Companies shouldn’t be exploiting tragedies to generate profits

It’s possible for corporations to be charitable without transparent virtue signalling

No, we don’t want a coffee logo to be the face of a national tragedy. Illustration: Tiffany Chan / The Peak

By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

“In these unprecedented times,” “We’re all in this together,” “Now more than ever,” and “Our hearts go out to those affected,” are all phrases I’ve seen recently in advertisements that make me want to scream. As a keen critic of commercialism, I’m used to seeing companies use current events to their advantage. However, the way that corporations are using current tragedies for their financial gain is honestly quite disgusting. 

I’m talking about companies like Tim Hortons that capitalize on the Nova Scotia shooting through their “Nova Scotia strong” donut fundraiser, and Tylenol that brands itself as the “founding sponsor” of the COVID-19 fund for nurses. It’s kind of scary how fast these companies turned their marketing around to reflect the current situation, and also how eerily similar all of the accompanying ads appear. They all contain that element of a soft, worried, or slightly patronizing voice to convey just how much they care about you. The real irony is in the fact that if they truly cared they would use the thousands, if not millions, of dollars they are spending on these ad campaigns and put them towards actually alleviating the effects of the tragedy. 

Yes, thank you A&W actor, for telling me that you care about me, your workers, and all other service employees in an iPhone video. The people suffering the most from this pandemic are truly blessed to know that you are still open for delivery. And Amazon, your insanely overworked staff are so thankful that you took the time, effort, and money to thank them through a simple video ad instead of paying them a fair wage for their work. 

There shouldn’t need to be a whole multimedia campaign to say “Hey, look at us, we’ve done a good thing.” Corporations can still help without trying to reap as much positive PR (and thereby sales) as they can from tragedies. New Balance is doing just this by using their factories to make masks, but not outwardly bragging to their customers about it. I realize that advertising is a significant means of financial survival for many companies, but that doesn’t mean that they have to resort to designing an ad campaign around people’s suffering to continue their operations. 

Frustratingly, this isn’t a new phenomenon. It reminds me of every June when companies take advantage of pride month by branding themselves as the “ultimate queer allies,” without really doing much to help said community. The very act of putting out these ads, selling sprinkled donuts, or becoming the branded face of relief shows companies’ true, two-faced nature. Their priority is making you care about them through expensive marketing campaigns, rather than actually helping those in crisis. 

Make no mistake, although they are branding themselves as charitable actors, the messages you are seeing from these companies are still part of an intricate ad campaign. These businesses are still trying to make money. I invite you to take a closer look at the brands around you and how they are using their “unprecedented time” to profit off of tragedy.