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Paper Towel Pander

Corporations make products for consumption. Not everything has to be a lifestyle brand.

FreeBeacon’s Sonny Bunch tweeted over the weekend a picture of a product at a store. A national brand of paper towels has a new advertising campaign for Women’s History Month (the store is a month late).

Now, the following is not specifically about this Brawny campaign. It’s small potatoes compared to the machinations of other corporations, ones that cannot be boycotted because their corporate tentacles reach everywhere.

I am eternally fascinated by the marketing choices of companies whose sole interest ought to be selling their product. I am also eternally frustrated with large companies that make political or cultural overtures.

If a company starts up with the purpose of donating every ten cents of profit to Planned Parenthood or Wounded Warrior, that’s fine. People can choose to support that business on their own. But the situation becomes more complicated when larger corporations enter into this arena of political posturing.

One must ask what motives exist to justify entering that arena. If we come back to this Brawny example, we can examine several possible ideas.

1: Brawny determined that existing marketing was not profitable or was alienating a portion of potential consumers. Perhaps the regular lumberjack dude irritated the psychotic feminists and they pressured the company to alter its design.

2: Brawny made the decision on a corporate whim.

3: Brawny determined that appealing to women would result in greater profits.

Those three options can be boiled down to outside political pressure, internal whims, and greed.

I will now address them in reverse order.

The most intriguing motivation corporations have is this desire to ensure the most profitability for their products. This makes the perceived pander deliciously ironic. Individuals who might be inclined to pressure the company in a situation like the first category will celebrate the pandering as an exercise in corporate responsibility. Meanwhile, those making the decisions are really greedy capitalists who will spout whatever nonsense is needed to sell a product in the current political climate. If a corporation were to discover that left-handed Mongolian Lutherans have a certain purchasing power greater than that of the average American, I am sure that a corporation could find a way to market a product to them. The corporation will weigh the risk of that potential gain in contrast to the potential loss in NOT catering to the rest of society.

Equally outrageous is the idea that corporations sit around plotting ways to create political discord with their products and their advertising. This idea is captured perfectly in the “Sir, this is an Arby’s” meme.  An individual rants and raves about a topic, usually an obscure policy matter, only for us to find out that the person is ranting to an Arby’s employee.  Brawny decided to dabble in woke feminism.  Sir, you sell paper towels.  The product in question has absolutely nothing to do with the topic being promoted.  It is silly to think that consumers will not buy a product unless a corporation creates an advertising campaign on Chevron Deference or Nuclear Proliferation. Corporations are not out anything if they just remain silent on a plethora of issues. It is this simple idea that makes this last point all the more convincing.

I suspect that the more likely option is the existence of outside pressure to make political points. Conservatives suck at boycotting companies and products.  If a product is good, people don’t care enough to stop buying it.  Conservatives are also faced with much harder decisions in boycotts.  There are so many companies and products that could be boycotted yet that would take a lot of work.  Meanwhile, some leftists are far more committed to boycotting the few products or corporations that have not bowed to their incessant pressure.  It is easy for liberals to boycott.  We also know that liberals tend to be more organized in these matters.  The existence of outside pressure eases corporations into decisions that were risky if predicated on corporate whim. This is what I mean: A corporation may be inclined to take a stance on a political issue.  It may be too risky for them to do so.  When groups pressure them, it takes the burden off the corporation and they can simply affirm what they wanted to in the first place.  All they have to do is not object to something they wanted to do anyway.  Corporation A wants to make Political Point X.  Political Point X is too risky without a good reason.  Outside Group B tells Corporation A to make Point X. Corporation A says “well, if you insist.” Way to twist my arm there…

Paper towels are apolitical.  I don’t understand why a subsidiary of Koch Industries is in the business of making socio-political points in corporate advertising.  Each possible explanation for pandering reveals something quite sad. Corporations think women are too stupid to buy products unless the patriarchal corporation reminds them of their female identity.  Where would women be if it weren’t for paper towels telling them that they can be strong while cleaning the kitchen? Where would women be if it weren’t for Walgreens reminding them how to spell “female?”

Too make matters worse, corporations actually think that their political views are wanted. How will I know what paper towels to buy unless Bounty and Brawny issue policy papers on the international implications of Russian Arctic off-shore drilling?

Give me a break.


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