November 23, 2013

Have a #Coke and an #Upworthly-esque #positivity smile

An Upworthy-type website, breathlessly passing on Coke's annoucement of suspending "committed advertising" and redirecting that money to help Philippine victims of Typhoon Haiyan, might make you think so. But, let's look further?

First, the money it's already donated? A company as big as Coke budgets that every year as part of its nonprofit support expenses. Whether, at the end of its current fiscal year, Coke does anything more, I don't know.

Second, $2.5 million is nice, yes, but a drop in the bucket out of $48 billion in annual revenue and $9 billion in annual profit, per Wikipedia.

Third, if Coke wants to be a real corporate citizen, it can stop supporting paramilitaries in Columbia, stop supporting the harassment of union organizers by local bottlers, primarily in Columbia but also in Guatemala, then hiding behind the legal shield of "but, it wasn't us, just local contractors," stop exploiting groundwater exploitation in developing nations, and more. Wikipedia has a roundup link about its bad press in the past.

Is Coke as exploitative as, say Nike? Probably not. But, it's nowhere near a corporate saint.

And, back to the money. Coke doesn't need "scheduled advertising." Contra JPMorgan Chase with its recent Twitter Tweet-in stupidity, Coke knows its getting beaucoup free advertising from Upworthy, or rather Barfworthy, type websites who "blog" stuff like this uncritically, and then from people who pass on links like that on Twitter or other social media. From the business side, it's genius.

From the public side, it's bullshit.

Coke could have followed the "pray in your closet" admonition of Jesus, and done this in private, saying nothing until asked about why its ads were not on the air. Or, it could have done a bonus donation to the Philippines and kept quiet about it, while keeping its ads on the air.

Back again to Coke's statement:
"Any committed advertising space will be redirected to the relief and rebuilding efforts for the people in Visayas," Coca-Cola's statement on Tuesday read.
What constitutes relief and rebuilding? How long with this last? Is Coke working with recognized Philippine nonprofits and multinational NGOs that respect local issues, or will it be working with Westernized ones that cater to multinational corporate interests?

As with most big corporate PR, there's plenty of lines to read between. Unfortunately, "positivity" type websites let themselves be played in the likes of Coke's hands just like cheap violins. That said, Upworthy itself isn't all positivity, all the time. It occasionally bends a small bit, especially when it's to support a socially liberal neoliberalism of mainstream Democratic neoliberalism. Other places, like its longform cousin, Brain Pickings? Smile, smile, smile.

For people who call this "cynicism"? I call it reality, as run through the blender of skepticism and critical thinking. And, say that you might be the type of person gullible to the online-driven phenomenon of "branding."

And, with the continued hollowing out of the US economy, plus, Google's promise to individuals (which will be taken up much more by corporations) of being able to create social media "bots," this will only get worse.

Finally, any website that deliberately misspells a standard English word as part of its URL draws a baleful eye from me anyway.

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