Final Blog Post

 Our group chose to focus on Virtue Signaling in the Communications Industry for our final project. Virtue signaling is a tactic commonly used by companies to create an image of being ethically sound in a way that doesn’t reflect actions. Commonly, virtue signaling focuses on topics such as environmental protection (greenwashing), feminism ( purplewashing), LGBTQ+ rights (pinkwashing), and racial equality. Brands will take note of what issue is currently “trending” and then express their views on the topic in order to capitalize on those interested in the cause. However, these statements of interest or surface level actions often fail to be backed by in-depth initiatives and are more about making a dollar than making a difference.

Virtue signaling is not a new concept. Politicians have been using it for as long as they needed the support of the people. Similarly, brands have historically used this tactic to draw in audiences, especially amidst controversy. One notable example was by a cigarette company in 1929. Edward Bernays (commonly known as the father of public relations) was hired to sell cigarettes to an emerging audience- women. To do this, Bernays helped the company to create messaging that implied that these cigarettes were “torches of freedom” that granted equality for women and that the company really cared about women’s rights and the feminist movement. However, the motivation behind this messaging was not to help women, but to capitalize on their struggles. While women fought for workplace equality, this same company released ads encouraging them to lose weight by smoking, a push that helped lead to the toxic diet culture we have today. The smoking rate among women did increase significantly, but so did the health problems associated with smoking. This public relations campaign was just one of many  that took advantage of social struggles to increase revenue.  

Recently, it is increasingly apparent that younger generations want to invest their time and money into brands that use their platforms to enact community change that they view to be positive. It is now expected for companies to take a stance on controversial issues. However, these brands don’t want to isolate any part of their audience and will therefore take stances that are perfomatory rather than substantial. For example, Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial that featured a protest and demonstrated support for “equality” and “peace” without actually taking a stand in order to look involved without actually taking the risk of taking a stance. This decision backfired, with many saying that it trivialized the Black Lives Matter Protests that were currently going on and with others saying that it was glorifying riot violence. 

The ethical considerations to take into account when evaluating these issues center around the teleological understanding of balancing intent versus impact, as well as considering whether the benefits that these companies reap are worth the potential harm caused to others. 

 We felt that this topic would be enlightening and thought provoking for the class and would encourage them to question their own motives behind their virtuous actions online as well as the motives of companies and public figures. 

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