Brands Are Not Your Friends
March 18, 2019 9:53 AM   Subscribe

H.Bomberguy (of Mermaids charity fame) discusses brand twitter, advertising, ‘realmericals’, and harnessing performative political outrage for profit in WOKE BRANDS (26:43)
posted by The Whelk (12 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
This was brilliant and funny and really helped me clarify some of my random worries about these boycotts. Thanks for posting!
posted by emjaybee at 10:41 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

Amazing narration! This guy is hilarious.

When he said $6 billion about Nike my eyes bugged out of my head like a cartoon character.

Also a fave: when some guy said "I'm burning my favorite pair of Nikes". So did you keep your 2nd and 3rd favorite pairs? Oh my god.

Does he read David Futrelle? (Researcher of the men's right hate movement, his website is and I liked to read it until Donald Trump/2016 made jokes about hateful men too hard for me to laugh at. Despite Futrelle's excellent writing.) He knew all the buzzwords.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:54 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]

The video is really funny and has some obviously salient points, but in the end, it circles back on itself as it must because we live in a corporate culture and do consume things. That doesn't make it all okay or something that we should then just ignore, so the video isn't exactly wrong there, it just can't really hit an entirely satisfying response to the phenomenon being described because it does have actual value in addition to advertising value because corporations are such powerful entities in the culture.

During the Nike and Gillette ad "controversies" most of the responses I saw about it were positive, those that weren't were people like the guys the video mocks and people like H. Bomberguy, adbuster bros too cool to be caught up in a corporation ad campaign and made sure everybody knew that. That's cool except they ended up as near partners to the dickheads attacking Nike for supporting Colin Kaepernick. Regardless of Nike's own interests, the ads also did help Kaepernick both financially and in providing amplification of his message via a establishment position. (How that all played in Kaepernick's reinstatement in the NFL given the league's relationship with Nike too is something to wonder about.) Trying to say the Kaepernick thing does matter, but doesn't count because it's tied to corporate interests is a pretty tough line to walk, suggesting as it does you're more woke and aware than Kaepernick is himself since he signed on to be in the ads.

Likewise, living in a corporate consumer culture doesn't relieve anyone of the need to own razors or shoes, so you're gonna make some choice and at least some of the choices you're going to make are going to support harmful business practices, unethical concerns, or just greed more generally. That's virtually impossible to avoid. So while it's important to try and hold companies to account for their actions and to inform people of the many misdeeds they are responsible for, people are still going to need to buy products and choosing products that support causes you favor is also noticed and can inform corporate decisions over what causes they align their interests with.

The video makes it sound like companies don't care at all about the causes they sign on for, as if it's purely random selection and wouldn't matter one way or the other to them or to the effectiveness of the ads. That isn't how it works, the choices do matter and have lasting impact via brand loyalty or rejection for another brand. That may seem like bullshit, but again corporate wealth has reach that individuals don't. Commercials can bring the concepts to more people and "sell" them better than would be possible without that kind of support.

It isn't like the rest of the world, including the video itself to H.Bomberguy's chagrin, exist in some purer place. We're all tied into the same machinery and selling is a part of that. Maybe it shouldn't be in the ideal world and I don't begrudge anyone the attempt to lessen corporate influence that is needed, but the need to make a special point about commercials tied to beneficial values and cast the whole of it as tainted also carries a weird attitude of superiority in priding itself on not being fooled about the corporations gaining something out of the arrangement, as if that's a real shocker for everyone.

Hating Nike and holding them to account for their labor violations and all the rest is great, go to it and I'll join along in demanding the latter, but maybe accept the world is also complicated and some things don't fit easily into the good vs evil paradigm, or if you wanna insist it does, then be sure you're on the right side, which probably isn't the one with the idiots burning their shoes and throwing razors in the toilet.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:19 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]

Most of hbomberguy’s videos are worth watching; A good mix of trenchant commentary and slightly bewildering schtick, they usually give me something significant to think about, and amuse as they do so. A little more disjointed than Contrapoints, but fighting the good fight, although with more video game references.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:32 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]

The video makes it sound like companies don't care at all about the causes they sign on for, as if it's purely random selection and wouldn't matter one way or the other to them or to the effectiveness of the ads.

