At the beginning of 2017, the website 24⁄7 Wall St. released a list of the dozen most hated corporations in America. Now, this is a field where the competition is incredibly heated. There are so many good candidates, it’s hard to narrow it down to the most deserving winners of all. But a gamely effort was made and thoughtful selections were produced based on the evaluations of consumers, employees, and experts.
So…where are they now? Have they changed their ways? We address these questions and more with a brief look back at the year in commercial malfeasance, as perpetrated by six of the reigning corporate champions of public hatred. You know them as: Comcast, McDonald’s, Wells Fargo, Facebook, Mylan, and Sears.
Narcissism of Comcast
Comcast is the largest cable TV and Internet company in America, as well its most hated corporation. Today, the aging telecom boasts abysmal customer satisfaction, high and unfair prices, misleading promotions, aggressive sales ops masquerading as call centers, sabotaging net neutrality, counter-funding municipal broadband campaigns — even targeting female customers with obscene bills written up with insults and abusive language. WTF Comcast?
Some say the problem with Comcast lies in its “narcissistic” corporate culture. It may also have to do with a total lack of incentive to do better, given how little competition the rentier conglom usually faces. In the U.S., the major telecommunications companies maintain a de facto system of fiefdoms, i.e. regional monopolies that are effectively based on a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between players to stay out of each other’s territories.
“These companies know that when they are awarded a local franchise, they can pretty much do as they please without fear of consequences,” notes Salon writer Cliff Weathers.
Comcast skated through 2017 with promises of gigabit-speed Internet on its lips, giving consumers that aren’t completely disillusioned something to look forward to. One thing is for sure, though; it’s going to take some hella fast web speeds for Comcast to recuperate its tattered reputation.
McDonald's ...and that creepy clown, too
McDonald’s is an older brand under threat in a changing world of increasingly health-conscious consumers and power-conscious employees, both reportedly sick of the burger joint’s low standards.
In recent years, the iconic fast food chain has been embroiled in controversies over anti-worker labor practices, poverty wages, rent gouging, job automation and the dubious quality of its food. There’s been fire over its role in fueling childhood metabolic disorders, animal cruelty, deforestation, plastic pollution, the career of that creepy clown mascot “Ronald McDonald,” and more.
Honestly, people are starting to wonder if McDonald’s hasn’t been a very good friend all these years after all. The brand’s landlords have been in damage-control mode all year as they move forward with a strategic makeover intended to rebrand the franchise on the front end as totes healthy after all — while at the same time tinkering under the hood to limit corporate’s exposure to franchisee problems. Will these changes give McDonald’s the new lease on life it craves? Time will tell.
In the meantime, as always with McDonald’s, caveat emptor.
Moral hazards of Wells Fargo
Oh, Wells Fargo. Where to begin? Warren Buffet’s vicious pet bank is hardly an iota more popular today than it was in 2016 when its deep-seated, long-repressed issues first blew up in its face. To the contrary, the scandal — which exposed a stunning history of criminal abuse of both customers and workers — only widened in 2017.
Wells Fargo literally nurtured a decades-long de facto policy of mass identity theft and financial abuse of its own customers. Millions of fake savings and checking accounts, credit cards, and insurance policies were created in order to drive up the bank’s own sales numbers (and presumably stock price). The bank’s predatory behavior was backed by the systematic abuse of employees and retaliation against anyone who refused to go along with it.
This year we learned the scandal has yet to be plumbed to its true depths. More fake accounts have been discovered. And there is growing speculation the 165-year-old bank may not survive this catastrophe. With no end to the fallout in sight, it’s safe to say Wells Fargo’s status among the most hated corporations is secure for the foreseeable future.
Don't smoke FaceCrack
Facebook, the world’s leading social media company and online social network. With some two billion active users, it is one of the great success stories of the digital era… Or is it? Many people are beginning to question the psycho-social impacts of Facebook’s proprietary social universe — including its own creators.
According to former executive Sean Parker, the highly lucrative social network is designed for the express purpose of cultivating dopamine-driven user addiction to the social validation — and drama — made superavailable within the software’s controlled social milieu. Ex-VP of User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya recently commented in a regret-tinged talk, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
Indeed, several studies suggest heavy Facebook users are more depressed and stressed, and may suffer degraded attention spans. Interestingly, Facebook addiction, like Internet addiction, causes the same changes in the brain as alcohol and drug dependence. So there’s good reasons to call it “FaceCrack” after all!
Facebook might be a grandiose social engineering experiment with the potential to cripple civilization from the inside out. Nevertheless, the new-media behemoth has the money, the power, and the momentum to sustain its breakneck pace of global expansion into 2018. So stay tuned; things are only going to get weirder.
Mylan is a large pharmaceutical company that became a household name when a brouhaha over the cost of its flagship “EpiPen” product erupted in the summer of ‘16. At the time, Mylan executed another brazen price hike on its market-dominant “epinephrine autoinjector.” It was the latest in a string of increases which gradually cranked up the price from around $90 to more than $600 — even though the pen’s manufacturing costs never rose above $35.
The EpiPen is a simple device that millions of people with severe allergies must carry in order to save their lives in case they go into anaphylactic shock. Those who depend on it have little choice but to pay whatever it takes, and that’s just the bind Mylan sought to exploit.
Fortunately, Mylan’s cruelty (and corruption) helped expose the larger crisis of cruelty and corruption infesting the pharmaceutical industry. In 2017, the state of Maryland passed a law against drug price gouging and New York established new value-based pricing rules — positive starts that have raised hopes for further action against the kind of corporate healthcare practices people really hate.
Sears: No country for old department stores
Sears was once lifted up as a beacon of prosperity for upwardly mobile baby boomers who clamored for brands and service of middle-class distinction. Now the department store looks like a debt-bloated has-been, belatedly wishing it had tried out that whole e-commerce thing. Now it’s just another statistic in the retail apocalypse.
The problem with Sears is that it’s half-dead. Because the company has no future, there’s no incentive to clean up its reputation and offer some value. So that’s pretty anticlimactic…By this point, those in the know — like the CEO — have taken steps to insulate themselves from the merchandiser’s slow-motion collapse. Customers and workers are advised to do the same. People, it’s time to stop hating and start running away, fast.