It’s Time to End Corporate Performativity

by | Dec 19, 2023 | Corporate power | 0 comments

Article by Luke Doherty

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash


Not all lies are nefarious at first. Corporations, arguably the most powerful institutions in our society, know this best. A little like supervillains or a movie ‘psychopath’ to some – the corporation can and does deceive to gain power and profit. Performative activism, a way to capitalise on social issues, is used by mega-corporations to improve their brand.


Manufactured teams dedicated to finding the best way to gain your goodwill are working on you right now; in fact, data brokers are likely using your click on this article to determine your view. Have you clicked on a corporate-critical article? Prepare to find yourself in a sea of ‘kind’ corporate advertisements to sway your pay and spy on you. Based on swathes of personal data, mainly of purchasing and interest history alongside your demographics, the surveillance can get increasingly detailed. For the right price, corporations can weaponise your data to influence your psyche. Essentially, corporations have a legal right to pay for your data – a pathological manipulation designed to squeeze your wallet, and protecting yourself could take up to 201 hours of reading. In fact, some companies can access data about alcoholism or break-ups.


Corporate callousness is best shown in social media and activism participation, where each Pride Month or during worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, you will find yourself drowning in those carefully designed statements of goodwill. For most, it’s easy to be cynical, but this does work. Research suggests that LGBT-friendly initiatives and promoted inclusion correlate with higher profitability, likely related to corporate social responsibility polishing brands’ images, aligning with theories that stakeholders can generate profits and goodwill more easily using causes of minority groups.


This conscious consumption is the latest in unhelpful additions to the pro-corporate landscape, leaving ‘fake woke’ PR teams at conglomerates wilfully manipulating a politically ‘radical’ image that intends to generate sales. This predatory practice deliberately targets minorities, who are typically more brand-wary, with fickle spending habits and less generalised trust for all aspects of social life, including shopping. The goodwill these companies generate encourages more performative (deceptive) posts where conglomerates try to get politically involved or appeal to tribalism via false Twitter ‘beef’. On the other hand, brands owned by the same conglomerates have separate Twitter accounts for inventing wholesome, sweet moments of soulless corporate branches interacting. For example, NutterButter, Chips Ahoy, Oreo and Sour Patch Kids use Twitter to show how much one brand enjoys the others – which may seem like some brands aligning for a sweet social media moment or a meme until you realise Mondelez owns them, and this is likely the marketing team talking to itself.


Activists coined various terms for these deceptions, such as greenwashing and green capitalism (use of the climate crisis and ecological movements for profit under the guise of sustainability) or pinkwashing (using LGBT iconography and causes for gain). However, despite the tailored names and specific causes, this all comes under corporate responsibility and performativity. The harsh realisation is that no conglomerate can be radical: a corporation is too powerful of an entity, even richer and less prone to justice than the state, to be anything other than representative of the status quo. With the rise of intelligent algorithms and more tailored social surveillance using social media, the thought of corporate power becomes more dangerous. It sets a bar above the state for the influence of entities on wars, political disputes, or global social relations. 


For example, the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) intends to hold companies funding warfare accountable. Many of these companies, such as PepsiCo, have social goodwill. The façade these businesses put on is done with a smile and a wink, a precise manipulation that lacks regard for improving our world, a side project intended to soften the blows of boycotts or backlash. 


It gets sinister the more you investigate B-Corporations, companies intending to give back and provide material good for society. Brands such as Ben and Jerry’s appear to be activists at a gold standard. Yet, their parent company, Unilever, often reverses or coerces their politically motivated stances, such as resuming sales in Israel. Any social justice statements B-Corporations make take second place to profit or parent companies that lack enthusiasm for any real social good.


As a consumer today, it’s impossible to find ‘ethical’ consumption without a caveat. This tells us that the corporation is undoubtedly not a force for good, and its mask may soon get ripped clean off.




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