Consumers, partnering with corporations and celebrities, are forming new alliances in international development through what we call ‘Brand Aid’ initiatives. At a time of shifting relationships between public and private aid, commodities are sold as the means of achieving development for recipients and good feelings for consumers simultaneously. In this article we first formalise our conceptual model of Brand Aid at the triple interface of causes, branded products and celebrities. Then we conduct a systematic empirical analysis of contemporary Brand Aid initiatives, including three in-depth case studies of ‘Win One Give One’, toms shoes and Product (red). We argue that these not only use imaginaries of development to sell products to Northern consumers but also engage in the work of a ‘story factory’ – producing truths about international development and consumer engagement that make development appear simplified, manageable and marketable. We conclude that, in Brand Aid, the problems themselves and the people who experience them are branded and marketed to Western consumers (through celebritised multimedia story-telling) just as effectively as the products that will ‘save’ them.
Third World Quarterly, 2014, Vol 35, Issue 1, p. 65-87