The Sagamore

Editorial: Corporations exploit social movements’ core messages

Rachel Vin, Opinions Editor

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“You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

And as the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. faded away, the advertisement cut to the Ram Trucks logo, a company whose parent CEO made over 11 million dollars after drastic pay cuts last year.

During the Super Bowl, Ram Trucks aired this commercial, in which they used Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon. The famous “Drum Major Instinct” sermon discusses civil rights and power of the common class.

The ad drew significant backlash, as many recognized the poor taste in using King’s word to sell cars.

The absurdity of this situation is all too common. Corporate activism, a term referring to large enterprises co-opting the voice of social change, has been on the rise, and with this comes the inherent flaws of large, wealthy businesses hijacking progressivism. While the Ram Super Bowl commercial was more vaguely targeted towards working class Americans, other companies have been known to champion specific campaigns. Target, for example, appropriated the LGBTQ pride campaign, using products donning the rainbow (a historical symbol of LGBTQ activism) to make sales.

There is an underlying motive in all corporate activism: to make money. It is an obvious fact that we oftentimes forget when we applaud big businesses for taking a stand. The truth, though, is that all of these businesses are simply using movements as a trendy way to advertise, thus easily prospering off the backs of those who fight for change. They do not partake in social protest. They only take it.

In a capitalist system, it is hard to believe that powerful conglomerates would genuinely commit to a cause that does not directly benefit the bottom line. Thus, corporate activism is made up entirely of companies marketing their carefully considered “values” to target specific audiences, ultimately taking money from those they are artificially supporting rather than helping their cause.

Not only is this strategy corrupt in its essence, but it often oversimplifies and demeans the causes being endorsed. Companies will foolishly insinuate that their completely irrelevant goods, such as cars, sodas, clothing etc. play key roles in ending major societal issues. Though corporate America seemingly views the public as sheeplike, most of us can figure out that Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi will not solve the epidemic of police brutality.

When multimillion dollar companies with massive amounts of power chose to get involved in activism, there are certain ways that they could go about it helpfully. If corporate businesses chose to donate to a campaign without appropriating its cause as a marketing tactic, they would enable activists to continue fighting without stealing their voice.

However, to say that large companies must change to resolve this issue would be naive. For-profit enterprises will always do what they can to make money, including semblances of corporate activism. Thus, it is up to the people to be aware. Be critical of everything you see in the media, and understand advertisements are always deeply calculated to sell you something. Furthermore, be conscious of the fact that it is never up to businesses or their products to bring people liberation. It is up to you.

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Editorial: Corporations exploit social movements’ core messages