OK, so there’s this article that Adam Greenfield wrote over at v-2.org that I wanted to discuss. Please read this article – it’s funny! – then, come back.
Have you read it? Good. Adam Greenfield is full of shit and it saddens me I can’t write him to tell him that. Maybe he’ll see it on this site, but with a readership of about six people, my hopes aren’t high.
Don’t get me wrong; I liked his article a lot. Articulately written. Uses the term “soixante-huit.” Discusses issues of “real problems” not related to whether or not you are supporting The Man because you’ve bought into “corporate culture” and have opted not to buy shit from Ikea. Then, somewhere in there (maybe the Starbucks part), Adam makes a right turn that I’ve heard tons of people make when (for whatever reason) you go after a company they like.
Nike, Ikea, and Starbucks didn’t become “progressive” until their customers and other activists protested. To counteract, the PR departments of these organizations (not stupidly) dumped money into advertising campaigns touting themselves as as responsible corporations. It was only after sweatshop activists railed against Nike for using sweatshops in Cambodia, environmentalists railed against Starbucks for doing business with slave wage farmers using toxic pesticides in Central America, and labor rights activists against Ikea for union busting in southeast Asia that these companies decided to implement useless corporate codes of conduct and declare themselves “sweatfree and pro-world.” But I’m awfully fucking glad your coffee tastes nice.
Secondly (and this is important), most people have no idea what Monsanto, ADM and General Dynamics are, nor what they produce. I’ll let you in on a little secret – the name recognition of Walmart, Nike, Coke, McDonald’s, Starbucks, the Gap, etc. make them nice, big, fat, juicy targets. Activists aren’t stupid either. They’re waging a PR war of their own, and they’re going to go after Kathy Lee, Sean “Puffy” Combs, and Jerry Hall and not waste time trying to fight with the flesh-eating lawyers of Monsato when no one knows who the hell they are. Not fair? Sure as fuck it isn’t. But this isn’t a level playing field we’re talking about. Negative PR has been shown to be THE ONLY WAY to get companies to change their practices; you need to go after their wallets. Are you going to attempt to appeal to their sense of morality? Of the well-being of their workers? Are you truly so naive to think that they are going to give a flying shit about that?
There’s a reason the SEC is going after Martha Stewart and not Ken Lay, and it’s the same reason these activists are going to go after the Gap. To fight back, Martha’s lawyers are going to say she’s being made “an example of.” In a similar vein, Halliburton is going to run commercials about what fucking heroes they are, giving t-shirts to one armed Iraqi babies and crap like that. It’s a war fought in the media, and when I kick my Nikes up on the table and sip my Sumatra/Sulawesi blend while reading about “injustice” somewhere far away, I’m just another victim in the advertising shoot-out. But I don’t believe that these companies are “responsive to the demands of a politically and socially conscious audience”; rather, they are responsive to their shareholders who are nervously fingering their phones, wondering if they should start dumping stock because 47 people burned up in a Bangladesh sweatshop. If Adam wants to “channel all the resentment…directed at…relatively benign inhabitants of the corporate sphere..” to “institutions…responsible for far greater deformations of the world…” he needs to realize that this fight isn’t a smoke your Cuban, tilt your beret, march on Washington battle, but a no-holds barred mud-slinging PR campaign where the main currency is advertisements. If you want a sense of scale, bring it down to what the average person is going to know and pay attention to. Get brand recognition to work FOR you, rather than against you. After all, you ever heard of a pair of Air Monsato’s?