5 Stories That Will Change Your Opinion Of Famous Companies
It's been said that corporations are people. That being the case, it should come as no surprise that like so many of us, they have some skeletons hiding in their closets -- dirty little secrets from their past that they'd prefer everyone just not talk about. That's never going to happen, of course. We discuss some of the lesser-known dark sides of famous brands on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Maria Shehata and Cracked editor David Christopher Bell. I'm also talking about some of them in this column today. Go figure!
Target Quietly Treats Employees As Shitty As Walmart Does
Target does a great job of escaping the same "evil corporation" accusations that regularly dog their main competitor, Walmart. In fact, until that unseemly data breach put a huge dent in their reputation, Target was named among "the world's most ethical retailers" seven years in a row. They deserved to be kicked off that list well before they gave everyone your credit card number, though, because they treat their employees like complete and total shit.
Gawker has done a masterful job of tallying up their myriad abuses and shenanigans. Among the highlights is a story about a former manager who was fired for working during his lunch break ... just weeks after filing a complaint about being forced to work during his lunch break. That sounds like the worst straight-to-DVD Friday sequel imaginable.
In another incident, Target shut down a store for seven months for "remodeling" after it nearly became their first store to unionize.
"You should stay and hang out, though!"
Another store undergoing similar renovation work at the same time wasn't closed for nearly as long. They never explained the discrepancy, other than presumably muttering something under their breath about being able to break your kneecaps for asking so many questions if things still worked like they used to in dad's day.
If you doubt Target's dedication to union busting, look no further than the batshit insane anti-union video they make all employees watch as part of their job orientation.
If you don't have time (you don't), it's basically 13 minutes' worth of two Target associates going good cop / bad cop on new employees over the uselessness and greed of unions and their rigid work rules.
You'll never guess which one is the bad cop!
It's not all union busting, though. In another shocking incident, a Target employee with Asperger's Syndrome committed suicide after management put him through the act of "parading," a technique used to embarrass workers who are suspected of wrongdoing into keeping on the straight and narrow going forward. He was handcuffed and walked through the store past fellow employees to a back room, then walked back out -- still in handcuffs -- and taken to a nearby police station, where ... no charges were filed. It's still not really clear what he did to warrant being disciplined, just that he clearly didn't take it the way management hoped he would.
T.G.I. Fridays Was The First Singles Bar
Have you ever heard the phrase "as sexy as a T.G.I. Friday's" before? Of course not. Who would say such a thing? That place can be described in a lot of ways, but "sexy" definitely isn't one of them. Mention the name nowadays and people think of loaded potato skins and workers who have to wear inordinate amounts of "flair" to show their personality. That's not true, by the way. It used to be a requirement, but they stopped after Office Space made a mockery of them for it.
Every person who's ever served you also wanted to shoot you.
No surprise there. Things change, you know? Speaking of change, how about the fact that, despite its current reputation as the place you only go if you're forced to drink with kids in tow, Friday's was started for a completely different reason. To put it bluntly, founder Alan Stillman wanted "to meet Pan Am stewardesses."
This was New York City in 1965, when going out and meeting people meant going to private cocktail parties at random apartments or hanging out in dive bars, which single women tended not to do back then. This was not conducive to Stillman's goal of securing flight attendant strange, so he figured his next best move was to just open a bar of his own.
The atmosphere catered to singles in their 20's and 30's, and his plan worked. In no time at all, people were lined up around the block to get into NYC's hottest new club ... T.G.I. Friday's. Remember the Tom Cruise bartending classic Cocktail? The first bar he works in ...
Do those awnings look familiar?
... is that very first T.G.I. Friday's. It's been rumored that Cruise's character is actually based on Stillman.
Soon, word of this newfangled "singles bar" -- the first of its kind, depending on who you're talking to -- made its way around the country. Interest was high enough that Stillman was able to branch out and open a second location in Memphis, Tennessee. If you've seen the documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me, which is about massively influential Memphis band Big Star, you probably count yourself among one of the people who was absolutely flabbergasted to hear the local T.G.I. Friday's talked about like a booze-and-drug-soaked madhouse that had more in common with CBGB or the Viper Room than a Chili's or Applebee's.
