The Idiocy of Corporate Causes

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FAIL: Everyone knows gay men are far too fashionable to register at Target.

Protect the environment! Promote gay marriage! End female genital mutilation of South American snails! The platform of the Democratic Party? Nope. Just a small sample of modern-day corporate causes.

A decade ago, if you believed in a cause, you actually got out and worked for it. You handed out fliers, went to rallies, held fundraisers, sent in a donation. Now, all you have to do is buy a cup of coffee or plunger and voila! you’re changing the world for the better, one Oreo at a time. Because today, it’s not enough for Starbucks or Kraft or Home Depot to provide goods and services to make a profit. Now, businesses have to be socially conscious, morally responsible, and of course, environmentally sustainable. It’s become so ubiquitous, I wouldn’t bat an eye to find out that Denny’s is donating a free condom to Planned Parenthood for every Grand Slam breakfast it sells. I mean, isn’t the sausage-condom link obvious?

The mentality has trickled down to the consumer, too, who’s now expected to make or abstain from purchases based on the company’s stand on this or that issue. And a disturbing number of us have bought into this. We choose Tree Bark Puffs over an edible cereal because Tree Bark Puffs has a pink ribbon on the box. And buy organic coffee beans (even though we drink tea) because .0003% of profits goes to blind Tibetan monks. Sure, cotton underwear feels better than hemp, but a sweaty, scratchy butt is a small price to pay to eliminate pesticides in bug spray.

For poor scrupulous souls, the pressure is intense. “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I bought two boxes of Thin Mints last week and neglected to shop at Chick-fil-A.”

Oh sure, we can dress up this trend with impressive-sounding labels like “corporate responsibility” and “ethical consumerism.” But there’s a few others, too, that I think describe it more accurately: stupid, idiotic, foolish, inane. It’s about the most vapid thing to come down the cultural pike since Desperate Housewives.

Why? Because the business of businesses is to make money. Companies have one basic goal: to make a profit so they can maximize returns to shareholders. People have social and moral responsibilities, not corporations. Why not leave the social engineering to the people in a position to make it happen, like activist judges and Catholic-in-name-only politicians?

I miss the days when rainbows made you think about leprechauns and pots of gold instead of…well, you know.

Never mind that it’s just bad business sense to take on a controversial cause that alienates part of your potential customer base. When Kraft promoted an ad last week featuring a rainbow-creme Oreo, it stupidly made buying a cookie the equivalent of supporting gay marriage. Let’s say Alfred Kinsey’s made-up statistic is true and 10% of the population is gay, with half the heterosexuals supporting gay marriage out of guilt. That’s still 45% of Americans who DON’T support it. Why risk ticking off half the people who might buy your product?

But maybe the number of customers who flock to Kraft because of the Oreo ad will more than make up for the ones who abandon it in opposition, some might say. Eh…I doubt it. Sure, folks may rally and make a special appearance for “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day,” but unless you patronize a business regularly, you’re unlikely to keep coming back just because you agree with its stand on [insert cause here]. People strongly opposed to a company’s position on a social issue, on the other hand, are likely to boycott it in favor of a competitor. I love coffee so much I could mainline it, but I’ve boycotted a major coffee chain for the past few years because my conscience tells me to. In the end, a company’s controversial stance will just end up costing it money.

There’s something else that irritates the snot out of me about all this corporate responsibility: it drives up the cost of goods and services. It’s not like companies are bankrolling these initiatives with the CEO’s annual bonus or taking it out of profits; just like taxes and corporate donations, businesses simply build the added cost of promoting A, B, or C into the product or service.

Haven’t you noticed that the more social causes Starbucks takes on, the more the cost of its lattes increases? Pretty soon, you’ll need a second mortgage to buy that Grande Caramel Macchiato. But at least you’ll be supporting the reproductive rights of Argentinian llamas when you do.

McDonald’s: Finally fessing up to the Soylent Green accusations.

As a Catholic, I’ve watched with dismay as Big Business has started supporting social causes that go against my faith. But even when I agree with a company’s cause, I still have a knee-jerk reaction against it simply because it’s idiotic for companies to promote social change. I live in Alaska and support most of my state’s conservation efforts because I appreciate and respect our natural resources. Yet every time I see the word “green” on a new product, I want to carpet bomb an old growth forest. When I hear another company taking an official side in the culture war, even if it’s my side, I start checking out the competition. Quite frankly, it irritates the hell out of me that I can’t just buy a tub of ice cream that’s just a tub of ice cream, and not a symbol of social progress or brotherly love. And I can’t believe I’m the only person who feels this way, either.

