Ideology as Market Segment

There are no Chick-fil-A outlets in Canada, so I have been watching the fall-out from the Company President’s recent explosion of mind-numbing theoconservative assholery from a safe distance. It’s quite the interesting spectacle.

I say ‘interesting’ rather than ‘amusing’ because the issue has laid bear what to my mind is an emerging, possibly worrying, trend in American society: namely, political ideology is increasingly becoming just another “market segment.” This trend was called-out a while ago by David Frum* with regards to the media:

Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world.

Now in the wake of the recent comments, we have seen a very curious thing. While American liberals are predictably withdrawing their patronage from the chain, American conservatives are increasingly rallying around it. Now, if I were a soulless, amoral person (in particular, a marketing executive), it might occur to me that the company could actually turn this situation to its advantage, by playing up its opposition to marriage equality and doing everything that it can to make itself into the fundamentalists’ go-to choice for poultry products. Sure they would lose their liberal customers, but surely there’s something to be said for having a lock on a particular (depressingly large) chunk of the market.

But this isn’t limited merely to Chick-fil-A. The CEO of Amazon has recently come-out in support of gay marriage, corporations in general have started taking sides on various social issues, and practically everything under the sun is now being read as ‘politically divisive’: to me, it seems like it’s just a mtter of time until “niche marketing” based on political ideology becomes common, even for major corporations. We’ve already seen the emergence of two parallel and antagonistic American cultures; could we see the same when it comes to markets?

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*I don’t particularly like Mr. Frum mind you (from an ideological standpoint, though I’m sure he has a great personality), but I prefer it when my opposites are sane rather than insane.

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About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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3 Responses to Ideology as Market Segment

  1. Lindsay says:

    That’s a good observation David Frum makes. I’d noticed … something like that, in that companies’ branding has acquired a political dimension, but what I focused on when I noticed that was how it seemed to put the responsibility for corporate practices on consumers’ shoulders; instead of asking the government to regulate corporations and make sure that no one, say, dumps poisonous crap into any major waterways, or fails to pay their workers a living wage, we’re supposed to “do our homework” and only buy those products bearing various certifications — environmentally friendly, fair trade, organic, free range, whatever. What was once political activism is now just another sector of the consumer economy. This is obnoxious and perverse not just because it holds individual people individually responsible for something much, much bigger than they are, while deliberately shielding corporations, which have more power to change things, and which are directly responsible for whatever environmental and social devastation they wreak (as opposed to consumers, who are only indirectly responsible, and, to a large extent, only “responsible” to the extent that they participate in it, but they’re enmeshed in an economic and social system that renders their participation more or less compulsory), from this responsibility, but also because it constricts the range of possible reforms. Instead of being able to impose whatever people, through their elected representatives, think is a reasonable restriction on corporations, we just have to choose among which corporations have *chosen* to self-impose certain restrictions or compensatory measures. I think it’s axiomatic that, when they have the power to decide what rules they will follow, as opposed to having the rules dictated to them, those rules will be much looser.

    The locus of control is not where it should be, if our assumed goal is environmentally friendly, socially just economic activity. (It is exactly where it should be if our assumed goal is fatter corporate profits, though …)

    • Indeed; and what’s more (given phenomena such as “green washing” and such), it’s rather difficult to confirm whether or not corporations actually abide by the lofty goals they set for themselves. And if there are a class of customer who are willing to support corporations precisely for being socially irresponsible (God, teabaggers are stupid), then it’s completely pointless.

  2. Pingback: Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion « Clarissa's Blog

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