Breaking the Bank


As Philip Moon ’20 drove down Ventura Blvd, he saw the same fast-fashion boutiques, sushi restaurants and care-free Californians on their phones. The only thing that occasionally changed on his daily drive to school was the lofty billboards, which alternated between advertisements of television shows, movies, restaurants and new technology.
Recently, Moon said that he noticed a shift within marketing across all industries. Mass advertisement is rapidly on the rise–American companies are projected to spend around $628 billion in 2018 on advertisements, according to a study done by eMarketer.
“Advertisements that I see now are different from the ones that I remember from my childhood,” Moon said. “Most of it now is about how fast a car or iPhone is, the new trend in XYZ category or something along those lines.”
In order to meet demands for environmentally-friendly activism and a focus on moral consumerism, some companies emphasize the alleged ethicality of their products, Organization for Climate Change and Sustainable Development member Rucha Dande said.
This can manifest in a number of ways: including ‘buy one, give one’ programs, or advertisements based on environmental consciousness, Dande said.
Unfortunately, the promises of a company’s ethicality to the general public can fall flat, Washington University investigative journalist, who reports on corporate crime, Lucia Hulsether said. Corporations often don’t push products because they work towards a greater good – they often do the opposite as a means of profit, Hulsether said.
One example that Hulsether referred to is charity-based marketing that certain businesses endorse, such as TOMS’™ one-for-one program.
“The company [TOMs] emphasizes that the fruits of faith, economic success, abound for those who embody the ideals of authenticity, good intentions and service,” Hulsether said. “A higher purpose is profitable. TOMs is successful because it creates opportunities for people to live into their own ‘purpose’ through a simple transaction: buying a pair of shoes.”
One-for-one concepts like TOMs or Thinkx programs have made the problem of poverty worse by destroying local businesses.
According to a study done by Penn State University, businesses based on donating clothing to developing countries reduced local textile industries by 50 to 88 percent.
Some students like Sophia Nuñez ’20 also pointed out that these companies misidentify the structural problem in international poverty and are thus not effective in addressing them.
“The concept [of aid-based marketing] is well-intentioned; however, it misses the mark as it assumes that the [biggest] problems that people are facing are directly related to not having shoes or pads, when, in reality, these people are dealing with bigger problems,” Nuñez said. “Companies who use this model intend for the buyer to feel superhuman, as if the buyer has made some huge impact when in reality they have not really done anything. Honestly, if you’re going to buy a product like TOMs or Thinxx, buy it for yourself because you want it, not because you think you are bettering the world because, in reality, you’re really not.”
Critics like Moon also claim that much like aid-based marketing, technology advertisements focusing on environmental consciousness may also be misleading.
“Electric Car commercials promote that efficient energy usage could help the environment,” Moon said. “But, obviously, while that can be technically true, it produces more waste because you have to throw away an entire car, and extract the materials to produce a new one. At that point, a car that is marginally more efficient won’t actually help save the environment at all.”
According to a study done by World Economic Forum, electric car battery production has exponentially increased within the past decade, and this hurts the environment over twice as badly as traditional combustion engine cars.
The study points to the required extraction of cobalt and lithium as additional proof that electric car production increases environmental destruction.
Others show concern about these advertisements also being used to cover up other ethical issues, such poor working conditions or regional monopolization.
“It has recently become popular to become green, which is good, and many corporations have declared their commitment to combating climate change, including car companies,” Nuñez said. “However, many of them are doing this for publicity and not because they genuinely care.”
According to a Forbes study, companies are molding their advertisements to profit more from the consumers: in the past 5 years, 66% of millennial consumers said that they would spend more on a product if it is more environmentally conscious. This has resulted in a major boost of environmentally conscious marketing.
Students also believe that overproduction can be seen in other sectors of the technological innovation industry.
“I think that the bad side of consumerism can definitely be seen when looking at the devices we use, like iPhones,” Moon said. “There was that whole scandal pretty recently that addressed the fact that Apple was trying to actively slow down older iPhones without telling consumers so that they keep updating their phones. That is not only extremely unfair to people buying the products but also creates lots of unnecessary waste.”
According to a 2015 Reuters study, the U.S. creates around 1 million tons more electronic waste than China, despite the country itself only being a quarter of China’s size.
Instructor of Political Science at Moravian College Faramarz Farbod said he believes that neoliberalism is the problem.
“Neoliberalism is both the dominant ideology of our time and a set of policy prescriptions,” Farbod said. “As the ruling ideology, its primary function is to mask the destructive nature of the global capitalist accumulation process since the 1970s. It does this by cloaking the latter in the trappings of the various discourses of ‘economic freedom,’ such as ‘free trade,’ ‘free markets’ unhindered competition.”
Farbod also said that neoliberalism only benefits a few corporations through deregulation and privation.
“As a policy prescription, neoliberalism’s primary aim is the continued enrichment of the few, namely the multinational corporations, and the large financial interests and investors,” Farbod said. “It is commonly associated with a sacred policy triad of privatization, deregulation, and liberalization.”
Specifically, in the context of technological innovation, Farbod said that neoliberalism decreases safety regulations and is the root cause of economic struggle.
“Neoliberal policy-makers equate deregulation with greater marketization, a presumed good thing in itself,” Farbod said. “In reality, what they have sought, and attained, is a re-regulatory regime designed to support the narrow interests of finance and transnational capital. The warm feelings the word itself may impart to unsuspecting people, we shall see that it does not mean a greater economic freedom of action for all concerned.”
However, others believe that market incentive is necessary for a functioning society, including Upper School Mathematics Teacher and Department Head Kent Nealis.
“Because the preferences of individual consumers are not communicated, the goods and services produced do not align with those of the consumer,” Nealis said. “The result is chronic shortages and surpluses of goods and services. Because there is no profit motive, there is also little incentive for costs to be controlled or for quality standards to be met.”
Some also believe that neoliberalism not only affects the economic sphere but also social ideology.
“An issue with our current world is that there is way more value that is put onto wealth and success, rather than morals or principle,” Moon said.
Nealis points to current forms of socialism to prove that movements don’t achieve as much as they claim to.
“The failures of command economies, such as USSR, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela are a matter of record,” Nealis said. “Socialist counties have failed to meet even the most basic needs of their citizenry. Hunger, housing shortages, lack of medical care, and concentration of wealth and power, are all hallmarks of socialist economies.”
The solution could possibly be the middle ground: a free market with consciousness around a wealth gap and labor exploitation, Nealis said.
“Pure capitalism and pure socialism do not exist; there is no such thing as unfettered capitalism and there never has been,” Nealis said. “All markets are regulated to some extent by the government. The middle ground you speak of is a matter of degree.Where a country is on the continuum between free markets and socialism is a byproduct of the democratic political process, as the needs of individuals and the needs of society are considered.”