Friday, October 8, 2021

Brands and the hypocrisy of values

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

In David Foster Wallace's book "Infinite Jest" (a writer's writer book if there was any) years are referred by the name of their corporate sponsors called "revenue enhancing subsidized time" (and yes, trademarked). Recently, a piece ran in The Guardian newspaper entitled "why corporate social responsibility is BS" by Robert Reich (who was a former US Secretary of Labor no less) and today in the much-hyped sneaker/streetwear bible Highsnobiety a frontpage article entitled "Should brands even be speaking about values".

Look, by enhancing their bottom line (selling one extra shirt or pair of trainers or a butter packet) brands are insuring their sustainability, and whereas - mind you this does not apply yet in markets such as the Arab world - young consumers support companies that share their values (in 2019 there was a report by Deloite worth reading, here) so when  Nike went into the Colin Kaepernick debacle (read here) they knew who was buttering their bread - and no, it was not those aging conservative older demographic who would buy one pair of trainers a year. However, in real life, Nike got caught flat-footed with the pregnant women ad (see here). In short here's Nike's position: They support women who are pregnant, as long as the pregnant women are not on their roaster of athletes such as Alysia Montano and Kara Gouche.

Classic example. Values only apply where and when it makes financial sense to be "on the right side of history" and let's face it "on the right side of the finances". Sure, some companies do mean it - I think of Patagonia for example - which no longer accepts adding corporate logos to its much-popular fleece vests allowing the clothes in question to be passed on to other people, or reworn outside business hours, or resold more easily at thrift stores. 

Remember, I am part of the Epica awards, and every year I see tons of ads about "good causes" brought to us by brands that expose their cases in very detailed presentations (mostly soundtracked by silly sad pianos) and how these acts changed the whole society they were part of (no kidding, a Lebanese agency claimed that it increased women's representation in the parliament because they changed a word in the national anthem making it a bit more feminist). But let's be honest, just as I said changing a law does not imply changing a mentality (see here), a silly short-termed Corporate Social Responsibility act is not going to change the life of a whole society, what it will do - it will bring consumers to thinking that their favorite brand is aligned with their values.

Welcome to the year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster.