4 Ways Corporations Are Turning Us Into Jerks
You spent your whole childhood learning that you should be nice to people. But then one day you learned the terrible truth: Acting like a dick works.
I'm not even talking about how it's the most ruthless CEO who makes the most profit. I'm talking about the everyday ways that our consumer culture trains all of us to be abrasive rage monsters. Like how ...
Customer Service Prioritizes Rude Behavior
"Don't be an asshole" is the rule that most systems of morality are based on. And when it comes to dealing with customer service, there are endless articles telling us that being nice to employees is the best way to get what we want. But guess what? They're allllllll bullshit. Asshole Studies is still a developing field, but so far, most available data points to jerks being weirdly proficient at getting people to do what they want. I know this from personal experience, and I bet you do too.
From May 27 to August 1 of 2018, I was a real sweetheart to CenturyLink's support reps. For over two months I'd had zero internet access -- not ideal for a freelancer who "works" from "home" while wearing "pants." It wasn't my fault, but I wanted to be nice. Eventually, though, I snapped. I wrote letters to my congressman and the Better Business Bureau, treated every support rep like a nail slowly inserting itself into my ass cheeks, and sprayed my anger across social media like an estranged uncle who finally figured out who really did 9/11. In short, I made an ass of myself.
In no time, I had received a personal call from a manager assuring me that they'd come fix my internet -- not in three weeks like they'd originally scheduled, but the next day. It took just six hours of unbridled douchery to accomplish what I'd failed to achieve with two months of aloof politeness.
And my experience isn't that uncommon. A few months ago I interviewed Nathan Price, who spent the better part of a decade working in customer support. He too admits that it can pay to be a jerk:
"Guys will call five or six times a month until they get a rep to promise something they can't really deliver. They'll take a reference number, call back over and over. Some people only pay $30 a month for their cellphone because they've yelled at the company so much. They know if they yell enough, they'll eventually get what they want."
Companies are built to cave to their angriest customers. Screaming at support reps wastes valuable company time, so they'll often do anything to get you off the phone. Additionally, companies are terrified of service complaints going viral, so an angry comment on social media almost always garners a quick response. Of course, this creates a cycle that rewards such behavior, thus instructing us that acting like assholes is the only way to get the kind of service every single one of us should be getting anyway. If you're polite, then enjoy your comfy spot at the very end of the line.
Enraged Mobs Usually Get Their Way, Whether They're Right Or Not
Of course, it's not just individual angry dickheads that companies give in to. Sometimes it's an entire flock of angry dickheads. Recently, online campaigns forced the firings of Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn, Guild Wars 2 developer Jessica Price, and Roseanne creator ... Roseanne. I'm not lumping those together because I think they all equally deserved what they got (they didn't), but because the mechanism was the same in every case. Roseanne has always been a racist weirdo, and James Gunn has always pushed the bounds of good taste with his humor. What changed was the involvement of internet mobs.
By capitulating to the Twitter rage of a few thousand assholes, Disney is subtly teaching us that online mobs, no matter how stupid their platform, can make a difference. It doesn't matter if they're right, as long as they're loud. And that's great when it means firing a sex offender, but it's a hell of a lot less great when it means ousting somebody for a joke they already apologized for years ago.
As another example, look at EA's recent attempt to placate NFL kneeling-during-the-anthem outrage. Americans are split right down the middle about whether players should kneel, and for all the talk about boycotts and plummeting profits, the NFL is still making more money than ever before. But EA only noticed how angry and vocal anti-kneelers were, and so to avoid drawing their ire, they "censored" Colin Kaepernick's name in a couple songs on the Madden 19 soundtrack. Of course, that move sparked a bunch of counter-rage, forcing EA to put Kaep's name back in.
In none of these cases are there any kind of core values that the company is adhering to. They'll support or censor whatever appeases the most zealous crowd. Which means they're incentivizing trolls to become bigger and bigger assholes, because it's the only thing that works.
The Social Media Rage Cycle Creates A Flood Of Free Marketing
Every week, it feels like a company releases a marketing campaign or new product feature that seems to have been concocted through a mix of mild racism and bath salts. Remember when Snapchat released an "anime" filter that turned your favorite tweens into ridiculously offensive stereotypes? Or more recently, the massive online uproar over IHOP's (short-lived) absurd pivot to IHOb? (for "burgers," you see).
