13 Apr 2023 Scott Shepard: The Results Are Coming In For ‘Woke’ Corporate Policies, and They’re Messy
As the 1979 General Election neared, the Conservatives hired the advertising firm of Saatchi & Saatchi to make artwork (for the ‘70s British equivalent of billboards) for the campaign. What they came up with was a drawing of a long line of the defeated jobless snaking out of an unemployment office, with the tagline “Labour Isn’t Working.”
It sure wasn’t. The election followed a no-confidence vote against Jim Callaghan’s Labour government at the end of the long, miserable Winter of Discontent, the culmination of many years of intense unemployment, inflation, trade-union strikes that seized up the economy, and related ills. The ad campaign struck home, helping Mrs. Thatcher to the impressive victory that inaugurated 18 years of Tory government and her successful – despite massive opposition and bitterness so deep that it still poisons leftwing Brits – salvation of the British economy.
Last week served as a similar billboard to any corporate executives still sufficiently cognizant of their fiduciary duties to care: Woke isn’t working. It’s demonstrably costing companies ever more money in increasingly obvious ways.
The evidence has been washing in – on a tide of Bud Light “beer,” as a starter. The Babylon Bee, as so often, put the situation best: “Beverage Pretending To Be Beer Features Man Pretending To Be Woman.” The company slapped the inexplicably ubiquitous Dylan Mulvaney’s face on its Bud Light cans, with the marketing VP responsible for the move affirming that she had acted to end the brand’s “fratty” and “out of touch” branding.
The result may not be to her liking. It appears that she has rendered the brand very out-of-touch indeed, in the sense that none of its regular drinkers much care to touch it anymore. Reports are coming in that Bud Light drinkers are abandoning the brand, while parent Anheuser-Busch’s (AB) stock price fell $4 billion in the wake of Bud Light’s enwokening.
It’s too early to tell, of course, whether these effects will last. AB is owned by international drinks conglomerate InBev, so the performance of a single largely American brand isn’t likely to make much difference to its global value, even if no one buys it at all anymore. But that seems like a plausible result. The venn diagram of people interested in drinking Bud Light and those eager to support the issue at the sharp edge of the wokist culture war is pretty much just two circles vaguely near one another. While InBev investors won’t suffer too much, distributors of AB products and others who do business with the company surely will – and the vice president who so thoroughly misunderstood her duty surely should.
The bottom-line effects of wokeness are clearer at other American companies that have abandoned fiduciary duty for politics. At its recent annual shareholder meeting Starbucks faced a shareholder proposal (submitted by the Free Enterprise Project, which I direct) that pushed it to review the ways in which its leftwing policy stances are hurting its business. It opposed the proposal by reaffirming its dedication to its Third Place policy, the policy that has led to it opening its bathrooms to vagrants and drug users, making it America’s Public Lavatories and putting its baristas and genuine customers at risk. But this reaffirmation was a lie. Starbucks has found itself obliged to close previously profitable stores in city after leftwing city that has adopted all of the policies that Starbucks uses shareholder assets to support, such as defunding the police while dumping criminals into the streets. Last week it was reported that a sister strategy is accelerating: taking out the seating in stores in these Starbucks-endorsed cities, again in direct response to Starbucks’ own favored policies.
Starbucks’ Third Place policy is dead in the only places that it really made any sense: in big cities where peoples’ homes are small and claustrophobic. Starbucks’ policies, both its internal policies and the social and political policies that it supports, have killed it. The company’s pretending otherwise at an annual shareholder meeting sure seems like material disinformation.
This trend is kneecapping other woke companies, and making its similar representations equally false. Walmart, which only recently insisted to shareholders that it had no layoffs in the offing is instead sending out whole boxes of pinkslips as it, too, shutters large-city stores that it spent millions – and moved its politics far to the left – to open in the first place and “hundreds of millions” to try to keep alive. That’s a good business plan, eh: spending millions to open stores in places where the local politicians treated your company with contempt, and on the way gaining their grudging permission by endorsing all of their absurd leftwing policy positions – which positions when enacted made it impossible to keep your stores open in those increasingly ungovernable cities.
Are you finally seeing, in Bentonville, Arkansas, that you sold your principles for a mess of … well, for a mess in the bathroom, and a pottage of closed stores?
Maybe the light is flickering on again in Arkansas, but there’s never been so much as a light-socket of policy sense at Amazon, which is also reaping the whirlwind of its policy advocacy as it closes Whole Foods locations in woke cities and regrets limp customer interest in its dreary woke programming. At Amazon, though, woke trumps success. Faced with results from a ratings system that indicated that customers were not interested in preachy, dreary, wooden woke entertainment, Amazon stepped up and cancelled … the ratings system. More damned unwoke facts, which is the left’s definition of “misinformation.”
This – cancelling the ratings system that told it truths that clashed with executives’ personal policy preferences – is a breach of fiduciary duty so clear and grave that it all by itself should support a suit against Amazon by shareholders.
This wasn’t always the case – or, at least, it wasn’t always clear. When, about four years ago, Gillette dropped its long advertising reliance on buff young men in towels to declare that “the best a man can get” is to be a woman taking testosterone and insisting on male pronouns – well, there was a lot of irritation and mockery, and a few of us stopped buying Gillette razors, but it wasn’t at all clear, from the company’s stock price or otherwise, that “get woke, go broke” was yet an honest representation of the world.
In recent months, though, it’s become clearer that wokeness hurts, first in media-related industries. Disney’s problems have been well-reported and have much to do with the fact that its brand stands no longer for reliable, safe, and high-quality entertainment, but instead for unwatchable woke dreck. It has ruined Star Wars (worse, somehow, than later-years Lucas was managing on his own), Indiana Jones, the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” and so much more. Now it’s fired the wokester in charge of the Marvel movies, is rumored to be staging a “viking funeral” for the murderess of Star Wars, Kathleen Kennedy (who is discovering that her funeral, like most others, may be celebratory but is not voluntary), is laying off large swathes of employees, and more. It might be doing all of this because of an intervention from a fed-up large investor – who can, of course, intervene again if Disney fails sufficiently to abandon woke in order to return to profit and share-price increases. Other media and social media companies have seen similar stock-price drops and can expect similar responses.
And now the contagion – and evidence of the contagion – is springing up in “physical” companies, as we used to say, as well – and in very physical ways. Companies lie about this increasingly obvious fact at their increasingly significant peril.