Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The consumer in the culture war

Disney exporting its LGBTQ+ ideology to Catholic Poland (screenshot of the Polish LGBT pride homepage of Disney+ – https://www.disneyplus.com/pl-pl/editorial/duma)

As numerous recent consumer boycotts show, corporations that promote harmful ideologies can expect serious financial turbulence.

Jakub Woziński

A characteristic of the world economy in recent years has undoubtedly been a general tendency to put the needs of the financial markets ahead of customer satisfaction. It may have seemed up to now that, unless a firm has a legal monopoly or some other privilege, it is in its interest to do everything to please consumers. Without this factor, after all, there is no way to achieve the business world’s most desired effect, namely increased financial returns.

The most important client

In the 21st century, however, the rules have changed radically, and a new type of client is increasingly taking prime position. Clearly, every corporation still needs to sell services and products to a wide range of customers, but a disproportionately large influence on the condition of firms is now wielded by wholesale purchasers of corporate securities. Purely theoretically, since stock exchanges have existed for centuries, it might seem that firms have almost always had to worry about the opinions of investors. However, our times are different from everything we have experienced in the past, because of the unprecedented huge amounts of empty money circulating in the economy.

These monetary surpluses are so great that today, as many as 25 percent of firms in the United States and 20 percent in Europe are so-called zombie companies, which make too little profit to cover their debt servicing costs. So if the financial markets are in a position to sustain an ever-growing army of zombies, and to elevate to the very top certain firms (Uber, to name just one) that have barely made any profit since the start of their existence, then why would there be any particular need to try to please customers? Especially since in times of frantic growth in the prices of financial assets (not to be confused with the consumer inflation that we have been struggling with in recent months) the return on capital obtainable from normal business activity is providing less and less incentive to engage in real competition in the marketplace. It is much more profitable to flirt with the most powerful investors by showing ideological commitment.

For this reason, the largest firms of the Western world have in recent years become political commissars for the neo-Marxist revolution and the pseudoscience of sustainable development. Not long ago, the world of advertising resembled a parade where everyone wanted to get their message across in the brightest and clearest way possible. Today, advertising space is used more and more often for obtrusive virtue signaling. Big business is becoming less inclined to appeal to the consumer masses by adjusting to their needs, instead taking on the role of educator, moralizer, and arrogant ideologist. Every form of communication available to corporations thus becomes a space to demand acceptance for the LGBT movement, to combat allegedly man-made global warming, or to promote anti-white racism.

The Kaepernickan revolution

For some time it may have seemed that practically nothing could disrupt the triumphant march of “woke” ideas through the corporate world. After the death of George Floyd, the highest ambition of every firm that mattered was to employ a chief diversity officer (CDO), whose main task was to ensure that appropriate numbers of lesbians and gender-fluid individuals were hired, and that blacks and Hispanics received a sufficient number of management positions and higher salaries. In television commercials, the place of slim women and well-built men was taken more and more often by unattractive figures and people of uncertain sex, and the intensity of rainbow propaganda exceeded all commonsense norms.

Fortunately, the last months have shown that the huge ideological pressure exerted by the corporate world can be resisted, at least in certain areas. In 2018, Nike signed an advertising contract with football player Colin Kaepernick, who, in light of his meager sporting achievements, had decided to shine in the world of politics. As a mark of opposition to what he believed to be omnipresent racism, he invented the gesture of kneeling during sporting events, and he also interpreted the disinclination of all NFL teams to hire him as final proof of racial oppression.

Nike’s decision did not initially meet with the approval of customers, some of whom even publicly burnt shoes with the firm’s characteristic logo. There was even a visible lack of enthusiasm among investors, but in the course of a year the share price of the sports accessories manufacturer rose by as much as 60 percent. The risk taken with Kaepernick proved to be a kind of watershed, encouraging other brands to launch increasingly bold campaigns. It is no surprise, then, that Nike was one of the firms that some time ago signed another controversial advertising contract, this time with trans activist Dylan Mulvaney.

The beer fiasco

The 26-year-old, whose popular social media account documents his supposed sex change, became the face that advertised a new line of leggings and sports bras, but his dubious charms did not find favor with customers. While the Kaepernick campaign largely succeeded because the quarterback was a real and not a pretend athlete, who made up for his sporting shortcomings with political activism, in the case of Mulvaney both the subject’s allure and athleticism, however this was to be understood, were at least questionable from the outset.

This transgender agitation brought Nike no small measure of trouble. Its sales fell by six percent in the first half of 2023, and its share price remains about a third lower than before the advertising scandal broke. However, a much higher price was paid by another firm that promoted the same trans influencer, the beer manufacturer Anheuser Busch. When the face of the activist – identifying as a woman – appeared on cans of Bud Light, for years America’s most popular beer, consumers responded with a mass boycott. Interestingly, many of the boycotters were from the left, irritated by the fact that the company had swiftly backed out of the campaign in response to the public indignation, announcing only that it had sent Mulvaney a commemorative set of cans. The most important outcome of the consumer boycott is the fact that the most popular beer in the United States is now Modelo Especial. Sales of Bud Light fell by 25 percent in a month, and the firm’s profit forecast for this year is down by 26 percent.

