Tuesday, June 24, 2008

on doing the right thing

Auntie Christ has some interesting thoughts on making a contribution whilst pursuing our admittedly less-than-august profession.

We all need to earn our way, and making money has let me contribute to places like the Red Cross when natural disasters strike. That's probably one of the only ways our careers actually matter -- barring owning a million dollar apartment, we can afford to help others around the planet when the need is there. I'm not thumping a Bible here, just saying we can look beyond our own insulated selves and give a leg up to the people who go into debt buying the junk we help sell.

I've been asked how I can, in good conscience, work in advertising. (I've also been asked how I can raise kids in Manhattan--why is that question considered OK in polite company but it would be rude for me to ask someone how they can raise kids in Des Moines?)

Do we owe the world for applying our creative skills to pushing product rather than a greater good? Um, I think not. Say you ignored your need for the obvious motivator for most people in the business--$$, that handy thing that you can turn into food and housing and your kids' education--say you followed your heart and went to work for a nonprofit at a fraction what you earn now. It's no guarantee you'd leave the world a better place. Plenty of nonprofits, in my experience, exhibit just as much turf-warring and petty politics as offices in global conglomerates--only the turf they're fighting for is a lot smaller. 

I think our moral responsibility (should you decide to take on that mission) has more to do with having a conscience in our day to day work. Remembering that the spot or ad or site we're working on will be seen by hundreds or thousands or millions who will (god help them) take their cues for what is desirable, what to aspire to--and making choices in casting, copy, visuals (to the extent we have a choice) that reflect our own views on how the world should be.

Joker points out that he's "a hell of a lot prouder of what I've written in my blog and commented on fellow blogs than most of what I've done in my career." Unfortunately, unless you are as lucky as Copyranter, blogging isn't yet a paying gig. Until then, I'll be dialing for ad dollars and the world can thank me for not pursuing an even more morally reprehensible career. Say, politics.


Joker said...

C'est la vie mon amie. OK I've re-read what I wrote, coupled up with what you wrote and compared notes with Auntie and I figured out why I wrote what I did. If I get shit for something I write on my blog, it's all on me. The only filter to speak of is Joker, and for better or worse, I prefer it that way.

With work, at times I've been endlessly grateful for some of the filters I've met along the way because in all honesty, the work got to where it had to get, quality wise and I'm all for that. But that's not every day, every week or every month. Often times I face quite the opposite, "contributions" by people who really take any love you might have for what you do and squat on it, which is one of my main gripes with the industry or any industry, because if the ad doesn't work, we still get the blame. No matter how much a client a CD or an AE distort the original concept or message, you're still the one accountable either for not having stopped them or because selective memory is a bitch.

I really wish blogging would pay the bills but being realistic, it's a long shot for me at best. I've also been asked how I can in good conscience work in advertising. The funny part is that lawyers and doctors are the ones who have asked me this... The first one is priceless just because of the nature of law (or the lack of upholding what lady justice muses about). For the other part, doctors, who are constantly being considered the "elite of the moral crop", demonstrate that your health is also a business and that often times, a patient is a client more than a patient, which is disturbing a concept in itself.

What I think I'm trying to get at is that advertising is just like any job. In theory it's a wonderful industry, but somewhere along the lines, the practice of it loses that sparkle so present when they sold me onto the industry, and for better or worse, I resent that for however childish it may seem and maybe that's why I have so much writing material. But like you said, it's not like a not-for-profit (boy I hate that term) org is any different. It's all some type of business and we have to do what we can to make a world a better place on our own time and dollar if that's what we're into.

As per usual, great post and my thanks for the mental meal.


ps.: word verification encak

interpretation en-cak = cak-en = cak-and = cake and eat..... I should be the word verification clairvoyant.

Anonymous said...

It might be rationalizing but I think I'm less reprehensible than a "public interest" lawyer working to defend rapists or dealers who sell to middle schoolers. We've all got to pay bills and if you look hard enough, no money is clean.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is sadly correct: all money is dirty at some point and we all need gobs of it to live comfortably today, so we do things we're not always very proud of. We've all worked on products or offers that we thought were less than stellar. "Gee Mr. Bank Client, this apr and these terms and conditions really suck -- I wouldn't sign up for your charge card but I'll help you to get others to do it." Or "this fungal cream causes liver failure in rare occurances? Sure, I'll help you make it sell!" Yeah, we're not as bad as the legal trade or telemarketers who make money off of people's problems or fears, we just paint a pretty picture with the info we're given, and let people make a decision for themselves.

