From Lust to Lorax: Commercializing Anti-Consumerism

  1. The Lorax's Corporate Partners
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    The Lorax's Corporate Partners

    "Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back." —Dr. Seuss's The Lorax

    How much more clearly could the eco-friendly Dr. Seuss character have stated his position on deforestation? So it's a triumph of commercial chutzpah that the just-released Illumination Entertainment animated film manages to tie what Stephen Colbert calls a "little orange tree hugger" to 70 corporate partners, from IHOP pancakes to Mazda's CX-5 SUV, to Seventh Generation disposable diapers, to an HP printer app. Nothing draws multinationals like a green sponsorship opportunity. Even if it's orange. The Lorax is hardly the first anti-consumption or counterculture messenger who's been turned to commercial use. Click through for some more notable examples.
  2. WALL-E
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    WALL-E

    In this 2008 animated Pixar movie, an adorable robot is left behind to clean up the earth's trash after its people light out for space to grow fat and lazy. WALL-E teaches us about the evils of consumerism, while sending movie goers forth to buy lots of WALL-E party plates, plush toys, and dancing toy robots. The film is universally agreed to be a giant, though subtle, placement for Apple products, which of course must quickly move on to landfills (when not recycled) to make room for the next generation of iPods and iPhones. Looks like more work for WALL-E.

  3. "Mercedes Benz"
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    "Mercedes Benz"

    Janis Joplin was making fun of consumerism, at a time (just before her death, in 1970) when people didn't even know what a home equity loan was. By the mid-'90s, counterculture was ripe for the picking by Madison Avenue. Still, it was jarring when Mercedes adopted the song for a car ad. Having it sung by regular folks waiting for a bus, riding a scooter, and herding sheep seemed especially twisted. Janis, of course, drove a Porsche.

    Photograph by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
  4. Weather Underground
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    Weather Underground

    The Weathern Underground, or Weathermen, were a radical 1960s antiwar organization formed to battle the U.S. government, banks, and other oppressors of the masses. The name was pulled from a line in a Bob Dylan song: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Today, if you want to know which way the wind's blowing, or what the convective outlook is for Atlanta, you go to Weather Underground, a real-time weather website spun out of the University of Michigan (which, curiously, was also the stomping ground for some Weathermen). And Dylan? He's done a turn as a shill for Victoria's Secret. 'Nuf said.

    Photograph by David Fenton/Getty Images
  5. "Lust for Life"
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    "Lust for Life"

    Perhaps you first heard Iggy Pop's ode to the drugging life in Trainspotting. That pairing worked, since the 1996 movie was about a man trying to clean up. But just who thought "Lust for Life" made a good soundtrack for a Royal Caribbean cruise television ad? True, you don't really hear the lyrics ("Here comes Johnny Yen again/With the liquor and drugs/And the flesh machine..."), save for the catchy chorus. And of course it's got that great drum track. Who knows, maybe pirates will hijack your cruise ship and make you take drugs and strip. Then having Iggy writhing on the Lido deck will make perfect sense.

    Photograph by Kevin Cummins/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  6. Nike
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    Nike

    "The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions." So sayeth Gil Scott-Heron in his iconic 1970s rap on race and revolution, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." But as reimagined by Nike in a 1995 commercial, the revolution will be used to sell sneakers: "Jason Kidd speaks for the revolution, for the revolution is about basketball." Nike is a repeat offender here, having also strapped Beat poet William S. Burroughs and Beatle John Lennon to the advertising wheel. For many Baby Boomers, Nike's 1987 "Revolution" ad featuring Lennon's song—the first time a Beatles recording was licensed for a TV ad—was the jail break for anti-consumer commercialization.

  7. Apple
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    Apple

    A crowd of drones march into a hallway to listen raptly to a man who controls their every thought. Steve Jobs in one of his classic MacWorld appearances? No, silly—Apple's "1984" Mac ad. OK, so it's hard to take the Apple/Big Brother comparison too far. Still, the similarities are a testimony to Jobs's success in crafting a rebel image for a company that has a $500 billion market value shortly after his passing. The maker of the iPad, iPhone, and Mac has done a masterful job of putting icons to use peddling hardware. No Apple products appeared in the "Think Different" campaign. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon did. In "1984," the rebel message was clearly aimed at the Megatron of computing at the time, IBM. Today, though, it is Apple that controls digitized music and tablet computing with a grip that Orwell himself would have admired.

  8. Guy Fawkes
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    Guy Fawkes

    You can't get any more anti-establishment than Guy Fawkes, the 16th-century plotter who tried to blow up the English House of Lords. No wonder some members of the Anonymous hackers group, and the Occupy Wall Street protesters, adopted Guy Fawkes masks to drive home their message of mass empowerment against governments and corporations. But here's where commercialization and dissent truly trip over each other: It turns out the rights to the mask's image are held by Time Warner, which featured it in the 2005 movie V for Vendetta. So every time a protestor buys a mask, a multinational gets its wings—or at least a licensing fee.