T.G.I. Friday's in the '70s, ladies and gentlemen.
The antics apparently carried over to a third location in Dallas, where stories abound of men in gorilla suits who would routinely storm the building. A news columnist suggested putting the menu in a time capsule "to show future generations where all the madness began." It's at this point that I'll remind you that I'm talking about goddamn T.G.I. Friday's.
According to Stillman, it was expansion that put an end to the chain's raucous lifestyle. As it turns out, mall developers aren't too keen on the idea of moving a rock 'n' roll dive bar into their parking lots when a place that's willing to sing "Happy Birthday" to your kids is also an option. In order to grow, Friday's had to grow up. Fucking sellouts.
Russia Takes Their Anti-American Anger Out On McDonald's
On the long list of people you should consider feeling sorry for, it's highly doubtful that the McDonald's corporation places anywhere near the top, if they even make the list in the first place. After all, we're talking about the crown jewel of the fast food industry's war on our right to not have diabetes. There are entire documentaries dedicated to the horrible effects that their decades of runaway success have had on people around the world.
So it's with kind of a heavy heart that I say here, on the record, right now: "Hey Russia, quit being so mean to McDonald's."
Here's the thing: When Russia was finally opened up to investors from the west, McDonald's was one of the first to get in on the action.
Business was slow at first, on account of their inability to fit the entire nation inside one restaurant.
Given their country of origin and their dominance in the global market, it's no surprise that some in Russia eventually came to see McDonald's as an embodiment of America itself. As such, whenever we do something that makes them mad, Russia starts being kind of a dick to McDonald's.
In July of last year, just weeks after sanctions imposed by the US took effect, Russia had the Filet-O-Fish removed from stores in that country, claiming an investigation had revealed its calorie content was two to three times higher than advertised, as if that's the biggest concern with fish from a Russian McDonald's.
Made from 100-percent Lake Pigeon!
They took it a step further a few weeks later by shutting down several McDonald's locations, including the first ever, which is still the most popular one in Moscow. As funny as the thought of a piece of shit government taking out its anger on a piece of shit of corporation may be, there's a huge hitch in that, unlike in this country, popular opinion in Russia hasn't turned against McDonald's. If anything, the people of Moscow were just upset over losing one of the few cheap places to eat in the city. Many spoke out in favor of McDonald's, writing the store shutdowns off as nothing more than a politics.
As tensions between the two countries increased throughout the year, Russia pulled the biggest dick move of all. After shutting down even more stores, they launched an investigation into Ronald McDonald House Charities on suspicion of money laundering. Do you understand how corrupt you have to be for the Russian government to investigate you for corruption?
Reminder: This man will fucking kill you.
Way more corrupt than Ronald McDonald House, that's for damn sure. The entirety of Russia's "case" against the charity is that they listed some of their assets under "other" on a tax form that was posted publicly on their own website. No one posts evidence of money laundering to the Internet. That is just not how crime works.
When asked if he'd received actual reports of wrongdoing, State Duma Deputy Andrei Krutov said he had not, but added, "I haven't heard any gratitude either." So you know, obviously they're guilty.
Listen, Russia: Stop being a dick to McDonald's. That's America's job. It's like having a shitty younger sibling. You might hate them at home, but that doesn't mean everyone else gets to hate them in public. That tends to make a person angry, and what's happening to McDonald's in Russia right now, as an American, should also make you kind of angry.
Fuck them still in every other way, though. Until the McRib comes back.
Coke Operated Like A Drug Cartel In Mexico For Years
Coke and Pepsi have been fighting the Cola Wars for years, with no clear sign of things coming to a peaceful end any time soon. Traditionally, it's always been a close fight, with Coke's market share hovering somewhere around 40 percent, with Pepsi claiming closer to 30 percent. How that came to be is a damn interesting story in its own right, and we'll get to it, right after this one.
