Columns, Opinion

HAGERTY: Capitalism sees no Electoral College

We are living in an age of unprecedented civil engagement. From the Women’s March to the enormous turnout at town hall events, it’s apparent now more than ever that people care about getting involved in the political process. But skeptics, pessimists and realists all predict that this “resistance” movement will be a short-lived phase reaching expiration in the next few months.

Perhaps they’re right. Just look at the cabinet appointments. I opposed the confirmations of Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. Like many Americans, I called my representatives, yet DeVos and Sessions made it through. It was incredibly discouraging. When instant results are not yielded, a movement’s momentum has the potential to be lost. And critics are banking on the idea that people will become disillusioned with activism. However, I wouldn’t write off this resistance movement too quickly. Important people are listening and big things are changing, especially if you look at how major companies are choosing to sell their products.

The free market moves faster than our government. The market also responds to the demands of their constituents, the consumers, with efficiency. Most importantly, the free market goes by the popular vote and the company that can gain the most consumers is the most successful. Divisive rhetoric and branding techniques that alienate large groups of the population have no place in the free market because, frankly, that’s just bad business. The goal is to win the popular vote, to get the most customers.

So with all that in mind, let’s look at Coke’s Super Bowl commercial. Almost all of the commercials that came on during the Super Bowl contained some sort of politically charged message, but Coke is a brand that consistently markets itself as a quintessentially American product, thus making its political message incredibly significant. Coke’s commercial showed a diverse group of people singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages in geographically diverse regions of the country. This was no accident. Coke capitalized on an incredibly popular movement and made a statement to its customers about the philosophy of the company.

Beer is also something that is considered quintessentially American. Like Coke, Budweiser made a political statement in its commercial. It carefully crafted a compelling ad that told the story of a German immigrant who arrived in America, faced discrimination and succeeded despite the hardship. At the end, the words, “When nothing stops your dream, this is the beer we drink” appeared on screen.

The Super Bowl is the most important day for advertisements. Once a year, companies like Coke and Budweiser have a minute of the nation’s undivided attention, and they choose to make political statements. They made this branding decision because they were pandering to their voters, the consumers.

As consumers, we need to pay attention to this and put our money where our mouth is. Look at the power of the #grabyourwallet movement. Ivanka Trump’s brand was dropped by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Sears. This is particularly interesting because Ivanka has totally divested from her company and this boycott does not hurt her financially. Rather, this movement sent a message about the type of branding consumers are now demanding from their retailers. If companies want to remain relevant, they are forced to adjust.

I think it’s incredibly ironic that the free market — an aspect of the American culture that conservatives and Republicans love — is being used to protest a Republican government’s agenda. Furthermore, the most successful branding techniques have overtones of liberal social policy. Unless you’re trying to sell a duck-hunting whistle or a red hat, it would be very difficult to sell a product using overtones of conservative social policy to enhance the popularity of a brand. If Democrats want to become relevant again, they need to both capitalize on the popularity of their social policies while simultaneously making their message more inclusive to the rural communities that turned red this cycle.

Conscious consumerism breeds corporate responsibility. Companies are listening and pandering to the majority even when our government isn’t. This is why the resistance movement will remain strong. The government will move slowly, so once we hang up the phone after calling our representatives, we must pick up our wallets and wield our power as consumers. We can vote without casting a ballot when we intentionally support companies and brands that visibly align with our values. We, Republicans and Democrats who oppose the heinous rhetoric of President Donald Trump, are powerful when we use all the tools in our wheelhouse. Perhaps critics would be correct if this resistance movement was isolated to either protests or boycotts. However, the spirit of resistance to the Trump administration has permeated American culture and consumerism in a way that is impossible to ignore. I doubt it will lose momentum — it’s just too “yuge.”

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