In the year 2004, U.S. corporations made $1.2 trillion in profits. If all U.S. corporations were to donate their profits for one single month, their donation would cover the entire $100 billion cost of rebuilding New Orleans.
Of course, no such pledge is forthcoming. Corporate donations to hurricane relief stand at a paltry $409 million. That’s only three hours’ worth of corporate profits (had corporations donated even a day’s worth of their profits, the donations would have come to $3.3 billion)! Instead, we are getting the exact opposite of generosity from corporate America: the exploitation of the New Orleans disaster as a marketing opportunity.
Rather than ponying up and fixing New Orleans, our overclass is using it as a way to further enrich themselves by associating their firms and brands with the mere appearance of concern for the victims of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco. In the halls of corporate planning, this disgusting phenomenon is known as “cause marketing.” The basic idea of cause marketing is to take advantage of the fact that people are much more likely to shop at and feel favorable about businesses they believe are doing something to promote good causes.
The key word there, from the corporate perspective, is “believe.” That’s where the power of advertising to set mental agendas comes into play. Flip on a TV and you’ll find yourself awash in a sea of examples: “Come into Wal-Mart and make a donation to hurricane relief.”
By design, such messages not only make their sponsors look like charities, but also deflect the audience’s attention from what the sponsors are actually sacrificing, which, of course, is nothing whatsoever. On the contrary, in reality, the ulterior motive of all the wall-to-wall corporate Katrina-talk is the desire to attract more customers and profits for corporate investors. In this effort, homeless New Orleanians are mere marketing hooks.
As the corporate framing of the devastation wins the day, coherent political analysis drowns in the tide of elite-serving schmaltz. Why did the powers-that-be twiddle their thumbs about the decrepit state of the dikes in the delta? Why must we citizens of history’s wealthiest and most powerful society all “donate” our nickels and dimes to private charities in order to pay for rebuilding New Orleans? What group in this country could easily afford to make major donations, yet is instead preying on the destruction?
These are the real questions. As usual in this corporate capitalist late Rome, they are being entirely plowed under by our increasingly ghoulish and Nero-like overlords.
Michael Dawson works for pay as a paralegal and sociology teacher in Portland, Oregon. He is presently writing a book, Automobiles Ueber Alles: Corporate Capitalism and Transportation in America, forthcoming from Monthly Review Press.