Woke Capitalism Gone Wild

Of all the strange phenomena of our strange era, the most inexplicable to me is woke capitalism. We see it all around us: Major League Baseball moving the All-star Game out of Atlanta (does anyone remember why?), Delta Airlines aligning itself with the Democratic Party, the Bud Light fiasco.

Along with Budweiser, a number of other companies have driven off the “pride” cliff. This is only a partial list, but let’s start with Target. Target has been aggressively featuring its Pride collection, which includes women’s swimsuits with extra crotch room to make them comfortable for “women” who are men:

Target’s CEO, Brian Cornell, initially defended the Pride collection (which the company has actually been featuring for several years, I believe):

On Fortune’s “Leadership Next” podcast last week, Target CEO Brian Cornell was asked about the backlash to “woke” capitalism, which has also engulfed iconic beer brand Bud Light as well as entertainment giant Disney.

“I think those are just good business decisions, and it’s the right thing for society, and it’s the great thing for our brand,” Cornell said.
Cornell added: “I know that focus on diversity and inclusion and equity has fueled much of our growth over the last nine years.”

If he means putting new stores in growing Hispanic neighborhoods, that could be true. But “trans” clothing is not exactly the path to mass market success. How many women’s swimsuits with extra crotch room is Target going to sell? Six or seven?

More recently, leaks from Target indicate that the company is scrambling to contain the tsunami of disgust that its “Pride” campaign has generated.

Then we have Calvin Klein. Calvin Klein followed in the footsteps of Nike, which used Dylan Mulvaney, who at least looks somewhat like a woman, to model bras. But Calvin Klein took it a step further: they used an obese black model with a beard to advertise bras, a product that by its nature is intended for women:

Again, the marketing strategy is a mystery. Is there a single woman anywhere in the world who will look at that ad and say, “Yes! That is what I want to look like. I will buy that product.” No, I don’t think so. Not even one. So what is the point?

The list goes on and on. I saw today that North Face has a Pride Collection. I thought North Face made apparel for people who at least want to feel, and look, as though they might be hiking in the great outdoors, if not actually climbing mountains. But no:

Does North Face seriously think this enhances their image?

So, what is going on here? I don’t get it. We obviously are not dealing with traditional assumptions about corporate behavior. These companies are not appealing to a substantial customer segment. They evidently don’t mind incurring the puzzlement, if not wrath, of much of their customer base. They can’t possibly be profit maximizing, as economists tell us they do, and ought to do.

Some say that companies are being dominated by left-leaning HR and marketing departments. Maybe so. But HR departments don’t make decisions of this sort, and the normal assumption is that marketing departments are trying to market. That is, to maximize sales. These days, that doesn’t seem to be the case. And the worst offenders are often CEOs who have been hired as PR face men, not nuts and bolts managers.

Hollywood was perhaps a precursor. To my recollection, entertainment was the first industry where it was obvious that something other than commercial success was driving corporate decisions. Liberal movies almost always lost money at the box office, but they were “prestige” products. The Iraq war, for example, generated a whole series of bombs, but the prospect of losing money did not deter Hollywood producers and directors. Much, seemingly most, of corporate America is now following in Hollywood’s footsteps.

This profit-sacrificing behavior is often referred to as virtue signaling, and that is probably apt. But still: in what world is it virtuous to use obese men to advertise women’s clothing products? Or to design women’s swim suits to accommodate male organs? Such initiatives would seem to be morally neutral, at best.

Glenn Reynolds has suggested that corporate managers often care more about their standing with their peers–how they are received at the country club, whether their wives are carping at them about being insufficiently liberal–than about the profitability of their companies. I think that is clearly true. But it leaves open the question of why leftism–especially, these days, the “trans” movement, which came into existence roughly a month or two ago–determines standing in the CEO community.

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I do know, however, that the bizarre drift of big business toward the Left creates lots of opportunities.

It is noteworthy that it is big business–Budweiser, Target, Nike and so on–that goes off the deep end. It is highly unlikely that the small businesses in your town are jumping on the “trans” bandwagon, or other leftist fads. They still care about their customers, and their owners are not so rich as to scorn profit. And as far as big business goes, companies that don’t insult their customers with weird leftist initiatives stand to do well. The opportunities are vast and not difficult to capitalize on: just don’t go out of your way to offend your customers, and you will gain market share.

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