Never let it be said The Common Reader cannot glimpse the future.
In June 2020 I wrote a satire that pretended a corporate dairy was “marketing and selling…milks, flavored milks, creams, sour creams, ice cream, ice-cream bars and sandwiches, and cheeses” in different ways for those with differing political beliefs, “as a way of getting consumers more ‘committed’ to dairy products….”
This week I got an email with the title “Stop buying from people who hate you,” from a newsletter and podcast company called Align.
The pitch said, “We live in strange times. Most American businesses these days spend more time alienating half the country with extreme left-wing political beliefs than trying to win new customers. But how do you uncover which brand, companies, and products reflect your values? […] Our team is dedicated to sourcing products and services delivered by people who respect you—and deserve your business. The ALIGN newsletter helps spread the word about all the wonderful American brands you should get to know.”
They had created an online “business guide and directory” “where you can browse carefully vetted companies organized by category: Home Goods, Apparel, Technology, Foods, and much more.”
Clicking through to pages for individual businesses (selling everything from chocolates to “crazy socks”) gets consumers to stories presumably written by the business’ owners. These serve as origin tales or statements of first principles, some more “patriotic” or theological in nature. Than others.
While it might seem risky to market to less than half the country, business itself has become another cultural battleground, and not in ways we might expect. Representative Chris Jacobs (R-NY) and 16 other Republican colleagues recently joined Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ fight against the Walt Disney Company by saying it was “purposefully influencing small children with its political and sexual agenda.” The fight started when “the company protested [Florida’s] Parental Rights in Education Act, which opponents said is hostile to gay students. It prohibits classroom discussion of sexuality before grade 4 and allows parents to sue and recover costs for violations.”
Republicans, of course, were known as the party of business, and Chris Jacobs owns Disney stock, Business Insider says. But marketing companies have been honing in on “lifestyle” choices even more than consumer demographics for years. And what is more consumer-driven and branded than Donald Trump campaign gear, such as bumper stickers, T-shirts, and flags?
There are genuine reasons for concern in the economy—American jobs and living wages, supply line problems, tensions with China—but inflated perceptions of corporate political affiliation is not one of them.
American consumers have not always shopped in their own best interests. The overlap of the circles of those who love cheap goods at Walmart and those who complain that Walmart killed their downtowns is probably considerable. Why wouldn’t some people shop for more expensive, off-brand items at a site with the dog-whistle tagline, “A more human way of life”?