Profiting off of Liberalism

I came across an article on The Guardian this morning, entitled “Faking ‘wokeness’: how advertising targets millennial liberals for profit.” In the article, Alissa Quart asserts that blockbuster, global company’s marketing teams are creating ad campaigns meant primarily for liberal millennials. For liberal city centers such as New York City and San Francisco, cities that feature professional and wealthy classes of the Democratic Party, there is a great deal of Democratic consumer dollars to be had for major companies. While millennials are searching for smaller, local, family-owned companies to support, the giants of merchandising are revamping their marketing departments to stay relevant with a younger, more progressive population. As Quart contends, “The increasingly progressive messages in marketing campaigns are clearly a mercenary attempt to entice millennials: they are trying to be “woke”.”

Examples of such marketing campaigns are Heineken’s liberal ad, one that urbanist Richard L. Florida states is to “distract the buyer” who would rather buy an urban, craft made brew than some old beer their grandfather might have drank, or Pepsi’s failed Kendall Jenner ad, which grossly appropriated the Black Lives Matter movement as a means to sell a soft drink as less a sugary drink and more a tool of social liberalism.

Companies forcing their way into complex social conversations is nothing new, as there were ads produced back in the 1960s and 1970s, during the peak of the Vietnam war outcries, which showed products bringing people of all backgrounds together in peace and harmony. The message that they sold then and now is that by buying their product you are not solely buying a piece of merchandise, but an experience.

These are exemplary cases of cultural capitalism. The notion is that when engaging in cultural capitalism, you are mindfully utilizing your social assets so to promote social progress and mobilization within a stratified society.

This article reminded me of a section of Slavoj Žižek’s First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, one in which he criticizes a 2009 Starbucks ad that requisitions liberal ideology as a means to sell their coffee. As the political slogan asserts, “It’s not just what you’re buying. It’s what you’re buying into.” Here is the ad in full:

But, when you buy Starbucks, whether you realize it or not, you’re buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee. You’re buying into a coffee ethic. Through our Starbucks Shared Planet program, we purchase more Fair Trade coffee than any company in the world, ensuring that the farmers who grow the beans receive a fair price for their hard work. And, we invest in and improve coffee-growing practices and communities around the globe. It’s good coffee karma…Oh, and a little bit of the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee helps furnish the place with comfy chairs, good music, and the right atmosphere to dream, work and chat in. We all need places like that these days…When you choose Starbucks, you are buying a cup of coffee from a company that cares. No wonder it tastes good.

(From full-page ad in USA Today, May 4, 2009, p.A9)

“We invest in and improve coffee growing practices in communities around the globe.”

Oh man, a company that focuses on globalism. Let me tell you, they care about the little farmers that they buy their coffee from. But…don’t worry that the people still picking the beans get paid next to nothing. No. No. That’s not important. Just understand, they’re doing their best to make sure you feel like your purchase is making a difference in the world.

“It’s good coffee karma…”

Wow! Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard now. I hope you understand that in buying this cup of coffee from this global chain that you are taking place in a karmic transaction. If you buy coffee from Dunkin Donuts, well, you’re straying from the path of righteousness. Starbucks though, ooooo, you’re helping that poor, little farmer in Peru out. Ah. The beauty of it. Oops, better hide your erection. You don’t want any one to see it.

“Comfy chairs, good music, and the right atmosphere to dream, work and chat in”

Holy hell. Atmosphere. Quaint, minimalist comfort with comfortable furniture and soft indie music. Hey! Don’t cream in your jeans just yet, people, we still haven’t given you the full payload of your purchase.

“When you choose Starbucks, you are buying a cup of coffee from a company that cares. No wonder it tastes good.

A company that cares. Now, that’s something else. No wonder there’s a line for most Starbucks in city centers – after buying your cup of coffee, you have got to scurry off for the nearest place of personal enclosure to finish yourself off. It’s amazing most people don’t collapse from weak knees, twinging quads, flushed arms, and a tight stomach while handing their money off to the cashier. Knowing that you’ve helped so many poor communities, well, know you can saunter off to your awaiting laptop with your head held high, because god dammit you helped save the world today. I hope you personally know a surgeon, we don’t want you kicking the bucket with that bleeding heart of yours. Now that Starbucks has your money, they will make sure that class structure is abolished and that every little guy will get a helping hand.

Oh, and more so, they understand that their coffee is expensive, especially for the quality you’re receiving. But remember, that extra money is benefiting the destruction of the corridors of power. Go you!

That higher price is what allows you to buy into that “coffee ethic,” one that benefits the environment, the producer, and your social and communal responsibility in providing for others. The message is a means of business relevance, so that your purchase feels righteous. While you could visit that mom and pop cafe a few blocks down, Starbucks wants to assure that you spend your money with them instead. The price for a cup of coffee will likely be the same between the two shops, but Starbucks assertion is that they’re providing social mobility when you purchase their coffee. The mom and pop cafe is local and a single cafe, not a globalized chain, sure…but they don’t have the economic means to foster liberal progressivism like Starbucks can.

It is all rather crude marketing techniques meant to provide the buyer with not just a product, but a political choice as well. If you want to make a political vote with your purchases, then seek out local companies as often as you can. By giving them your money, you’re supporting a business within the community, and one that is likely benefiting other community organizations just the same. Utilizing your purchasing powers this way assures that you are benefiting that shop’s community as well as their workers, rather than marketing departments and executives somewhere unbeknownst to you.

While we may be mindful of our purchasing powers as a consumer, we need to remember that, in the case of Starbucks, that sometimes a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee.

4 thoughts on “Profiting off of Liberalism

  1. A very good read. But regarding the pepsi’s case against BLM movement, can we say its about how one perceive – ‘negatively’ or ‘positively’ and later people of the same mindset follows? I mean I agree that the ad looks like a show-off of things but…….


    1. Personall,y I believe that the ad is offensive towards a societal movement that has been seeking change for quite some time. I think there is a validity to the question of emotional perception on a singular basis when viewing visual marketing; however, I don’t see how the marketing teams at Pepsi thought this was ad was going to go over well, especially with the societal tension that has already been built around the movement. It just feels like a very cheap idea that could have used a reality check.

      Liked by 1 person

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