You assume it can't go the other way. Video game company THQ Nordic hosted a promotional campaign on 8chan, the notoriously vile imageboard that was the handout of the Christchurch shooter.

They don't, ultimately, care. They'll drop these campaigns as soon as they stop being effective. Dove's advocacy for women in the 2000s famously didn't even convince the people in the same company approving the Axe ads.
posted by Merus at 3:36 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]

Oh wow it's hbomberguy on MeFi...yeah, pretty much everything he makes is worth watching. I have 3 people I support on Patreon and he's one of them.

You can see me in the credits under something like "A 4k Merkin HD_Blu_Ray" or something like that.

Some of my favorites include his video about Sherlock, and the one about that awful gaming comic.

NOTE - if you think he's on the side of people burning their brand new Nikes, this video was way way over your head.
posted by GreyboxHero at 4:18 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]

" sure you're on the right side, which probably isn't the one with the idiots burning their shoes and throwing razors in the toilet."

I'm more troubled by the people who, in response to the shoe-burners, keurig-smashers, and the like, affirm their loyalty to a brand and say they're going to buy their stuff simply because they feel they must offset the "damage" being done by said burners/smashers. These aren't sports teams. The only reason one should feel invested in them is if they are literally invested in them financially.

I have seen this weird mentality expressed online, and it makes me very worried that people don't have enough going on in their lives that they feel like they need to identify with and invest their mental energy into a faceless brand (because that's what it is) simply because of a purported mission statement. Perhaps in this hypercapitalist society we live in being able to choose what we buy is the only way we can feel like we have a say (however illusory) in what direction the world goes.

Meanwhile Nike is still selling clothes made by slave labor, and Keurig is still producing atrocious coffee and decimating the environment in the most idiotic way possible.

The fact that not only are we defining ourselves based on what we buy, but that we are getting our basic life lessons about how to behave in society from corporate advertising is plenty reason to be alarmed.

Also: Isn't it interesting that since the NFL kneeling scandal started, everyone has seemingly forgotten about the other scandal concerning the NFLs treatment of players with CTE?
posted by steamynachos at 4:50 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]

I don't think the public has forgotten about CTE at all. It's the reason they couldn't even get the Superbowl halftime act or our president to say that they'd allow their sons to play and it was the partial focus of post-mortem media coverage surrounding Aaron Hernandez.
posted by Selena777 at 6:05 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]

The fact that not only are we defining ourselves based on what we buy, but that we are getting our basic life lessons about how to behave in society from corporate advertising is plenty reason to be alarmed.

It is, but that doesn't erase the fact it happens and sometimes for the better. Separating out advertising from the rest of the media world doesn't make much sense for one thing. I mean the difference between Disney's movies and Nikes ads is that Disney is just selling its product directly as an ad/story for its continued sales. Watch the movie, but the toys, the dvds, sign up to their channel, take the kids and get them started on the whole product line.

I'm not arguing for Nike, but against simplification in how we look at Nike's ads. There are a number of problems with simplifying things too much. Saying the ads are only about Nike's sales misses the reciprocal relationship between Kaepernick and Nike in this. Kaepernick isn't just associating himself with Nike, Nike is associating their company with him. Saying otherwise is to suggest Kaepernick is either a sell out or tool of Nike and doesn't know what's good for him and the values he risked his career for. Nike may be only in it for the profits, but they're betting on the profits coming from celebrating a specific set of values Kaepernick represents.

This isn't a new thing for Nike exactly either, that's why saying a company has no allegiance to certain consumers and their values doesn't quite work either. Companies can certainly change strategies and try and distance themselves from previous associations, just like individuals can do, but they rely on developing associations between their brand and certain ideals to market their products as well.

