|This is a cat. It has nothing to do with the following post. It's just a cat.|
I've mentioned before that I take a lot of consumer surveys about random products, advertising, shopping habits, things like that. It's a way to pass time and I get gift certificates and stuff out of it (I wouldn't advise it as a form of employment or even as supplemental income, but I'm one of those people who actually goes to the website at the bottom of the receipt and fills out a survey for the pitiful 5% off or whatever because I kind of like taking surveys.). As such, I am often amused at the way businesses are trying to get you to perceive them or to perceive yourself for using them. I laugh inwardly when clothing brands ask me if they "make me feel better about myself," or if I consider them a brand that "cares."
I personally find the idea of altruistic companies in general funny. It's not that I don't believe in companies giving to a cause. It's not that I don't think some of their causes are good. It's that I don't see that as the primary purpose of companies. Companies are there to make good business decisions and stay in business. This is how they benefit the world around them. This is how they benefit their employees and stock holders which in turn is how they benefit the economy and by default, eventually, me. That's just how it's supposed to work. That's what capitalism is about, not about whether or not I get ushy-gushy feelings when I purchase from them.
There are some "values" I appreciate in a company. I like honesty. I like to know that they are doing what they say they are doing (this especially goes for financial institutions). I like product labels to say what's inside and expect them to be correctly labeled. If I get a hint that a product does not deliver what it says it will, I stop using that product. That's buyers prerogative after all, and that's why it pays to be informed. I don't really expect a government agency to enforce transparency because I generally trust government bodies less than I trust businesses. Businesses are there to make money. Government bodies are there to protect their own power base, and to me a company that wants my business has a better incentive to remain transparent than a government that just wants me to let them continue what they are doing no questions asked because they're from the government and they're there to "help." After all, if I begin to distrust my bank there is always another bank. If I begin to distrust my government, I have a lot fewer options.
My most recent survey was about financial institutions and it was full of questions like, "Do I feel that this company is looking out for my best interests?" "Do I feel they are invested in helping me meet my financial goals?" "Do I feel they help me make smarter decisions?"
I uniformly answered no, not because I don't trust these particular institutions but because I don't feel that is their job to do these things. I don't feel a bank should attempt to educate me any more than a clothing company should give me an ego boost. It's my job to balance my check book. It's my job to spend wisely, pay off my bills monthly, make my own goals. Why would I expect a bank to do that? It's a bank's job to stay in business so I can continue to use my checking account, not to baby sit me through life.
Of course they are there to make a profit first and foremost. That's not a bad thing. I don't need to have them wrapped in other intentions, no matter how honorable or charitable those intentions may be. I want it to be in their best interest to provide me with the best service and products so that I don't drop them for another company so that they can continue to profit. That's just how it's supposed to work. It kind of falls apart when customers are worried about how a company makes them feel rather than the actual quality of products and services the company is providing. It's like companies are begging to be judged on their packaging rather than their content, and it bugs me that other consumers shop that way. It's so much style over substance. I'm not sure whether companies, through their advertising, are grooming us to shop that way because it is easier to be cool than to work for our money or if companies are responding to the way people shop and have to advertise this way just to be competitive in a society where a status symbol is often treated as a necessity.
Either way, I hope I can raise my kids to advocate for themselves rather than searching out a corporate babysitter or a governmental big brother to protect/educate/decide for them.