The incredibly hyped Red campaign (promoted on Oprah, and touted by Bono) is not raising enough money to even cover the costs of promoting the campaign. So why run such a campaign rather than just giving the money spent on promotion to AIDS-related charities? Because the real purpose is signaling. The companies involved are more interested in establishing themselves as being socially responsible. The celebrities involved are in on it for the same reason. And the consumers who buy these products would rather signal to the people that they meet that they’re caring souls than to actually use their money most efficiently to save lives. The charity is secondary.
That said, I don’t really have a problem with it. I think it’s probably a good thing if you can raise your status in society by signaling that you care about the AIDS epidemic rather than by signaling that you have money to burn by driving a Hummer that gets 8 miles per gallon.