Why corporates virtue-signal: conscience or cover-up? Robert Oulds is the Director of the Bruges Group and the co-author of Moralitis: A Cultural Virus According to Dr Clay Routledge ‘we are living in an era of woke capitalism in which companies pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism.’ Didn’t you feel good when your proposal to spend a not insignificant proportion of your marketing budget on supporting a right-on cause. It was an easy win. I can understand why you sought to align your brand with saving the lesser spotted migratory one-legged trans whale, and a worthy cause it may be, but it will no longer offer the benefits that you seek. Indeed, it will soon prove counter-productive. Let’s consider why, but first we need to understand the process that is underway, consider what drives this such decision making. You may feel that the widgets and other manufactures’ or your online app have an opinion on social issues. Really? They are often presented as such. It is understandable why corporations desired to align and fund the copious amount of politically correct causes. This strategy was once at the cutting-edge of thought leadership. The brave new world certainly had a claim to represent the modern era, it was the future once and many aligned their brand with societies seemingly rapidly changing mores. Signalling through advertising or sponsorship support for this social upheaval was once a practical and profitable decision. The funding and ramming home messages about your organisations values will have also helped fend-off a culture that could have led to an excessive number of law suits from any number of employees that wish to use diversity legislation and employment law to settle their grievances. Yet, the fear of litigation is just one small aspect behind corporate virtue-signalling. Aligning with identity politics and supporting whatever ‘group’ claims to be persecuted by the phantom white capitalist patriarchy, or whatever the latest mantra is, has proved to be an almost cost-free way of showing that one cares and that your brand has a social conscious. When state socialism was an ever-present danger to the bottom line and returns for shareholders, one would not have promoted the ideas of what is lazily called the ‘left’. Since the collapse of Marxism abroad and state-run industry at home, being progressive, once a set of economic values, has become a very different ideology. It has morphed into a series of social values for which one can subscribe to with no price to pay. One can be a member of this club without having to promote restrictions on private property or higher-taxes. All one needs to do is make some vacuous statements about diversity and inclusiveness and equality and sign a small cheque to the whale and take some time out of your busy schedule to consume some champagne and prawn cocktails at an event alongside the great and the good. One may even get a glimpse of Bono or Meryl Streep. It’s the easy decision to make and provided an economic advantage. It is quite clear why businesses felt the need to virtue-signal, it was an extension of corporate social responsibility. Whilst one is ruthlessly, understandably and even justifiably limiting your tax bill and right-sizing the extent of your liabilities workforce and updating their Ts&Cs, one can send the message that your organisation is righteous. Yet, there is more behind this phenomenon, ultimately it is a psychological projection of the values of a wannabe metropolitan illiberal elite. Understanding this and what is happening in society shows that there is a need for corporations to quietly call and end to their politically correct love in. There is an innate human desire to do good, or at least appear so and at least many are quite naturally highly reticent of appearing to be some kind of ‘ist’ or even a ‘phobe’. This may lead some to overcompensate and indeed there is a new intolerance that demands this be so. Let us consider the cycle of social and economic pressure at work. This cycle drives how we think. It is driven by people who proport to celebrate differences, yet a diversity of ideas is strangely absent from the heterogeneity celebrated by the political and cultural establishment. Alongside the widely reported increase in food intolerances, society is suffering from ‘ideallergy’, an intolerance of other people’s ideas. It’s creating an environment where only group-think can be tolerated. Indeed, diversity and identity politics is the new intolerance. The process by which this has occurred is analogous to a virus. It is an epidemic disease so powerful that it has a cytopathic effect on society, changing the cognition and behaviour of its hosts. The messaging is all around and increasingly loader, unsurprising as its followers inhabit an echo chamber. The politico-moral consensus from supranational institutions and global corporations is mutually rewarding. It allows them to present themselves as being kind and open, essentially good, while reinforcing their position as world leaders. Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Silicon Valley is an ‘extremely left-leaning place’. Moralising to the tune of identity politics is a lucrative cover for profiteering monopolies such as Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter. Although these corporations are culturally on the Left, their perspective on business regulation is more of the libertarian Right. Aggressively limiting their taxation liability is an interesting juxtaposition with their liberal-left persona. As propagators of the virus, social media companies are as effective as a contamination of water supply. It’s time the corporate world moved beyond virtue-signalling. Its proponents are victims of a cultural virus. This manifests in a moral hegemony that subverts conventional social norms and quashes dissent. In this delusional condition, people may seem to be acting with autonomy, but the forces of conformity are such that their freedom is limited, and their utterances merely regurgitate group-think. The body politic has become infected and so have many boardrooms. Like the growth of bacteria in a Petri dish, the subversive tenets of political correctness have spread as a pinking of the public discourse. This is the virus at work. This cultural virus is named ‘moralitis’. The causes, symptoms and prognosis are now known and prevention and treatment are available. Anyone seeking to be at the cutting edge of brand development needs to realise that attitudes are changing, one can no longer allow their brand to make a politically correct faux pas and be mocked by your own customers. A corporate decision to indulge in either advertising that celebrates identity politics or the patronising of sectional interests is no longer promoting diversity, it is merely divisive. It is fair to say that many people are quite simply fed-up with being preached at. Particularly, when it is known why these messages are being bombarded at their customers by a business that only has one real intention, and especially when it’s the same propaganda that comes from government. Both governments and politically correct businesses are increasingly perceived as being belittling towards people. This is what you risk aligning with, it’s a debate that is increasingly being politicised and it is not where you want to be. The energy in public discourse is with those that reject dogmatic and politically correct virtue signalling. Indeed, those that repeat ideological socially-liberal mantras are beginning to be seen as out of touch and in many cases ridiculous. Despite attempts by social media near monopolies to shut down free speech the reach and impact of those who mock identity politics and its inherent contradictions are growing, they are becoming ever more popular. The trend is away from empty talk of diversity. Free speech advocates are now the cutting edge. The zeitgeist is now with the other side of the political spectrum. It is becoming apparent that attempts at virtue-signalling are one’s psyche trying to differentiate your socio-economic status from the lower orders, yet they are your customers. The loss of rationality from public discourse and reckless abandoning of evidence in favour of politically correct moralistic mantras damages the civitas. In the long-term this cannot be good for business either. Only the most complacent rent seeker is willing to allow a ‘you can’t say that culture’ to fester. Most businesses should value those who can think for themselves and have the courage to articulate their ideas. The fact that the reasons behind corporate virtue signalling are now known necessitates a change. Advertisers and those with responsibility for a brand need to change their approach. My advice to you, as a senior officer that has a direct input into how your organisation is portrayed, is that beyond boardroom group-think the reality is that ‘your’ brand belongs to your customers, even those who are talked-down to by the moralising government. Aligning your company and your career with the real divisive strand in social and political discourse, that is those who are offended by almost any statement, will no longer give you the return you seek. It was once a wise strategy, but times have moved on. Celebrate freedom of thought and speech, its risqué but it is the future.
Both governments and politically correct businesses are increasingly perceived as being belittling towards people

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The virtue-signalling cycle

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