Via a blogger at the New York Times I learn a new phrase: Fish Slapper. It’s used to describe those who use religion in their advertising of products and services. The inevitable question gets asked: do they invoke religious iconography to prove they’re devout followers to their potential customers or merely trying lure devout followers in?
Forever 21, the American chain of stores selling trendy, value-priced clothes for young women has a Bible verse, John 3:16, on the bottom of its plastic shopping bags. West Coast-based In and Out Burger features the same verse on the bottom inside rim of its cups.
Perhaps this kind of branding is shorthand for “we’re a good company, trust us.” Do others have the notion that capitalism and religion should be mutually exclusive? Are consumers more inclined to do business with companies who align with a religion or does a company risk alienating audiences?
The blog’s author, MP Mueller, interviewed some business leaders to see what their thoughts were about this. Josh Wall, the vice president of development at Christian Brothers Automotive explained the history behind their name (coincidence masquerading as a miracle sent from God) but stated that most people “actually don’t connect the dots” and instead think people with the surname Christian started the business. It’s interesting to note that they don’t correct that erroneous assumption when it happens. You’d think they would have the urge to do so if they feel so compelled to retain their Christianized company name. But no:
We are just trying to be a light in the world. Love our neighbor as ourselves, treat them the way we want to treat our family. Those who don’t get to know our brand better may question or be cynical about our motives. That’s okay, we welcome that. We just want the opportunity to show people what excellent automotive repair is about.”
I think “excellent automotive repair” should be about a commitment to hire people who are skilled at automotive repair. Quality education and training doesn’t require a hearty dose of Jesus love in order to validate it. All consumers should care about is their willingness to stand by their work and their reputation. That doesn’t require Jesus either. Work ethic can be independent of religious ethic. I think some would argue that it always should be. Those people who think their devotion to crucifixes matter more than their doing their jobs come to mind.
Mueller also notes the existence of a Jewish attorneys network and the creators of it report being somewhat surprised by the majority of gentiles (is that word still used?) who select their services. They think it’s because the downtrodden in need of legal aid tend to assume Jewish lawyers will be most sympathetic to what they’re going through, considering their own past as a culture. Maybe they’re right, but lawyers have a commitment to making sure justice is done; if that person is nearly as guilty as Hitler, a Jewish lawyer can hardly lay a “Get Out of Jail Free” card on the table to save him.
As far as myself, I think I’d go out of my way to avoid overtly religious companies and organizations when distinctly secular options are readily available. Obviously I’m not going to grill every shop owner on his or her relationship with Jesus before I’ll commit to spending money there. That would be ridiculous. Walmart is pro-Christian but I boycott it for crimes against humanity types of reasons, not because they’re a “family values” behemoth sitting in judgement of what’s Christian enough to be sold in their stores. It goes against my ethics to support a company that doesn’t value its families enough to provide adequate wages and health care.
Consumers have to decide what they value. Maybe some don’t care about the ethics and morality behind the places they choose to shop. Maybe they don’t wonder what gets done with their money after they give it over. Maybe they don’t think about the people who work in shoddy conditions to provide that merchandise for sale. Who knows.
Claiming a Christian influence isn’t good enough, though. Not to my way of thinking. It might create an assumption that they’re better people, but does that give them leave never to be called upon to prove it?
I don’t have a good end to this. Feel free to add any thoughts that come to mind.