Screenshot of video aired by trans activist and Bud Light partner Dylan Mulvaney (source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CqgTftujqZc/?hl=en)

The case of the Dylan Mulvaney beer campaign became another watershed, beginning a series of successful consumer boycotts. It might even be surmised that this blatant promotion of trans ugliness has finally led the American public to start building a consumer dam against the flow of ideologized messages. Another boycott was faced shortly afterwards by the clothing firm Kohl’s. For “pride month” the firm’s management decided to launch a special line of rainbow products, including bathing costumes for children aged 3 to 24 months decorated with an image of a same-sex couple. Customers could also buy children’s tops featuring various slogans promoted by the gay and trans communities.

Rainbow rompers

The presence of rainbows on clothes and in company logos is obviously nothing shocking in today’s world, but when Americans witnessed the baby shirts and rompers being sold by one of the largest chains, they were nonetheless stunned. For some time the name of Kohl’s was on the whole country’s lips, just like that of another large retail chain, Target. For the occasion of rainbow pride month, that company also decided to offer its customers a large number of LGBT accessories, including bathing suits for “trans women.” Customers were truly outraged. Sales in stores and online instantly fell by 5.4 percent. Within three weeks of the outbreak of the scandal, Target’s market value had fallen by as much as 15 billion dollars, and at the time of writing it had still not recovered.

Spurred by the effectiveness of their decisions, consumers went on to make their dissatisfaction felt by the Chick-fil-A fast food chain. Apart from the fact that the firm employed a diversity officer, it was revealed to have given generous support to the rainbow community. For many years, Chick-fil-A had been known as a firm that was not ashamed to include working in praise of God among its official aims and principles. And it was the betrayal of these formerly professed values that caused consumers to feel so badly let down.

Another example of patience wearing thin in the face of the corporate world’s excesses is the public reaction to Disney’s policies. Following repeated scandals concerning the promotion of LGBT ideology in movies intended for children, the corporation’s share price is now at its lowest level for nine years. Since last March, when the Walt Disney Company got involved in the political campaign against a ban on the holding of discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, signed into law by Florida’s governor, the firm has been on a downward slide. Having lost four million subscribers in one year, the media giant was forced to increase its rates, which left it in a disadvantageous position compared with its competitors. Its market value fell by 56 percent – but surprisingly, the board recently extended the tenure of CEO Robert Iger up to 2026. This year Disney has had to shed around 5,500 employees, and its last few movie flops have brought total losses of $900 million. This is hardly surprising, though, since even the dwarfs in the latest version of Snow White uphold the canon of gender diversity, while their heroine is given a clearly Hispanic complexion.

Get woke, go broke

The recent well-publicized boycotts have boosted the popularity of the slogan “get woke, go broke,” which suggests that supporting a policy of extreme political correctness might lead a firm to bankruptcy. Unfortunately, the effects of this mechanism, even despite the large losses suffered by big business, are still very limited. In practice, no “woke” firm has yet paid for its stance with the highest price, which would be to vanish completely from the market. The only cause for optimism is the fact that consumers have finally discovered their power, and now know what a heavy blow they are able to deliver to the corporate hydra.

Equally valuable is the fact that the boycotts have come at the exact time that the extreme left-wing domination of the world of big business is finally beginning to wane. All indications are that the wokeist fever marked the peak of the period of credit expansion, which is now behind us. Many large corporations are firing their diversity officers and not replacing them. The world’s largest investment firms, like BlackRock or Vanguard, are no longer issuing their clients with such radical instructions as they did just a year ago.

The most encouraging piece of the jigsaw, however, is the growing fear in the corporate world that literally thousands of discrimination lawsuits against the largest firms may soon land in the courts. Grounds for such action are given by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that so-called affirmative action is unconstitutional. It was this type of action that for many years caused universities and colleges to admit students on the basis of racial criteria.

Following the ruling, a group of U.S. state attorneys recently sent a letter to firms from the Fortune 100 list, reminding them that applying the rules that have recently been overturned in the academic world may lead to numerous legal complications. The CEOs of Google, Facebook, Apple, Goldman Sachs, PayPal and others have thereby been notified that their financial statements will soon have to include a new item, namely damages in cases concerning the application of radically racist criteria in their hiring policies. The effects of this may be even more painful than any consumer boycotts.

But even assuming that racism in the corporate environment would be greatly reduced in this way, it does not change the fact that many of the latest conquests of the left-wing cultural revolution will find an enduring home in the worlds of advertising, business and culture. To uproot them permanently, there would need to be a boycott by the world’s most important clients, the financial and corporate elites. But these have not yet shown the least desire to change the set of ideas that they promote.