Opinion: Companies only use social justice movements for their own profit

Large corporations frequently use social movements as a capitalistic opportunity, thereby misleading thousands of consumers

Living in a country that is fueled by large corporations, we, as American citizens, are subjected to many odd forms of advertisement. We are continuously fed pieces of media that fit new trends in order to keep us buying a company's product.

But what happens when these companies and corporations start to use the fast growing traction behind social justice movements for the benefits of their own agenda?

Cities across the United States are showcasing "Black Lives Matter" on asphalt instead of responding to the demands of their citizens regarding police brutality.

Companies are placing rainbow colors in their logo while donating millions to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians. The words "I can't breathe" are being plastered on select merchandise and sold by a company that is facing a lawsuit for the alleged maltreatment of its Black employees.

These instances are all prime examples of the growing problem within society that is corporate America using social justice movements in order to gain capital off of real-world issues. This performative activism is misleading to thousands of consumers who are unaware of what these companies truly prioritize.

These movements were created by individuals who sincerely care, and their objective is to oppose those in power who use tragedy for profit. Crucial social issues, such as police brutality, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, sexism, racism and sexual violence, become utilized in marketing campaigns that diminish the integral purpose they represent.

"It's just a cash grab and nothing more than that," said Sofía Fencken, a freshman Latin American studies and arts and sciences major. "(The company) doesn't really gain anything from any type of revolution or social change and only really gains stuff from political partnerships."

Marketing campaigns are typically run by a team of individuals who frame, prime and target their advertisements to specified audiences and demographics. Therefore, when these companies see a social movement gaining momentum in society, they utilize its prevalence to entice consumers to support their business.

"I think that's a big part of the reason why people might fall victim to the nonprofit industrial complex. Through this notion of wanting change to come in so looking to people to evoke change," said Jayvan Bailey, a junior studying theater.  

The performative use of social issues to evoke a sense of change is a manipulative process, whereby consumers succumb to a false representation of what they believe in. Although some companies are genuine in their activism and support, others commit themselves to capital rather than the cause. 

"It's like impossible for anybody that's making a profit to effectively contribute to any type of justice," Fencken said. "Representation matters but when it comes to actually like doing the work, they don't have any interest in that."

What companies fall short of understanding is that no one should be able to use these movements, ideologies and social issues when it's convenient for them. We as consumers shouldn't rely on these businesses to enact change when that is not their prerogative. 

"I don't know why people want corporations to be heroes," Bailey said. "They want corporations and businesses to save us because it is easier and less scary than actually going out protesting for yourself. I do think, ultimately, that it's much more dangerous to subject us to the same systems of oppression that we've always been subjected to ... And that happens through every avenue of media employment like revolutionary rhetoric."

The issue arises when advertisements are spun in the favor of powerful companies who do not take true interest in the audience they cater to. However, the moment we break free from being a cog in the rotating capitalist gear, a spark of defiance will arise against corrupt systems that promote a falsifying sense of unity. 

"I do think the companies are, to some extent, a symptom of a kind of mindset that the general American population has, which is that we recognize how much control and power these companies have," Bailey said. "We're so shackled to these systems and these relationships that it is very hard to imagine not being under them. But, I still think we have to point these things out."

Companies market products as though they're on the side of the public, yet turn a powerful movement into a brief, watered down message. As active consumers, we need to be more diligent in what we're consuming and educate ourselves on the real issues rather than regurgitated content.


Reach the columnist at amvald11@asu.edu and follow @anxieteandbread on Twitter. 

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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