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by Mary Harrington
Monday, 7
June 2021
Spotted
10:09

Liberty Energy opens a new anti-woke front in corporate PR

Their online rebuttal to North Face could signal the start of a new trend
by Mary Harrington

When Chancellor Rishi Sunak was pictured in February 2020 making Yorkshire tea for his staff, it triggered such a backlash on Yorkshire Tea that the brand’s response to one angry tweeter went viral. ““You’re shouting at tea” prompted a wave of clickfarm articles and print-on-demand mugs, and ‘shouting at tea’ a byword for the kind of unhinged social media rage that gets directed at entities which aren’t even people. But Yorkshire Teagate signalled a tipping-point in the politicisation of corporate communications.

Whether it’s Oatly using ‘sustainability’ to promote its blend of oats, maltose, industrial seed oil and phosphate additives as an ethical alternative to milk, or Amazon banning books and deplatforming undesirables from its hosting services, an overtly political stance seems increasingly standard for corporate ‘personalities’. So it should come as no surprise to see corporates joining the meta-argument as well, about what constitutes political authenticity and what’s just ‘virtue signalling’.

Recently, outdoor clothing brand The North Face refused to fulfil an order by Innovex Downhole Solutions, an oil and gas services company, for custom branded North Face jackets because of their industry sector. In response, the CEO of Liberty Energy, an oilfield services company, took to social media to thank The North Face for being such a good customer of the oil and gas industry.

Nylon, polyester and other such artificial materials typically used to create leisurewear all take oil and gas derivatives are all petroleum-based. So even as The North Face was refusing to sell its jackets to an oil and gas company, it was using petroleum-based fabrics to make every single one of those jackets.

In practice, this spat has much in common with the manufactured banter you see on Twitter between aligned ‘brands’, just with the culture-war edge that’s become a feature of all online discourse in recent years. It might be tempting to dismiss it as just another PR stunt. But it points to a trend I see on the horizon: polarisation in how corporates take sides in the culture war, based on business type.

So far, corporate moral signalling has tended to be woke. But there’s no reason this should necessarily be so, if being ‘anti-woke’ would enable a business to signal more effectively to its customer base. The Hillbilly Elegy writer and would-be Ohio Senator JD Vance touched on this recently, in his manifesto on how American conservatives can take the fight to ‘woke capital’.

Vance points out that it’s international finance, tech, and globalised firms with outsourced manufacturing and international finance backing that tend to be most vociferously woke, and argues that conservatives should use policy levers to disincentivise this.

Between the lines of his argument lies a key insight: as it’s propagated by corporates, woke is a de-materialised, placeless worldview, committed to breaking down anything local, tangible, rooted and specific. As such it’s inimical to the interests of ‘the little people’ but also to a swathe of businesses.

This latter set of businesses — those tied to a place or selling to place-loyal people — may decide it’s in their interests to join the culture war on the side of the opposition. Liberty Energy vs North Face looks to me like the first PR skirmish of a new front in the culture war.

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James Slade
James Slade
2 years ago

I think it’s much simpler than corporates promoting a world view. Business selling high end products are aiming their corporate image at the views fashionable amongst those with high disposable incomes. Unilever doesn’t use woke when selling pg tips but does when selling Ben and Jerry’s. The business are telling it’s consumers what they want to here.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  James Slade

hear, I think

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  James Slade

Capitalists are going to do capitalism. I think you’re right. Which is very worrying for all the people who think ‘woke’ is threatening Western Civilisation as they know it. When the capitalists jump ship you know the ship’s going down.
Oil and gas industries are on their way out – no amount of anti-woke PR will change that – it’s capitalism in action.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

“Oil and gas industries are on their way out” 
So, presumably is North Face clothing. I guess you can revert to wearing animal skins.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I wouldn’t be seen dead in North Face clothing. I do have a leather jacket. What was your point?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I don’t think that you have been paying attention.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Did you look at the link Mary gave about North Face. The emphasis for oil & gas may change from powering cars but it will still be a vital part of our life.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago

I don’t disagree. My point was that capital will follow profit and the profits from the Oil and Gas industries are not looking as rosy as they used to.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

You actually said. “Oil and gas industries are on their way out”, rather than, “and the profits from the Oil and Gas industries are not looking as rosy as they used to.”
So what other non oil and gas dependent clothing are you going to wear under your leather (yuck) jacket?.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

“Oil and gas industries are on their way out – no amount of anti-woke PR will change that – it’s capitalism in action”.

It will be these oil and gas companies who will be at the heart of that transition, using new technologies and economies of scale to deliver it.

Or do you just hate oil and gas companies?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Absolutely, the oil and gas companies that want to survive will change to follow the profit and probably re-brand as something else.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Fair enough

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Is that why Rosneft is spending €140 billion to develop the worlds largest oil and gas complex in Siberia? Or why China and others will soon buy all our natural resource and associated companies? Sorry, it’s our country and the way of life of the 99% (which includes you) that’s going out of business unless we stop communism.
Britain can’t survive on printed money forever, or even be able to make the repayments on its govt gigantic debt pile.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I just bought a load of stock in Alberta oil and gas, and have been buying uranium mining stock – I am out of equities and into energy and gold + silver.
Oil is going through the roof, just look at the prices at the pump. As the poor nations get stuff one of the first things they want are cars, trucks, motorcycles, generators, and unless there is a huge depression the third world will be buying hundreds of millions of them – and NOT Teslas.
North Face are just fat-Cat Liberals who are wealthy selling trendy lifestyle stuff to the wealthy and want the globes ‘little people’ to keep living in poverty.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago

