This paper will critically analyze Adam Conover’s YouTube segment titled Why “Buy one get one” Companies Don’t Help Anyone. Non-profit businesses sound ideal, right? You purchase something and can feel as if you’re contributing to the greater good because you are benefitting someone less fortunate than you. Tom’s, a shoe company, is built on the paradigm, “Buy one give one,”. In Adam Conover’s YouTube segment he debunks the myth and exposes the truth about Toms.
In this paper, I will reveal the elements of persuasion used and explain how and where these techniques infiltrated the information provided in the video. The central argument in Conover’s podcast is that “give one get one model doesn’t help anyone” (Adam 2015). Conover uses several persuasive techniques such as, empathy, stereotyping and credible outside sources, in the video to capture the viewer’s’ attention and emphasize the importance of critical thinking when viewing advertising campaigns and commercials. Conover uses Toms Shoe Company as a platform to inform the audience that not all charity is non-profit. In the episode Conover is personable, humorous and convincing when addressing the fact that Tom’s business model is misleading to the public. He uses what J. Leonard calls Plain Folks, a propaganda technique where the speaker convinces the audience of an idea because it came from the people. The consumers are just like the students and the teachers which emphasizes their reaction when they realize they’ve been tricked by Toms. This explains why the students and teacher are extremely shocked to hear that Toms isn’t what they thought. Conover uses Tom’s Shoe Company to exploit other non-profit businesses that are deceiving their customers and although they may have good intentions, it’s important to research if these products are actually helping the communities in need.
Conover draws his viewers in by using empathy, rhetoric and effective imagery throughout the episode. The first scene takes place in a classroom where the students are eager to learn about the compassionate CEO of Toms, Blake Mycoskie. The students watch a Tom’s advertisement, while soft lovely music in the background, and the students quickly fall in love with the idea of giving back to another community. One student even says “I love Toms,” after watching the commercial. Conover then reveals, that there is no Toms, equivalating this to the fact that Santa is not real. This upsets the children and not only is the idealized idea of Toms ruined, but also their imagination. This is effective in getting the audience’s attention because it crushes a cultural paradigm. Conover further exploits Blake Mycoskie, and jabs at his credibility by revealing his past acting career, and highlight moments on Fox’s Sexiest Bachelor, who gave away “dat ass” on publicly broadcasted television. Although he doesn’t blatantly say this, Conover uses the stigma of reality TV stars, Stereotyping and Name Calling Conover instantly changes the viewers’ perception of Mycoskie. Conover stereotypes Mycoskie as a privileged white male with “piercing blue eyes” who gives people things they don’t need. In addition to stereotyping, Conover executed the graphics of the video to help persuade the viewers’ opinion of Toms. He uses cartoon imagery of a city, and plops down a skyscraper labeled Toms. We learn that it costs 4 dollars to make the shoe, and the company gives away a pair of 4 dollar shoes, making a 52 dollar profit for every pair of 60 dollar shoes they sell. This makes the teacher and viewers skeptical and brings awareness to the extreme profitability of Toms. The skyscraper effectively illustrates the rapid financial success of the company. Conover then contrasts the image of the skyscraper with the teachers condescending perception of Africa, where there are “elephants and people with water jugs on their heads,” this highlights the general populations’ delusion of issues in developing countries. Conover also facilitates an interview with the Teddy Ruge, founder of Rain Tree farms, about the effects of Toms shoes in Uganda. Teddy refers to the segments in Toms commercials as “poverty porn” where they go extreme situations and make it look like the most common situation on the continent. Ruge informs us about the actual hardships in developing nations and the communities concerns with malaria, job security and electricity. Ruge continues to explain that the children don’t understand the effects free shoes has on local economy, shoe stores, and cobblers for example.
We learn that the effects of Toms shoes are detrimental to the communities ability to self-sustain and invest in the local economy. The economic ramifications of free shoes actually cause more harm than help to the communities. Conover’suse of rhetoric in the episode provokes the audience to ask themselves, “Is it useful to give people something they don’t need”. This interactive conversation is helpful in persuading the audience to believe that Toms business isn’t all is adds up to be. Adam effectively destroys the students’, teacher’s and audiences idea of Toms and leaves them feeling empty as if the business has done nothing but harm villages in need. The major point of the episode is to criticize Toms for false advertising and to encourage viewers to engage in critical thinking, and to encourage viewers to check the their sources of information when observing advertisements.
Conover works with a group of “ seven writers and five researchers, from academia and journalism, on staff,” and thoroughly checks the facts he declares, “Nothing goes into our scripts that our research staff doesn’t fact check and review”. Conover is a credible source the New York Times calls him a “genial provocateur”. The interview with Teddy Ruge provided in the episode is also another credible source. Ruge has over a decade of experience helping African and international organizations, including clients like the World Bank”. It’s clear that Conover is using credible knowledge and facts when he is debunking the common believe about Toms Shoe Company in his episode. The television show Adams Ruins Everything goes even further and publishes an online bibliography after each episode. With constant streams of advertisements, fake news, and other media that we are exposed to, it’s crucial that we have credible sources and that we fact check our information implicate critical thinking, even when talking about shoes. Although Conover is credible and uses quality information it’s important to be wary of his point of view and think critically when watching and engaging with the episode. Conover is very opinionated and it’s clear from the start that his mission is to reveal the dirty truth about Toms. After all the show is called Adam Ruins Everything, so it’s no surprise that he is invested discovering and outing the truth about Toms. To Conover’s disadvantage, after the episode aired, Toms company made ample changes to their business plan. Toms expanded their business model and now sells other items such as backpacks, coffee, and eyewear. These products also benefit developing communities; with every pair of sunglasses purchased they are helping people who need eye care. With production of backpacks TOMS is aiming to reduce the amount of bullying in the schools of United States by providing training to school staff. These actions have positive impacts. When addressing the local economy in struggling communities Mycoskie decided it wasn’t enough to manufacture the products in the US so he built shoe-manufacturing facilities in places like Haiti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Over 700 jobs have been created to date.
These adjustments have created economic opportunity in several communities and in the long run will benefit the community itself. Toms has clearly moved past the “buy one give one” model and expanded their business plan by addressing issues such as clean water, vision, and bullying. Most importantly, while being interviewed by Jason Haber, a journalist from The Entrepreneur, Mycoskie addressed the underlying issues behind the reasons why people needed shoes in the first place and has become more aware of the complex issues of communities around the world.
It’s safe to say that after watching Adam Ruins Everything I was convinced that Toms was a for profit company that only advertised for helping communities in need. However, it’s important that I also make use of critical thinking when engaging in any source of information. After researching and finding that Toms made a huge adjustment to their business plan I would support the company and found that the adjustments they made were appropriate to addressing issues in developing countries.