Post No.: 0617
PR and advertising is often just about brands ‘virtue signalling’ with ‘woke capitalism’ and trying to jump onto a current bandwagon without authenticity. They’re trying to commercialise and capitalise on popular movements or trends. For large companies in particular, charity is frequently a calculated marketing and tax-deductible expense – something they can (over)emphasise on their adverts – or about the reputational cost of not donating something or waiving a fee. With their vast resources, they could do far more for a cause they ostensibly support, but they only do enough to be seen to be doing something.
Regular citizens can themselves think that if they just judge someone and ‘retweet’ a message then they’ve done their bit for the world! We might ‘like’ a message about a call-to-action, or even wear the t-shirt, but not consistently sustain the actual change prescribed in private.
So it’s largely about the virtue signal first and foremost. And we wonder why nothing changes(!) Some politicians and celebrities think that posting a selfie of themselves with Greta Thunberg means they’ve done their bit for the environment – even she would rather these people enact meaningful changes in terms of action rather than pose for photographs or merely give lip-service pledges regarding environmental concerns. During an unfolding crisis, it’d also usually be better to help people out instead of hovering around holding a camera phone!
‘Public relations’ is itself a PR spin on the term otherwise known as propaganda – that’s what the father of public relations Edward Bernays himself insinuated!
There’s ‘cancel culture’ and online shaming. Take everything on a case-by-case basis but ‘cancel culture’ can be just another expression of confirmation bias i.e. ‘I don’t agree with what you said so I’ll blank you out’. It can be about silencing any opposition because we don’t want to listen to them. It can be regarded as a hypocritically intolerant reaction to intolerance. (Extreme liberals can express their own kinds of intolerances too.) The intentions of words aren’t judged as important as their perceived effects on sensitive people. Sometimes it’s a disproportionate over-reaction – stifling the free exchange of controversial ideas and views. And sometimes it’s a disproportionate under-reaction – a company might boycott another that has been caught in a scandal… for just a month until the scandal hopefully becomes yesterday’s news. That’s mere tokenism.
Groups that were once against something can suddenly support that thing because they don’t want to be perceived as the villains, like those who were against the NHS (National Health Service) suddenly voicing their support for the institution during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s about their social image and reputation. It’s about what’s visible. They want others to notice that they’re being (or appearing) virtuous. But once others aren’t watching them carefully, or once the bandwagon has rolled out of town – do they still care? We should therefore judge individuals and organisations on how they behave and on what they say the rest of the time, not just during well-publicised one-off, big events/gestures like those linked to ‘Me Too’, ‘clapping for the NHS’ or ‘Black Lives Matter’. Some people have ended up being called out for their own hypocrisies for trying to tag along such solidarities before. Showing solidarity is usually tremendously positive – but the problems are the tokenism or hypocrisies that undermine such movements. Perhaps they’re better than nothing, but we’ve got to wonder why so many one-off events haven’t produced many long-term changes at all, and we’re still talking about some of the exact same injustices as decades ago?
Like most New Year’s resolutions, people proclaim their attitudes and behaviours will permanently change once the hardships or crises are over, but people tend to eventually go back to old ways. Well COVID-19 wasn’t the first, or so far most deadly, pandemic ever. (The virus involved is even called SARS-CoV-2!) The environment has continued to suffer, some countries still don’t want to publicly pay for universal healthcare, and immigrant key workers continue to be abused, for instance, too. On a personal level, most people engaged in more exercise during the first lockdown in Britain, but activity levels dropped precipitously by the third lockdown, despite the latter starting just after the New Year.
Many people currently want to express ‘hey everyone, I’m not homophobic or transphobic’ whenever they meet a homosexual or transgender person, which is fine. But there’s no hollering in support for, for instance, any consensual relationships where the partners are old enough but 20+ years in age apart in an equally inclusive ‘good on you for doing whatever you like as long as it’s your choice and you’re happy with it’ way. We might though if/when there’s a bandwagon in the future to jump onto for us to declare ‘hey everyone, I’m not ageist’! The same with not prejudicing relationships where the woman earns far more than the man, polyamory or any other relationship where no one is under age, both or all members are consenting, and it mightn’t even have ever been illegal. In the meantime, we will question such relationships as weird or disgustingly wrong, just like people once questioned homosexual relationships, interracial relationships or transgender people as so one time. (Even some cisgender homosexuals are intolerant of transgender homosexuals (homonormativity), and mask prejudice as preference with phrases like ‘no fats, femmes, or Asians’.) So culture shifts, one bandwagon at a time. Meow.