We have been here before. Here’s Andrew Brown writing about Sweden in the 1970s:
“In Lilla Edet, an old-fashioned place near the west coast of Sweden […], the class divide ran down the middle of the main street. On the side away from the river there was ICA, the “bourgeois” shop; on the west side, facing it, stood Konsum, the Co-op, where the socialists shopped. Both of them were small supermarkets, though the aisles in Konsum were narrower, and the plastic baskets red instead of blue. Both sold almost exactly the same range of groceries and small bits of hardware, but I don’t remember them having a single brand in common. If you bought your split-pea soup from Konsum, it came in a blue and white package. If it came from ICA, it had an excitingly capitalist coloured paper label on the tin. They tasted identical, but I may have been the only man in Lilla Edet to make the experiment and I very seldom went to Konsum. [My wife] Anita’s family used to tell a story about a local politician who, in a hurry, had gone into the wrong supermarket. He spent ten years apologising for this act. Where you shopped determined where you lived, what you believed—even the evening classes you attended, as almost everybody did. There was little else to do on winter evenings.”

Last edited 2 years ago by Basil Chamberlain
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

What totally moronic hypcocrites North Face are. If they had any integrity they would now proceed to make their clothes out of nothing put pure wool or whatever.

James Slade
James Slade
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It’s just marketing. North Face’s owner, the VF corporation, also owns Dickies. Dickies specialises in making workweare, including overalls used in the oil and gas industry. They tell rich white Americans what they want to hear and take their cash.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
2 years ago
Reply to  James Slade

It’s just a pity that the rich white (guilty?) Americans want to hear that rubbish in the first place.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Or revive sealskin clothing – but of course there would be objections to that too.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

You beat me to it! Great minds thinking alike I guess.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I can just imagine the woke little brand manager who knows nothing about anything coming up with that. Presumably someone somewhere knows what North Face actually does and how they do it, but I bet they don’t get paid very much, and no one in the “upper” echelons ever talks to them. Ha ha

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Plucked from organically reared sheep, dyed using only natural substances and fastened with wooden toggles held on by hemp string.

Then again they could use pure unobtanium.

Mint Julip
Mint Julip
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

There was quite a furore online when someone told the world that Canada Goose clothing Co were using the skins of trapped coyotes, and subsequently they bowed to the demands of a well supported petition (by promising to use only “recycled” fur on its parkas). If I was manufacturing and selling stuff to the public I’d be inclined to keep my head down and desist from making political/ethical statements because someone, somewhere, is going to catch you out.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Its like boasting about having an electric car & ignoring where the battery comes from.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Well that video was a hoot. I suppose ‘wokeness’ does have a positive side in that it gives us great laughs.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
2 years ago

I have a friend who talked about how North Face and similar companies are going to change the world and save the environment because they are so incredibly wonderful and caring.
I explained that the average North American buys around 400% more clothing than a generation or two ago, and the problem isn’t that people don’t buy environmentally-friendly clothing, the problem is that they keep buying clothing. Our landfills are full of clothing, and there is no market for used clothing any more because it’s so plentiful, and so easy and cheap to buy new, exciting clothes.
IMO the whole idea that we can consume more and more, but if we do it ethically everything will magically work out great, is magical thinking.

S. Smith
S. Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Milburn

Yes.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
2 years ago

Good for you, Liberty Oil. Having the balls to stand up to hypocrisy. You do but wonder if the people in charge of PR production at North Face have even the slightest notion of what they make, and how ?
It really, really, epitomises the phrase “Style over substance”.

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

Great to see competition and free speech working. No wonder they’re so unpopular.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

” as it’s propagated by corporates, woke is a de-materialised, placeless worldview, committed to breaking down anything local, tangible, rooted and specific.
That’s the pithiest and most accurate description of corporate wokeism I’ve yet encountered.

Last edited 2 years ago by J Bryant
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

Between the lines of his argument lies a key insight: as it’s propagated by corporates, woke is a de-materialised, placeless worldview, committed to breaking down anything local, tangible, rooted and specific.
This. But I think the final sentiments are applied neomarxian ‘woke’. James Lindsay of newdiscourses dot com, in a recent podcast titled; ‘Hegel, Wokeness, and the Dialectical Faith of Leftism’, lays out an explanation of the neo marxian’ woke’ operating system called ‘Hegelian Dialectics’ that proceeds via a process called ‘Aufheben’ – keeping and destroying – or abolishing or undermining. So the breaking down or abolishing or undermining or destroying the anything local, tangible, rooted and specific are, I think, those shared, concrete and universal cultural reference points that allow people to connect, communicate and relate to each other. According to Lindsay, neo marxian ‘wokeism’, is a mystical, alchemical, utopian religion that essentially believes that living hidden deep underneath society is a perfected society that can be exposed or made to flourish by eliminating or undermining or destroying or tearing down, from their perspective, the flaws of the overlying leaden culture to reveal the golden utopian society. 
For example, eliminating the concepts of man and woman, the worthiness of heterosexuality for producing children, the idea of mother, the family and other products of culture, such as cancelling books, inverting films, destroying historical statues, reinterpreting buildings and colonising the curriculum etc etc.

S. Smith
S. Smith
2 years ago

I find all of these attacks on the oil and transportation industries by “woke” climate changers very tiresome. Almost none of them are willing to cut back on their consumerist lifestyles, which depend entirely on long transport supply chains and fossil fuels. Their houses and closets are stuffed with the latest fancy gadgets, designer clothes, and high-end furniture from China, and they needlessly replace their stuff every two or three years. Unless and until they are willing to live by their own ideals, no one should feel obligated to listen to them.