Corporate Responsibility

The main lounge at the National Press Club in Washington reverberated with a refreshing set of anti-commercial values a few days ago. For there, the new Center for the Study of Commercialism was giving out its first annual Zeroes and Heroes awards of marketing.

In the Centers view “commercialism promotes. a culture characterized by greed, materialism, hedonism, and selfishness. It creates an insatiable appetite for more and fosters feelings of envy, anxiety and insecurity.”

Commercialism also makes people angry and the more they see it and think about it, the-angrier they become. Think about the zeros awards that the Center handed out: (1) to the automatic-dialing machine industry for intrusive telemarketing. These machines invade the privacy of your home selling all sorts of gimmicks. They often don’t disconnect when you close up on them during your dinnertime. And they can interfere with emergencies and cost you money when you’re checking on your home calls from a long distance phone.

(2) a zero award to Cineplex Odeon for showing ads before movies in front of captive audiences on 1,150 U.S. theater screens.

(3) a zero award to Nike for planned obsolescence and manipulative teenage marketing. The constant push to own the latest style of high-priced Nikes has created intense and sometimes violent jealousy among teens who can barely afford their sky-high prices. Ms. Helena Jones, Principal of Roper Junior High School in Washington, D.C. instituted a voluntary uniform policy when she saw how obsessed her students were with sneaker fashion. ‘The shoe companies definitely gear this keeping-in-style thing to black kids; she said.

(4) a zero award to Mr. Christopher Whittle for pressing schools to accept two minutes of advertisements in the classroom each day in return for a few minutes of news — another captive audience — this time of children.

(5) a zero award to Tri-Star Studios for placing brand-name products 55 times in the movie ‘Total Recall.”

The Vance Packard Hero awards, named after the famous author of many best-selling books showing the seamier side of marketing (including the Hidden Persuader) were given to: (1) Rev. Calvin Butts a Baptist Minister in Harlem, who whitewashed billboards advertising booze and tobacco aimed at inner-city youths already plagued by drug dealers. Numerous billboard companies then agreed to remove alcohol and cigarette ads from billboards near schools and churches.

(2) Scenic America, a non-profit group dedicated to reducing the visual pollution of America’s landscape that comes from billboards.

(3) Dan White, a Volvo enthusiast, who took pictures of the way Volvo’s ad agency reinforced Volvos and weakened other cars prior to filming a commercial “proving” that Volvos were the strongest cars.

(4) Dianne Grenier who persuaded a-third of her home town of Andover, Connecticut to give up all of TV for one week and participate in a special series of community events, exhibits, shows, and competitions.

(5) former Cong. Augustus Hawkins who sponsored a federal law helping-elementary and high schools to adopt community service learning into their curricula.

Values that counter commercialism need a champion to repeatedly highlight and recognize them. Small children should not think of George Washington as a television salesman for cars or carpets. For more information, write the Center for the Study of Commercialism, Suite 300, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington; DC 20009.

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