‘Conscience advertising’ stooped to another low recently as Pantene hair products jumped on the bandwagon of making their targets’ eyes swell with tears in order to sell their products. The video has now garnered over six million hits, the last comment on the site right now is, “This is likely the first time I’ve ever welled up for a hair care commercial.” Judging by the thousands of comments from around the globe Pantene have won the hearts, and certainly the minds, of the global public.
‘Cultural capitalism’ as has been argued by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, is a fairly modern way of making money. It involves using ethics, and the exhortations of politically correct culture, to sell a product. You buy a cup of Starbucks Coffee and a kid in Africa gets 0.0001% of the profits…and kids, hopefully, will stay poor in Africa.
The consumer, who derives some kind of conscience pay-off from either buying the product, or liking whatever the product is associated with – in this case deafness – can now spend ethically, and the products that often come under so much flak for the products themselves or how they are made, are seen as more ethical, too. It’s a win, win situation, except of course for the fact that some products are harmful, and we the audience are foever being exploited. If we want to learn about ethics, is a hair product advertisement the right place to learn? Perhaps discrimination and all it ugly permutations can be understood without the help of Pantene, whose singular objective is to take our money. The relationship of profit, or even greed, and compassion, ethics, humanitarianism, is an uncomfortable one.
The fact products are now being linked with ethics, noble causes, is vastly ominous. It shows us a future in which culture is manipulated by a few good men with money in mind. Products themselves become ethical icons, while ethics becomes a lazy, silly subject. We have already seen how Thailand’s CP Company prays on the weak of mind, and so maybe Zizek is right, maybe the future of advertising is with appealing to people’s better natures. Perhaps we can take pleasure in washing our hair, knowing we ‘did the right thing’. Cultural capitalism is serious business.