For now, let's focus on the Coke vs. Pepsi war as seen in other countries. Like Mexico, for example, where Coke holds an awe inspiring 70-percent share of the "drinks that will rot your teeth" market. That's a pretty big disparity compared to their lead over Pepsi in the States. How did they pull that off? Simple: In Mexico, Coke operates like a bunch of goddamn thugs.
The Coca-Cola Export Corporation, as they're called in Mexico, carved out that massive market share by going around to individual retailers and taking time out to threaten each one personally. Basically, shops were told they would no longer be allowed to sell Coke if they stocked drinks made by their competitors.
"Will you stop being dramatic? Of course you can still sell cocaine."
Obviously, not being able to stock the most popular drink in the country would mean financial disaster for most store owners, especially those in the more impoverished areas of Mexico.
This presumably started as far back as when NAFTA finally paved the way for America to ruin Mexico. It went on unchecked until 2002, when a lone store owner, a woman named Raquel Chavez, finally fought back. She'd been told her Coke supply was being cut off after she started selling a rival soda brand from Peru called Big Cola.
Grab one with your dominant arm and remember to lift with your legs and not your back today!
Rather than bow to their demands, she said their actions were unconstitutional, adding in this interview, "I didn't really know if it was unconstitutional, but I said it anyway."
As we've learned so many times in this country, it doesn't matter if it's constitutional or not, so long as you say the word "unconstitutional" and aren't afraid of taking that shit to court. Raquel Chavez was more than happy to file a lawsuit. I know, like a Mexican shop owner is going to take down Coke in court, right? Well, they might if Pepsi joins in on the lawsuit. That happened, and in 2005, the Coca-Cola Export Corporation was ordered to pay $68 million in damages, with well over half ... going to Pepsi.
Not exactly the outcome one would've hoped for, but still, a win is a win. Also, this wasn't the first time Pepsi exploited Coca-Cola's shadiness for market-building purposes.
Pepsi Thrived Because Segregation Existed
Walter Mack, a Pepsi executive in the 1940s, was a progressive man who supported progressive causes. As such, when looking into ways to expand his brand's reach in the marketplace, he noticed something unfortunate. In all of Pepsi's advertising at the time, African-Americans were either completely ignored or depicted using only negative stereotypes and imagery. That's when he was struck with what turned out to be a revolutionary idea: Treating blacks like actual people.
Sensing a massive opportunity was afoot, Mack brought in an African-American man named Edward Boyd to head up a team that would create marketing geared toward portraying black people in a positive way. Like this ad, featuring a family throwing down on a six-pack at the dinner table ...
White People Magazine award winner for Most Terrifying Ad of 1947.
Of course, this was still the 1940s, so Pepsi's efforts weren't exactly applauded. Boyd's team faced constant threats and harassment from the racist masses almost every step of the way. They persevered, though, and were even able to use Coca Cola's blatant racism to boost their market share further after Boyd distributed a Time Magazine report about a Coke executive's support of Herman Talmadge, a staunch segregationist who also happened to be the governor of Georgia at the time.
The campaign was a rousing success, so much so that it's credited with launching the concept of niche marketing. Pepsi's market share increased dramatically, even overtaking Coke entirely in markets like Chicago.
Unfortunately, this otherwise positive story does come with the obligatory reminder that, at the end of the day, this is still corporate America we're talking about.
They only have one boss.
Pepsi's newfangled business tactics didn't sit well with people within the company and various affiliates who didn't want to be portrayed as exclusively marketing to blacks, for fear of pushing away white customers altogether. Walter Mack, progressive man who supported progressive causes, dissuaded those fears in front of an audience of 500 or so Pepsi bottlers at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the most sad and pandering way imaginable, saying, "We don't want it become known as a nigger drink."
Like I said, this is corporate America we're talking about. Would you expect the story to end any other way?
Adam is telling jokes in person tonight and tomorrow in Albuquerque. You can also see him on 4/7 in Kansas City and 4/8 in St. Louis. On top of all that, you can also follow him on Twitter @adamtodbrown. The possibilities are endless!
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