Marriott’s very modern dilemma

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One of the creepiest things about marketing is the way it attaches ‘values’ to corporations - as if they have a higher purpose beyond selling more products and making their shareholders more rich.

Banks, insurance companies, even fast-food chains now effuse a fake bouquet of worthiness, usually focused on that holy trinity of modern-day virtue: equality, diversity and inclusion. Stuff  against which boxes can be ticked.

The results can be unintentionally hilarious – as when The Carphone Warehouse had to distance itself from a reality-TV racism scandal which, it claimed, was ‘entirely at odds with its values’.

The spectacle of a stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap retailer issuing a pompous statement about its values – as though it had been musing on Rousseau and Mill – meant we had finally reached peak bullshit.

And yet there are times when corporate behemoths are seemingly forced to make moral judgements, often centring on the kind of people with whom they choose to do business.

The hotel chain Marriott is facing flak for hosting a convention of ACT America – a 750,000-strong membership association that calls itself a ‘grassroots national security organisation’.

Awkwardly for Marriott the group has also been called America’s ‘largest anti-Muslim hate group’.

Whatever the truth of the matter –  ACT America’s website carries its own anti-violence, anti-discrimination policy - for a people-facing company like Marriot perception is everything.

Yet, amid calls to cancel the event, Marriott has decided to play this one straight. “We are a hospitality company that provides public accommodations and function space,” it says unarguably. “Acceptance of business does not indicate support or endorsement of any group or individual.”

Part of me admires this stance. After all, when corporations take a moral position on something, it is usually with damage limitation or reputation management in mind – not because a public company with thousands of shareholders is capable of having a belief system, in any meaningful sense.

There is an honesty about Marriott’s position here that it refreshing, even if elsewhere its website points out that ‘diversity and inclusion is fundamental to our core values and strategic business goals’, the kind of meaningless babble that might support or contradict any decision it makes.

Sure, there will always come a point when we expect corporations to exercise some judgement. I would cancel my loyalty card if a hotel chose to host the KKK for example. But life would get pretty tedious if venues – or any other type of corporation – bowed to pressure at the first sign of a Twitter storm. No, those tortuously trite ‘value statements’ should really be kept for special occasions.

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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