No, I don't expect people to volunteer in a soup kitchen or lave the sores on the feet of the downtrodden masses. I was just saying that in a business where $1,000 or more a day is a normal freelance rate or an average director pulls down $25-30,000 a day, throwing a few hundred bucks towards a charity during a disaster should be no big deal, yet many people won't. I didn't think my tone was that from high on a soapbox ( I'd use Ivory, by the way), but after a reread, maybe so.

And joker, you post on things you love -- or hate -- and comment in your own witty forked tongue. Keep on doing it.

Anonymous said...

you hit it on the head, ad broad when you said "our moral responsibility has more to do with having a conscience in our day to day work."
That is my moral goal at work - to do my job while being true to myself, my morals, being honest and treating others with respect.
I also don't believe that advertising is the "evil" industry that everyone makes it out to be ... it just has some evil people working IN it.

Alan Wolk said...

You know what we do is far less damaging to people's lives than all hedge fund and financial guys whose jobs it is to come in and dismantle "underperforming" companies and whatnot.

And yet no one ever asks "how could you be a hedge fund manager?"

But within our world, where do you draw the line? Are people who advertise cigarettes doing evil?
What about alcohol? Fast food?
It's a slippery slope.

I also think that that "advertising is bad" thing is rather generational. Kids who grew up seeing their favorite musical acts regard selling their hits for an campaign as a logical career move, are less prone to see advertising as somehow bad than the Woodstock generation.

adhack said...

Great article.

I try to be moral in my work. I will not do advertising for cigarettes (selling death) and I have refused to do a political ad or two.

I do my best to help out others. I give advice to juniors, I try to get regular gigs for voice-over artists and I always try to get a few more days for the freelancers. (In an interview, the director Bob Zemeckis said that once a person is through the door, it is their responsibility to reach back and pull in as many people as they can. He was talking about the film industry, but I think it works for us too)

I try to avoid anything that smacks of false advertising. Every time I get a job that tells me to bury the truth in the legal, I fight back.

I never try to get a coworker in trouble or fired. When I complain about a problem to upper management, I never name names.

I don’t take credit for other people’s ideas.

As for the bigger picture, I think our careers are just as valid as those of people in the art and publishing world. What is the difference between getting paid to write an ad and getting paid to write a humor book about cats? The great mystery writer Raymond Chandler used to get really upset when people would ask him if he was ever going to write a "real" book.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@joker--thanks for this stream of great consciousness. And parsing of word verifier--glad you noticed I've coded Blogger to send you the best ones.

@anonymous--yep, that's how I rationalize it, too. If child rapists deserves representation, so do pharmaceuticals...

@Auntie--I didn't post u b/c I thought you were soapboxish, I posted b/c I thought you had a good point. Still do. Now, off to lave the sores on the feet of the downtrodden masses...with New! Improved! Fungal Cream. (may cause liver failure)

@Jane--Yes, yes! Glad you expanded this take to a post.

@Alan--good point about the generational difference. Congrats on the Adweek thing. Great to see you in handheld.

@adhack-I am posting this today on my (nonvirtual) wall: *What is the difference between getting paid to write an ad and getting paid to write a humor book about cats?* Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Why do so many people defend advertising by pointing out there are worse professions? Would these ad people ever present clients with a concept that essentially said, “Our brand is not as awful as shit?” I have never understood the apologetic, self-deprecating position.

Anonymous said...

I once moved to an agency that took on only non-profit clients, thinking I'd had enough of the selling business and hoping to do what I do (copywriting, that is) to better the world.

Well. The whole thing was a sad disaster. No creative department, just someone who liked to write letters blasting everyone for putting logos too much to the left on concept boards. No art directors. Graphic artists whose idea of concept was "let's put a picture here!". And not one blessed soul who'd ever worked in advertising, except me.

So after a few years I jumped ship just to get back to doing concepts. And you know what? I love it. Sure, I'm selling and sure, I'm part of the big, bad ad machine. But it's fun and creative and satisfying.

I see the fundraising machine in a whole new light, now. Sure, it's worthy and necessary and good--but there's a lot of crap behind those scenes, too.