long term. What if you could reach their vote and their wallet, and give them daily opportunities to register their protest again? As Bono said on that day in July: “It’s an event that’s so much bigger than anyone involved in it.” And it made him hopeful, because a plan that he had hatched more than a year ago suddenly looked like it might work.
One person who was watching that day was Scarlett Johansson. She was in London for the summer, filming the Woody Allen movie Match Point, and took time out to go to Hyde Park. “I thought Live 8 was amazing,” she says, thrilled at the memory of it. “The biggest event ever organised, and there wasn’t a single bar brawl or obnoxious fan. Everyone was completely mesmerised with the energy of all those people on such a beautiful day. Just to see Pink Floyd was worth the whole price of the ticket.”
Johansson is peeling off her clothes in a photographic studio in LA, in preparation for becoming the pin-up for Bono’s new plan. She is going to be the poster girl for Red (or (RED) as their logo has it), a new brand — to be launched on Wednesday by Bono and his business partner, Bobby Shriver — that invites other brands to contribute products to their Red label. A generous percentage of the profits on these products will go to the Global Fund, an organisation that fights TB, Aids and malaria in Africa.
Johansson arrived this morning looking effortlessly funky in low-slung patch-pocket jeans, brown suede moccasins, tracksuit top and blonde hair that was more Camden Lock than Beverly Hills. She also had a bolt through her nose — that’s right, two elegant silver spikes poking out from under each nostril (the girl is a lot more dangerous than your average goddess). But now the spikes are out, the stylist has ratcheted up the vamp factor, and as she steps in front of the camera, she begins to sizzle.
It is not just because she is called Scarlett that she is part of this campaign. “I met Bono a few years ago. I had a friend who was working for him, and when U2 came to play in New York, I asked if she could get tickets. I met him at the after-show dinner, and he was hilarious — and very mischievous. I was surprised at how available he was after seeing him so God-like on the stage,” she says, relaxed and polite. “After doing this amazing show, he came and talked to us all about the things he was doing, in particular the Global Fund. So when he called me and asked me to do this shoot, it sounded too good to be true. The whole project is unbelievable: when he told me about the [dedicated RED] American Express card, I thought, how did he manage to make that happen?” Anyone who has ever met Bono can understand how. “He’s a symbol of everlasting coolness,” says Johansson. “U2 have maintained cool, and people are attracted to that.”
But it’s more than just Bono being a rock star. As he explained his idea to me in his Dublin family home on a rainy day last month, his charisma crackled across the kitchen table. He is engaging, clever, interested and interesting — as plenty of the world’s leaders have experienced.
The beauty of Red is that it all seems so obvious. If you can buy one Gap cotton T-shirt or an identical one for the same price where half the profits go to fight poverty in Africa, well, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? And the businesses stand to win, too — their brands become cool and caring by association.
It’s this obvious factor that got Johansson involved. “It really works — I mean, I’m a Red American Express cardholder, and I’m putting everything on it now,” she says. “And the clothing brands involved are so available to everyone: Gap, Converse, Armani — brands that people buy all the time.”
American Express has been the linchpin that has got the other brands moving: if a global finance company is prepared to give 1% of everything spent on its credit card, they must think it is good business. “When Bono first presented the Red concept to us, it was like a meeting of minds,” says Laurel Powers-Freeling, the head of UK consumer services at American Express. “This is a sustainable way of fighting Aids in Africa — the American Express Red card makes a difference with every single purchase.”
It certainly makes good business sense when you consider that conscience consumerism — choosing to purchase goods that do environmental, political or ethical good — is the most important trend in retail, and one that is only going to get bigger.
“Conscience consumerism is a clever phrase,” says Johansson. “People don’t usually think about the high cost of low prices. Now when I go out and buy a pair of trainers, they are not only cool, but some of the profits are going to raise awareness. It’s an available way of helping others, especially when you’re doing something that’s kind of mindless, like shopping. You don’t have to write a cheque or travel to Africa to contribute, you can help out in your daily routine.”
But isn’t this just another celebrity bandwagon? “I have never been one for preachy public figures telling you what you should or shouldn’t believe,” Johansson says. “But this is a project where you can really see the results. If an artist who has broad appeal says, ‘I believe in this thing,’ it’s cool to people who might not be touched by some guy in a suit.”
Johansson is now tucking into a brownie as she bemoans her Roland Mouret experience (“He made these fabulous dresses with a built-in corset that give you a waist that looks about 12in. Great for fashion, not so good for cheeseburgers — and I’m all about fashion, cheeseburgers and bright-red lipstick”), before she is back on Bono again. “We had a really good conversation once about inspiration coming from the strangest places, how you can get inspired by something you see in the street. He told me some of his best songs were written in 20 minutes. You can work on something for months and it never has the same intensity as those instant ideas.”
Which, of course, is how Red came about. I ask Johansson why she thinks Bono has called the project Red. “It’s a sexy, hot colour that’s vibrant and attention-grabbing. It has been since the 1940s, such a time of high glamour and red lipstick and red nails. That’s probably why they chose it for this campaign — glamour!”
And if glamour is now about listening to your conscience, well, that will probably do all of us some good.
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