In the wake of the 2016 election, a huge portion of this country has been grappling with a variety of emotions- fear, anger, sadness, disappointment, inspiration, protectiveness, suspicion- becoming both more united and divided than ever. People are grasping for straws, looking for anyone who will be on our side, who will join the “resistance” against this administration. Finding solace in public figures and artists who make statements, our elected officials and government agencies vowing to protect the American people, and it seems like — giant, corporate brands who make milquetoast statements “against” Trump.
The brands who purchased the INSANELY expensive airtime of Super Bowl 51 knew this- and they hit their target audience. The game, which you could say is fairly politically neutral (but managed to get politicized down to the last second- election night flashbacks, anyone?), has such a wide audience every year that this demographic- those of us looking for any allies in this fight- were a guarantee. Brands like Coca Cola, Audi, Budweiser, Air BnB, 84 Lumber (wait who?!) chose to appeal to them, risking the backlash of the Trump supporters in favor of winning the approval of the other side.
Sure, it’s brave. They could potentially lose profits from right wing America. But they stood to make just as much, if not more, from the left side, the side so desperate for a win that they forgot these brands are a small part of the larger enemy- corporate capitalism.
Air BnB stood up against discrimination. Coca Cola believes in diversity. Budweiser told their immigration success story. Audi brought up the gender pay gap. This does not mean you should be rushing out to support these products out of nowhere.
Trust me, I get it. I have been known to sob from a 30 second Cheerios commercial, or two. I saw these commercials and couldn’t help but react, I involuntarily felt chills hearing “America the Beautiful” in other languages. I genuinely did not know Budweiser was founded by a German immigrant, and that’s pretty neat or whatever. The Lumber 84 commercial was more of a short film than a campaign, but it was powerful.
But in all of these “statements” is the core of the matter- this is cheap manipulation with the only end game being profits. This is sentimentality, not true human experience put on display here. As James Baldwin once said of this, “Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty…the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mark of cruelty.” These brands saw the feeling of a moment, of a movement, and capitalized on it. This is the kind of capitalist bullshit that got us here in the first place! How do you think a business man with no experience became president? MARKETING.
What is actually of interest is the true policies and donations of these companies. I will always represent Coca Cola, even thought I know it is poison and I rarely drink it, because it has provided many jobs to Atlanta, but the truth is that it is a poisonous drink that has caused health issues throughout the world, exploits developing countries, and has had quite a history of discrimination.
Air BnB is a genius start up, with an albeit sketchy business model, but the only reason it made that commercial was because they had to go on the defensive after a lawsuit and studies were brought against them for discriminating practices in users.
Budweiser, of course, releases at least two or three different commercial campaigns in the Super Bowl every year. And most of the time they are NOT about immigrants. Most of the time it’s about looking like a white guy, clydesdales, or making fun of small business artisans in the craft beer industry. Post 9/11, when the US didn’t feel so much like resisting as they did uniting over a tragedy, Budweiser released a commercial honoring the victims. Yes, it was a tribute only shown once and it didn’t even show any beer, but attaching your brand to something like that only stands to benefit your brand. There were no sales donated to victims.
Audi’s actual gender wage disparity looks like this: a board of directors that are entirely white men.
It’s a nice feeling to think that someone as powerful as Coca Cola or Budweiser could be on the side of the resisters, the oppressed, the minority. In fact, it seems like it would be helpful, like maybe the President and his cronies would listen to corporations more than they would listen to the people? But even if these companies, and we, believe they are being helpful or moral, the truth is they benefit from a capitalist free market system that exploits poor people and the environment and lines the one percent’s pockets. And the resistance should resist that as well.