Woke corporate politics: There’s a price to pay – With insights from The Wall Street Journal

A number of US CEO’s have embraced ‘woke’  corporate policies in recent years. While some may have thought this to be harmless – and perhaps good for business – it has seemingly come with a price, as the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal comment on a spate of advertisements from the Consumers’ Research, a conservative non-profit based in the States. Companies such as clothing brand Nike, American Airlines and Coca-Cola have all been on the receiving end of the Consumers Research, with campaigns targeting their brand credibility. As The Wall Street Journal notes, Nike – who embraced Colin Kaepernick for taking the knee during the US national anthem – is criticised for choosing China over America – “The ad mentions CEO John Donahoe and claims the company produced shoes in a factory and regions suspected of using forced Uyghur labor.” Similar campaigns have targeted Coca-Cola and American Airlines, but Will Hild, executive director of the non-profit, has said that other companies may be next. See below for an example of the campaign. – Jarryd Neves

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The Price of Woke Corporate Politics

A new ad campaign targets Nike, Coca-Cola and American Airlines.

May 19, 2021 6:48 pm ET

Some of America’s most prominent CEOs have been getting political, as in woke political, and perhaps they figured it was cost-free. They are now learning the hard way that it isn’t, as a national advertising campaign targets their brands and credibility.

The campaign launched Tuesday by Consumers’ Research, a conservative nonprofit, takes aim at Nike, Coca-Cola and American Airlines. But others could be the targets, says Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research. The 30-second spots will air on national cable news, as well as “in local markets where the companies are headquartered,” the nonprofit said. One source says the overall ad buy could be up to $13 million.

Each ad treats the companies like a political candidate would an opponent, hitting the company’s reputation and contrasting its high-minded social-justice rhetoric with its other behavior. Nike embraced Colin Kaepernick, the woke former quarterback, one ad says, but “rather than hiring Americans, Nike chose China.” The ad mentions CEO John Donahoe and claims the company produced shoes in a factory and regions suspected of using forced Uyghur labor.

Nike says its code of conduct prohibits “any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor” and that it has no evidence “of employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities” from Xinjiang in it supply chain.

Another ad calls out Coca-Cola and CEO James Quincey for opposing Georgia’s voting law. It highlights the beverage company’s contribution to obesity.

A third ad targets American Airlines. “Why is CEO Doug Parker trying to appease the radical left? To distract from billions in taxpayer bailouts, from his $10 million payday, from American’s record layoffs.” It takes the airline to task for losing baggage, shrinking leg room amid the pandemic, and attacking Texas’s voter ID law even as it requires identification from its passengers.

These attacks are sometimes excessive, as political ads usually are, since Covid-19 is the cause of airline layoffs and sugary drinks aren’t the only cause of obesity. But when CEOs take sides in political fights unrelated to their business interests or regulation, they have to expect to be treated like politicians themselves.

CEOs may have different justifications for their new progressive politics. Some may be speaking out of conviction, though most seem ill-informed about the political fights they’ve joined, such as state voting laws. Nike and Mr. Donahoe flaunt their leftist positions as part of their brand identification. Others may be hoping to buy cheap grace from the Biden Administration. Still others may be bowing to politically charged employees. But CEOs get paid to lead and protect their brands, not to be led by people who think business should embrace their politics.

The woke business trend isn’t healthy for the free-market cause. CEOs risk undermining support on the grass-roots and Congressional right for business, mirroring the anti-corporate sentiment that dominates the left. CEOs can never buy enough absolution from the left as long as they believe in profit. Alienating the right leaves them friendless. We warned CEOs that this would happen when they went for woke, and now it has.

Perhaps corporate boards should do their jobs and start exercising some supervision over politicized executives.

Appeared in the May 20, 2021, print edition.