How big companies ruin social justice

Feb. 21, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

Before I kiss goodbye my thus far cultivated neutrality as a Grind writer, I want to insert a couple disclaimers:

  1. I’m not against social justice campaigns.
  2. Disagreeing with me is obviously okay! Many probably will.
  3. There are a handful of companies that are doing things really well.

But the heart of the matter is that:

  1. Social reform belongs to the citizens above all else, and politics are safer further away from products.
  2. It’s my article, so I get to write about my opinion 🙂
  3. There are plenty of companies that are doing things really poorly.

As most of us probably already know, Gillette came out with a commercial targeting toxic masculinity fairly recently, launching an ad campaign based around the phrase “the best men can be,” as opposed to their longtime slogan, “the best a man can get.”

After watching said commercial for the first time, I was incredibly excited. The messages were so incredible! The cinematography was splendid! Someone was finally saying it.

But what I didn’t realize was that the someone saying it was not really in a place to do so. Ultimately, Gillette is a company trying to sell razors. I had forgotten the vital differentiation between a social campaign and an ad campaign. Sure, some of the employees at Gillette may really care about redefining masculinity, and yes, the commercial extended a great message, but a message polluted with corporate interest is simply not the same as activism.

Granted, this commercial did a lot of the same things social justice campaigns do. It caused controversy. People responded. People responded to the respondents. Gillette lost a few customers (but clearly not too many, since Procter & Gamble said its sales didn’t budge).

But this is more about principle than effect. The heart of social justice and activism is within the people as individuals. Companies, corporations, systems and institutions have almost always proven to be a stumbling block to their progress. The corporation wants to make the people smaller, not raise them in their strength. Gillette may never have even launched the campaign if it knew its sales would be detrimentally affected. The reality is that most companies who are “virtue selling” ultimately care more about their products than the people.

This is fine, and arguably how capitalist or mixed-market systems should work, but we cannot keep pretending that they belong at the forefront of the conversation. Companies cannot lead our conversations because though everyone has their biases, the sheer volume of advertisement tactics and monetary interest undermines authenticity in the fight for equality or redemption of the oppressed. Businesses are about money, selling to the people who can afford the product and shaping their advertisements to meet the political climate.

As the world geared up for the second world war, taxi companies and factories praised women for their ability to enter the workforce — they were encouraged to take part in the defense industry and told they could do anything they dreamed of. Companies owned by men needed women!

But when the war ended, they were fired, scolded for thinking they deserved better and bombarded with advertisements telling them how they were destroying the home by abandoning it. Their divine calling was to be housewives, and a good one would never take a man’s job away from him.

I mean, look at Pepsi. They shot for a five-star commercial that would unify racial groups, achieve harmony and get their product sold. Instead, they usurped and tarnished the Black Lives Matter Movement, misrepresented the truth of the conflict and ultimately had to pull their ad.

It isn’t fair to have social movements hijacked by big, bad businesses that appropriate them in order to succeed. Some may have good intentions, but my hunch is that plenty do not, and I’m quite satiated with advertisements trying to fix the world’s problems through household products.

At the very least, we should question our excitement over and contentment with businesses leaning toward social consciousness and domineering the liberal crusade.


Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’

Malia Mendez ’22 is the Vol. 260 Managing Editor of Arts & Life at The Stanford Daily. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, Prose track. Talk to her about Modernist poetry, ecofeminism or coming-of-age films at mmendez 'at'

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