Liberals who purport to be all for diversity and the inclusion of transgender, cross-dressing and homosexual people right now can still be negatively judgemental and intolerant against people with, for instance, big noses or crooked teeth, or who exercise their free choice to wear socks with sandals or that top with those jeans, as soon as they see them, despite such people doing no harm to anyone else whatsoever. They’d be in uproar if others felt creeped-out with transgender, cross-dressing and homosexual people, yet some of them themselves prejudge other marginalised groups as disgusting because there’s no bandwagon to support them yet. Alternatively, they might overly fetishise those who don’t conform in their appearance when really it isn’t right to positively discriminate certain segments of society for the way they look either because we should be body neutral i.e. we should judge people by their personalities and deeds rather than by shallow or other irrelevant factors.
The ‘bandwagon effect’ is the tendency to do or believe things just because many other people (especially within one’s ingroup) do or believe the same things too. It’s groupthink or herd behaviour.
Overall, companies, and people in general, would rather appear to do good than actually do good if they can get away with it, because it’s cheaper and less effortful. Companies and governments might set an ambitious and distant target to appease the public for the time being, then fail to meet it but hope that everyone would’ve forgotten about it by then. Or it’s about passing the buck, from companies to customers, customers to governments, and governments to companies, or the other way around, until nothing ultimately gets done. When something is everyone’s problem, it seldom means ‘I will do it’ but rather ‘you should do it’ because responsibility tends to become shifted when people behave individualistically.
…But since a favourable image is so crucial for a business – if you want a company to listen to you but they’re constantly ignoring your complaints then give them some bad PR, such as by publicly voicing your complaint via social media. Be factual but make a noise, a fuss – whatever might ultimately hurt or is hurting their bottom line (profits, or perhaps shareholder value) will grab their attention greater than anything else, especially if they’re large corporations.
About making complaints in general – if you don’t correct, you accept. So if you don’t get good service then you need to let somebody know. The person who’s giving you poor service isn’t always the person you need to speak to – you often need their boss or even the company’s CEO. If you start pushing the boundaries, you can get good service.
‘The squeaky wheel get the grease’ i.e. the most noticeable problem tends to receive the most attention. Most people give up at the first hurdle – but the way to get results is to be relentless! Fatigue can set in but keep going until people start giving you proper service. That might involve escalating your complaint by publicising it. Sooner or later, they’ll start to get really aggravated and cave in to your demands. Don’t lose your cool though – never go in roaring or screaming. This will get you nowhere. The person who stays calm and collected, firm but polite, will be the one who’ll probably come out as the winner. People don’t want to help those who are rude and rant and rave.
Make them realise that you’re not going to leave with a fuzzy fob off. Repeatedly call and message them. Disrupt their professional lives. If they’ve done something wrong then they deserve that!
In terms of group actions – small but loud groups do often get their own way, but that should be fair enough. If you’re not vocal and persistent then you won’t be heard (although vulnerable groups need external support). Blame large but lazy groups who constantly diffuse their responsibilities amongst others within their groups; so much that too few in these groups end up doing anything at all.
So take command – at least of your own decisions and actions. Just because others aren’t reacting, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either; and vice-versa sometimes because we shouldn’t always jump onto a bandwagon just because others are. Cigarettes were marketed as ‘torches of freedom’ in 1929 to get more women to take up smoking – and it worked! Cigarettes became a symbol in the fight for gender equality because the father of PR evoked this bandwagon for female supporters of this cause. But this obviously ruined women’s health and only made the tobacco companies richer! Like I said, demonstrating solidarity is magnificent – but be careful in how you do so. There were even reports that ‘clapping for the NHS’ in 2020 increased the number of accident and emergency visits due to neighbours competing to be the loudest (to signal their virtues to others down their streets), which obviously didn’t help NHS staff during those already busy times(!) Many workers would’ve rather had better personal protective equipment, less abuse and more pay.
In experiments regarding the bystander and conformity effects, many people stay put even if smoke is seeping into the room and making the air quite hazy, because they see others passively staying put too!
Because many of us do follow what others are doing – being surrounded by strangers in a moment of need provides no guarantee of receiving help. So if you need help in such circumstances – pick a specific friendly face in the crowd, tell them what’s happening and what needs to be done. Connect with somebody to turn them from a faceless object into a caring human. For the same reason, when asking for help or when applying for a job or contract – don’t make it seem like your request has been sent out to an entire group of people. Tailor and send each piece of correspondence individually and personally to prevent a ‘diffusion of responsibility’ when people think it’s another person’s responsibility to respond.
Meow. We may feel enormous pressures to join a bandwagon because of the social reputational costs of not doing so. Yet we must also question whether a particular bandwagon is really going to serve the cause we hope in our hearts to advance. Well that’s if a cause is truly in one’s heart? If so then – like being relentless with a complaint until you get the service you deserve – when seeking systemic political, social and/or economic change, it’s not so much about one-off events, grand gestures or passive support but sustained action until the desired change materialises!