Corporate Cynicism

Oct. 13, 2019, 12:04 a.m.

The larger a corporation, the harder it is for me to believe their actions of selflessness are genuine.

It’s not hard to imagine a mom-and-pop shop helping out locals on prices, providing good customer support because they genuinely care, and sponsoring the local soccer team to support children. And yet, suddenly, when a huge corporation does anything public, it’s taken purely as profit-driven. They cut prices to increase sales, they give customer support in so far as they have to, and if they’re sponsoring anything, it’s only for cheap advertising.

It seems as if the larger a corporation is, the closer they operate in pure cynicism.

The end effect is entirely the same in each situation. Nonetheless, I find it hard to not feel a slightly sour taste whenever some mega-corp announces anything that doesn’t directly line up with their bottom line. It’s not that the actions aren’t good per se, it’s that I have trouble believing they come from a place of selflessness. Any act of helping others is made genuine not by its outcome, but by what motivated it to happen at all.

In 2017, Amazon announced that their new Seattle office building would contain a women's homeless shelter, Mary’s Place, directly in the building. This is fantastic, as the homeless is 1) not displaced as it would have been, 2) will be larger and more accommodating, and 3) helps geographically co-locate the homeless population with some of Seattle’s wealthiest. Is this pure generosity on Amazon’s part? Or did they do it as a publicity stunt to gain favor of the mayor, the city’s population, and the press?

I’m sure the idea, at first, was genuine. But I’m also sure that such an idea, to be implemented, had to be discussed by countless others, at various levels of management. There’s no doubt that someone at some point asked what the cost implications where. The pros and cons were likely evaluated against each other. And in the end, Amazon decided to proceed, for the good of both the homeless people they would help, and the brand Amazon is building for itself.

This is why when I hear hardcore fans say that they “love” some large mega-corp brand because they’re so progressive/supportive/caring, I can’t help but think that the person is being fooled.

Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe the end result should be enough; I’d certainly rather support a company that machiavellianly donated to charity than one that didn’t. It’s a wonder of capitalism that corporations are being selectively pressured into donating to charity at all. What does it truly matter the morality of where the act came from, so long as the execution itself is moral? The only reason I could give you would be this exact scenario of attempting to classify the act at all, which hardly matters in the cycle of capitalism.

But I can’t shake the feeling that these hardcore fans are being duped. It’s their ignorance that feels wrong, the asymmetry of information between the brand and the consumer. It’s almost as if their hardcore fans, their most loyal customers, are being exploited for all they will blindly give.