Smart business leaders will forgo the current lemming-like plunge into social and political issues we’ve seen from the likes of Disney, Google, and dozens of other corporate giants. Instead of pandering to this trend, consumers ought to insist companies stop being stupid and just stick to what businesses do best: making money. Stop telling us to “go green,” and you’ll see a lot more of our green in your coffers.

13 Replies to “The Idiocy of Corporate Causes”

  1. I sort of agree with this, and I sort of don’t. I wish companies (and celebrities) would shut it – but once I know what they are pushing it’s very hard for me to look the other way. I was never a big Starbucks consumer because I think they’re overpriced, but now I never go there. But Target, that’s like the mother ship. I think they get about half my shopping budget, with the other half going to groceries. Sigh. And we’ve always loved Chick Fil A, and their recent stance just makes me like them more. It’s too much to keep up with. I have a friend who is very up on all these boycotts, etc. and it is quite exhausting for me.

  2. I’m with you. To quote Laura Ingraham: “Shut up and sing.” (Insert any other verb for “sing” that is appropriate to your company.) Because if you, as the producer or retailer, make buying your products equivalent to making a statement of values, then I’m headed next door where my purchase is just a purchase, thank you very much. I don’t need the pressure — but you need my cash, so SHUT UP about the causes. Seriously, OREOS??? I can’t buy a stupid COOKIE without having to consider the social implications? We don’t buy Girl Scout cookies anymore for the same reason. It’s absurd and inane. And yeah, the whole green thing just puts me over the edge. Grrr.

  3. Amen! I agree wholeheartedly that companies should just do their business and keep out of politics and other agendas. Like you said at the beginning, back in the day, individuals did what they believed in on their own time. Now they’re forcing us all to make choices.

    We drive across town to the Lowe’s store instead of going one mile to Home Gaypo. We avoid Starbucks like the plaque. Etc. etc. etc.

  4. I definitely share this annoyance, and it occurs to me that a handy solution presents itself in carrying out Distributist principles. Buying local directs your money to real people with real moral answerability within your community.

  5. Bravo, Misty, Bravo! What if worked for Target? Would I have to resign because of their agenda? I feel sorry for the employees that work for these corporations as well. I sometimes wonder if they are cheated out of their raises because of the contributions these companies make to these so-called “causes.”

  6. love love love this article. If I decided to boycott any company that didn’t fall in line 100% with my lifestyle and beliefs I am guessing the list of places I shopped would be very short. I feel like what’s lost in all the fighting over cookies, coffee & chicken is the fact that we live in a country where we are allowed to have our own thoughs and encouraged to expess them. I don’t have to agree with you, but I shouldn’t tear you down because you don’t agree with you. What may be ok for you might be COMPLETELY wrong and COMPLETELY offensive to me, but that’s allowed.

  7. I agree with you, just sell me your product and shut up about the rest. If the owner or CEO or …. wants to make a personal statement, as the owner of ChikFilA did, fine, it wasn’t a corporate announcement.
    but leave the business out of it.
    thanks for being so eloquent.

  8. The Starbucks boycott caused me to ponder the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.

    Subsidiarity, as you probably know, is the principle that matters should be handled by the “smallest and most intimate level possible,” as Joe Heschmeyer puts it.

    Starbucks at a local level is really a lovely place in my experience: great music, yummy drinks, kind people, and…here in Alaska…warmth. At its corporate level, however, it is just that, and my role in it gets subsumed by and included within its greater goals, whether I like it or not.

    The way this pertains to subsidiarity is as follows: I know the family who owns the local coffee house up the street. It is not a chain; if it were to become one, it would grow to two stores, or possibly three, slowly, over the course of time. Their coffee is not laden with political charge or power. It is simply good coffee (albeit not as good as Starbucks, in my opinion).

    If I have money to spend, where is my money going to do the most good? Should I give it to the impersonal corporation that hires the world’s nicest people but actively supports and promotes causes I find immoral? Or should it go to the local establishment where it furthers the success of a local family and enables our community to have increased cohesion? Their involvement in charitable causes certainly interests me, but the likelihood is that the cause will most likely be local and benefit our local community; plus, the money generated at a small business is not going to change the course of western civilization as we know it.

    I think there’s a connection here to the “Buy Local” movement that I simply wasn’t seeing before until my cup of coffee became politicized. It may not be as deep as I had hoped, as these smaller stores probably still purchase from the larger ones, which may or may not back problematic causes, but it’s something.

    Anyway, fun post to read; thanks for lightening things up!

  9. I too miss the days when rainbows meant pots of gold, no more floods, and leprechauns. Even more so because I wear an army service ribbon on my dress uniform…

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