A few years ago, network television surfaced a commercial for Cheerios that featured a mixed family, specifically a black father and a white mother. Parts of the viewing public were outraged, sharing their anger over YouTube and the Internet, apparently offended that television was actually beginning to reflect the changing face of America and American values.
Since then, the advertising industry has been using a host of interracial and non-heterosexual couples in their depictions of the American family. Companies like Tide, Chase, Visa, Campbell’s Soup, Infiniti, State Farm, and many more have broken away from the heterosexual Caucasian two-car family as its go-to advertising paragon.
Why? Are advertising firms doing this out a sense of social responsibility and decency? Partly. But, as with most businesses, advertisers give the people what they want. According to the New York Times, the advent of these commercials is a reflection of modern society, and, more importantly, the public’s realization of that. Fiona Carter, chief brand officer at AT&T says, “I think there’s an ever increasing demand from customers….to understand who you are as a company, what your values are.”
These companies are striving to portray the diversity their customers experience in their daily lives. So, in short, the commercials are giving the people—the majority of them—what they want. But there is still a small but vocal minority decrying the deterioration of traditional American values.
In this case, at least, corporate America seems to be at least one step ahead of the government. President Trump recently instituted a transgender military ban that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court. More states are instituting laws restricting access to reproductive health clinics. The federal government shutdown over the wall on our southern border was—and is—fueled by racist rhetoric. Trump’s support in the polls has never dropped below thirty-five percent. This percentage of the American people support the president’s racist and sexist policies, and—probably—do not appreciate the new breed of commercials cropping up on prime-time television. But the advertisers persist.
Another area where corporate America seems to have a leg up on the powers that be in Washington, D.C., and in our statehouses is in policies encouraging environmental protections. Many major companies champion policies that embrace product recycling, energy sustainability policy, and the use of renewable energy sources, while Congress still encourages policies that protect and encourage the fossil fuel industries. The White House recently released a slanted environmental analysis, outlining their plan to sell drilling rights in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have also long been champions for the dying coal industry.
And, like advertising’s use of less traditional spokespeople, businesses are going green—at least partly—because it’s good business. While upfront investment is costly, long-term savings are substantial. Something as simple as switching to LED bulbs may save companies immense amounts of money in the long run. The cost of renewables—barring restrictive legislation—is competitive with that of fossil fuels. And customers recognize and will patronize green companies. According to a study published in the March 17, 2017, issue of Forbes magazine, “68% of millennials bought a product with a social or environmental benefit in the last twelve months” and “that 88% of buyers would be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.” This is all above and beyond the fact that going green is good for the environment, good for the biosphere, and good for all of us.
The image of America business has not always been a positive one. It’s still not. For years, corporations have been depicted as greedy and ruthless manipulators of people and resources. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, loosely based on a series of news articles about the Chicago meat-packing industry, horrified the public with disgusting and unhealthy practices of slaughterhouses. In movies like Alien, Resident Evil, Soylent Green, Michael Clayton, Jurassic Park,and Glengarry Glen Ross, businesses engage in bullying, murder, destruction, and cannibalism, all in the name of profit. The cavalier behavior of Wall Street bankers after the housing bubble in 2008 still rankles in the minds of most people.
So when businesses attempt to connect with their buying public by demonstrating sensitivity to diversity in their ads or employing environment-friendly policies as their corporate philosophy, they’re catering to us, their market. They want us to like them so we buy from them.
This means they believe we care deeply about diversity and the environment in this country, deeply enough for them to want to invest in renewable energy, biracial and non-heterosexual tolerance, and to show us that they respect the beliefs and wishes of the American people. So maybe corporations aren’t quite as bad as they’re depicted in the movies. True, money is a factor; after all, green is the color of money, too, but they are still—if only accidentally—doing the right thing.
Now if we could only get our elected officials to understand what we are and what we stand for. Businesses pay attention to us because we are their market, their bread and butter. Maybe some of today’s politicians need to remember whom it is they really work for. They think they don’t need to sell themselves, to modernize their product to fit a changing world, so maybe we need to wise up and patronize the politicians who are working for us, not against us.