It's crazy how these brands didn't anticipate the backlash. Unless, you know, they totally did.
Snapchat's casual racism wasn't the first time they'd tried something like that, but the anime filter just happened to release the week after Instagram added the "Stories" feature. Suddenly everybody forgot about Instagram, and Snapchat was all anybody could talk about. And while we crawled over each other to land the sickest IHOb burn, IHOP quietly increased their quarterly earnings, massively boosted their online presence, and most importantly, quadrupled their goddamned burger sales. Clearly, every single one of you motherfuckers dunking on IHOb did so with an "Ultimate Steakburger" oozing down your other forearm.
Call it the Donald Trump method: In a system that gives the public infinite options for their attention, all that matters is that people are talking about you. The negative tone of the conversation means nothing, because for every one person who was genuinely outraged, the retweets of said outrage alerted a much larger group that IHOP has burgers now. Then the brand can backtrack and/or apologize and get a second round of publicity for free.
Even if these brands aren't all playing fourth-dimensional chess with our outrage, at best they've learned that there's no real cost to offending people. You think Nike was being brave by making Colin Kaepernick the face of their brand this month? The sight of cranky conservatives burning their Nike gear on social media was the best advertising they possibly have hoped for.
The reality is that our largely impotent outrage is the fuel that makes the publicity machine run, so they'll keep finding ways to keep us in that state of mind. That's healthy, right?
Brands Feed A Sense Of Abrasive Superiority
Do you like expensive things? If you do, good news: You may be a horrendous person. For example, did you know that iPhone owners are 21 times more likely to negatively judge somebody who owns an Android and significantly less likely to date them, in large part because Android users tend to make less money? Or how about the fact that the nicer the car, the more likely the owner drives like their only training was years of playing Grand Theft Auto? The good news is it's probably not entirely your fault.
The problem lies partially in how we mostly buy luxury brands to help us feel better about ourselves. Doing so falsely boosts low-self esteem, and can provide a (again, false) sense of belonging and acceptance from others. Some women will even purchase expensive handbags solely to feel safer in their marriage and make other women back the fuck off. Buying nice shit proves their husbands love them. Similarly, men's testosterone is boosted by the quality of car they drive, and women are more attracted to men in nice cars.
The trick is that we all know that we don't need a $15,000 ostrich coat, even if it keeps other ostriches from seducing our husbands. So in order to convince ourselves that it's OK, we use what's called "moral licensing" to justify our splashy, feathery purchases. We'll think stuff like, "Well, I recently helped that old woman cross the street, so I deserve to wrap my body in the warm feathers of the world's ugliest bird." People who rate themselves on surveys as "warm" or "compassionate" were way more likely to buy designer jeans than those that were directly asked if they craved some dope-ass leg wear.
Ironically, this can often mean, like in the cases of iPhone users or BMW drivers, that we convince ourselves we are good people to justify big purchases. And then, after we get those nice things, we turn around and act like jerks. We'll judge people or behave poorly because nice stuff gives us a sense of superiority.
So how does this tie into all of the previous examples on this list? Well, luxury brands know everything about how this works, and intentionally use that psychology to exploit us. That's why high-end salesmen treat customers like shit. They prey on our insecurities and push us toward a purchase, if only so we gain approval from this sophisticated socialite selling wedding bands at the Kay's Jewelers in the mall. Similarly, a 2009 study found that people "exposed" to luxury items "are more likely to endorse self-interested business decisions ... even at the expense of others."
But even if companies like Apple don't know that the cult-like aura around their brands encourage a sense of dickish superiority in their customers (and it would actually be incredibly weird if they didn't know), they at least know what works. "Our products are for the more discerning customer, the ones who think different, the ones who know quality when they see it. Not like those other people. You know who we're talking about."
Preying on insecurity sells. And if stoking those insecurities makes us incrementally worse people, well, that's not their problem, right?
Corporate America is the worst. Maybe go read a book for a little while, like maybe the Cracked De-Textbook?
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For more, check out 5 Ways To Stay Sane In An Era Of Non-Stop Outrage and 7 Reasons The 21st Century Is Making You Miserable.
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