In Nike's case they made something of a small but bold move back in the eighties with implications they weren't even fully aware of as they played out. One of their ad people saw the trailer for She's Gotta Have It back in 1987 and decided that Spike Lee's Character Mars Blackmon would be perfect for the brand when combined with Michael Jordan. Evidently Nike wasn't convinced at first, but went with it and the ad became iconic. From that Nike, in fits and starts, kept furthering their association with black culture, and not the safe kind like Cosby for Jello. Nike's ad history regularly features triumphant blackness as a thing to celebrate in itself, not as desired acceptance by white culture. This wasn't their initial plan, but the ads themselves took them that way and became larger than Nike's products themselves.

Seriously, the importance of Nike's ads as signals of a new cultural attitude shouldn't be dismissed. Just look at the mainstream Hollywood movies released in 1987 for example and try and find a black person named in the posters. Nevermind, I'll save you the time since the list is short. Danny Glover in the one of the Lethal Weapon movies, Eddie Murphy in Raw, Prince in Sign o' the Times, Bill Cosby in Leonard Part 6, Richard Pryor Critical Condition, Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle, and, what the heck, I'll even throw in Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom though that was a Brit film. Two concert films, two horrible comedies, a sidekick role, a white journalist's story investigating the Steven Biko murder and Hollywood Shuffle. That sums up the attitudes of the time towards representing black culture pretty well, with Townsend's movie being an unexpected "gift" from the studios.

That's mainstream culture, ad culture when it deigned to notice black audiences at all tended towards having separate, (but surely equal!) commercials for black and white audiences that would be placed on separate publications and networks for the defined audience. BET, for example, would get black families in ads for the same products sold on white audience dominated stations with white families in the ads, or sometimes there'd be a brief cut to a black family also enjoying something in an ad that was otherwise overwhelmingly white, just to show balance you know. Nike's ads helped to change that kind of representation and bring black culture to white audiences as something aspirational. They weren't alone in this, nor do they deserve credit for that which black celebrities were doing that was forcing the need for change in the culture, but they do deserve notice for being in front of the movement and that is in no small part why they've developed brand loyalty among many in black communities. Black culture, after all, is consumer culture too.

The Adbuster bro attitude towards Nike ads is troubling because it gets such special added attention. The generous response to this is to say that's just because Nike ads have been so damned effective, making the company the bête noire of anti-ad types, but since so many of the people I know who are all about adbusting also were never-Hillary types, I won't discount other reasons for the special Nike ad hate as well in at least some cases. Again though none of this is to, well, endorse Nike as a company any more than noting the cultural importance of the Black Panther movie would be to endorse Disney and it certainly isn't a defense of corporate labor practices of any sort, just to say the relationship between individuals, corporations, and the larger culture is complicated in ways the video doesn't really touch on and actively seems to downplay. And I mostly liked the video!
posted by gusottertrout at 12:04 AM on March 19 [10 favorites]

I feel at sea in conversations like this, because as a gay man who grew up in a time and place where that could have easily gotten me killed if I ran into the wrong drunks on the wrong night, I don't care whether the corporations are sincere in their message. I don't care if they're not committed for the long haul. I don't care how impure their motivations are, if it keeps one person from getting beaten up.

I feel like the American Left has been driven by the bourgeoisie for so long that the actual human beings who are suffering are pretty much theoretical constructs to the people making decisions about "what the Left believes", and it's starting to rankle.
posted by mattwan at 7:13 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]

Harry, ContraPoints (Natalie Wynn) and Lindsay Ellis are all great YouTubers. Lindsay has some good stuff on products.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:09 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Those people who are beating up their coffee machines and setting their shoes on fire certainly understand that they are not (directly) hurting the coffee-machine-company's bottom line by doing so. It's an act of signaling, it's a loud, violent, public declaration of loyal membership in the nasty on-line community of racists and haters that they're part of. Like other acts of signalling, it's 1) expensive but 2) worthless in and of itself. I don't see any particular reason to think it doesn't work just fine from that perspective. They're destroying unwanted possessions for likes; if that works, and the likes are the important thing, then is it really stupid?

I discovered hbomberguy recently and I've enjoyed watching several of his productions, but I was a little surprised that he didn't seem aware of this interpretation. It seems really obvious to me.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:25 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]

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