In our heavily politicised world, corporate political agendas have become the new incarnation of hip. What used to be a five-star environmental sustainability rating has become a nod towards marriage equality and a truckload of solidarity wristbands. Companies band about their progressive credentials as if they’re the love child of Bob Brown and Tanya Plibersek – desperate for the seemingly endless troves of millenials’ disposable incomes.
There’s no question that collectives have every right to a political opinion. They are large diverse workplaces with complex and opinionated workforces. And, quite often, the issues they try to hijack are resoundingly popular – critically, among their younger target demographics.
So why don’t they work?
As hard as they try, as much money as they throw at the problem, a corporation will never be an authority on a nuanced racial issue, or energy reform. Although the advertising industry has done its best to transform credentials into little more than a few large donations, corporations will always be seen with a healthy dose of skepticism by consumers. Their ads lack sincerity, and desperately lack authenticity.
Considering the recent history of advertising up to the Kendall Jenner implosion, this is a lesson that still needs to be learnt. The situation definitely isn’t unique to just Pepsi: corporate paper pushers have been attempting to hijack what’s cool since the days of Walter Cronkite.
We don’t need to look further than the NSW government to see this in action. Their much-maligned Stoner Sloth campaign from last year, apart from dropping a $350,000 bill onto taxpayers, typified this descent into plastic and desperate moralism. Packaging their incredibly uncool anti-drug message into a trendy, young set with young actors, the ad was a disaster. Praise was non-existent and NSW was briefly put on the map simply for being the birthplace of something that utterly ridiculous. It resembled a hark back to physical puritanism: praise for the well-adjusted, well-groomed child while casting those with learning disabilities, sleep issues or anxiety into the one-size-fits-all basket of ‘drug-addled loser’. As much as they tried to hide their agenda in shiny production, the government and the agency clearly had no experience with what’s it’s like to smoke a joint. And the public saw through that.
More recently, market disruptors Uber and Airbnb have spearheaded a corporate campaign to extend the definition of marriage in Australia. Their ‘Until we all Belong’ campaign calls for the immediate legalisation of gay marriage. The message is resoundingly popular among Australians, with 62% of Australians and 75% of Labor voters supporting the proposition. Despite this widespread support, the campaign has been lambasted for encouraging customers to order one of 250,000 specially-made rings imprinted with ‘until we all belong’. It is this trashy consumerism that has sunk the campaign. Although a smart and supportable social cause, what authority can a movement whose primary currency is plastic wristwear straight out of Bangladesh really claim to have?
In these days of glaring skepticism, it’s no longer good enough for a corporation to ally themselves with the most popular social cause and blindly hope for the best. If advertisers want political capital, their messages need to evolve into something more than a worship ritual for the most popular kid in the playground.
By Dylan Sahlin