Sometimes, I wonder if the Beatles shaped my entire worldview. More than a rock band that seemed to guide an entire generation on to the next thing, the Beatles became a kind of government. They established a republic of music, if you will, and while the goals of that republic might have been fuzzy there was no doubting the serious energy involved in defending them.
Then, rather than become obsolete or a repetitive joke, the Beatles broke up. Imagine the Disney company saying, “We’ve done too many same-looking animated films and movies with Tim Allen. We’re calling it quits.” You don’t see a lot of writing about it, but that final decision on the part of the Fab Four left an indelible impression on millions regarding the cosmos of commerce: Don’t keep doing something just for the money.
I begin with this nostalgic look backward because it’s no longer possible to assert that there’s a moral imperative to never “sell out.” The cherished popular music of the 60’s has become the soundtrack of television advertising. And like those often delicate and wistful tunes, it seems that the whale of money eventually swallows all beautiful and individualistic things.
Here now are two paragraphs about Tom’s of Maine, presented for dramatic purposes in reverse order of how they appeared in a March 21 press release:
“Tom’s of Maine creates effective personal care products using simple, natural ingredients derived from plants and minerals. Tom’s of Maine products – mouthwash, floss, deodorant, and soap – do not contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colors, flavors, or animal ingredients; are tested for safety and efficacy without the use of animals; are biodegradable; and are packaged in earth-friendly ways. Guided by a philosophy of Natural Care they donate 10% of profits to charitable organizations; encourage employees to use 5% of their paid time in volunteer work; adhere to standards of natural, sustainable, and responsible; and do not test on animals.”
“Colgate-Palmolive Company (NYSE:CL), as part of its strategy to focus on its higher-margin oral and personal care businesses, today announced that it has agreed to purchase Tom’s of Maine, the leader in the fast-growing Naturals market in the United States.”
Tom and Kate Chapell, who founded Tom’s in 1970 with a non-phosphate soap, go to some length on their web page to explain that “more and more people are looking for safe and effective natural products from plants and minerals from a company that shares their values.” That’s great. “After much soul-searching, and many conversations with our children and trusted advisors, we realized that we cannot meet this growing demand alone.” That’s too bad.
Colgate-Palmolive has a somewhat less “Give (Tooth) Paste a Chance” take on the purchase. The aforementioned press release reads in part, “Tom’s of Maine gives Colgate the opportunity to enter the fast growing health and specialty trade channel where Tom’s toothpaste is the clear market leader commanding 60% share of that channel.”
One view might be that Tom’s is winning by getting a large corporation to assist them in their goals of better, cleaner, healthier health care. If Tom’s philosophies remain intact for their company and employees, maybe it’s a win-win. But here’s what I’d love to see: Colgate-Palmolive announces they are restructuring their corporate model to be exactly like Tom’s, with the donations and the volunteer work and laying-off the animals. Then they promise to never use a Beatles song to sell their products.