Corporations and Friends

September 17, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Corporations are people, my friend.”

If Mitt Romney winds up in the quotations books and URLs, this will be his contribution.

I’m not sure what Romney meant – probably that corporations were staffed by people, and perhaps that they were owned by people. It’s possible that he was referring to Supreme Court decisions that gave corporations some of the same rights as people. 

Whatever he meant, the statement still rings false because a corporation is so obviously not an individual person. Corporations have no social or emotional attachments to others. As economist Greg Mankiw explained recently (here), their primary responsibility, maybe their only responsibility, is to make as much money as they can. If Burger King can avoid paying US taxes by claiming that it’s a Canadian company, it’s just doing what it’s supposed to be doing. As that socialist rag Fortune put it, “The possibility exists that the company will be able to reassign the fees from its U.S. franchises to Canada and pay no U.S. tax on this income. Other taxpayers here in the U.S. will have to shoulder the burden and make up this shortfall in tax revenue.”

Corporations do not have a responsibility to society or country, and they certainly don’t have a responsibility to any person. My friend.

Still, corporations pretend otherwise and try to create the Romneyesque fiction that they are indeed people, people with feelings, people who are our friend.. Last week, several corporate PR offices Tweeted messages about 9/11.

(Click to enlarge)
I would guess that most people accepted these as sincere.* But not everybody. People in the PR and branding biz saw this patriotic tweetery for what it was – marketing.  At AdWeek, the AdFreak page interviewed Sean Bonner.

AdFreak: What makes these tweets feel so icky?
Sean Bonner: It's simple. Brands are not people. Brands do not have emotions or memories or condolences or heartbreak. People have those things, and when a brand tries to jump into that conversation, it's marketing.

Unfortunately, some corporations blow their patriotic cover and make the marketing aspect blatant. Intimacy Box, a company that sells lingerie, sent forth this tweet.

As comedian Robert Klein said decades ago about Presidents Day, “I’m sure that the father of our country would be pleased to know that he’s being honored with a mattress sale.”

These corporate tweets, whether they have discount coupons or pictures of flags, have the same underlying message: we want you to feel good about us so that you will buy more of our products. Dunkin’ Donuts, Beretta, and the rest leave the “buy more” message unsaid. After all, they are trying to convey the Romney idea that they are people. Only Intimacy Box makes it explicit, and that company was soon shamed into apologizing for its honesty.

*The irony of the Beretta tweet – the company is part of an industry whose product each year kills ten times as many Americans as died on 9/11 – was probably lost on Beretta’s Twitter followers.

HT: Dan Hirschman

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