Jun 15, 2009

Are we doing the right thing?

Many years ago I read about a copywriter who was fired from her agency because she refused to work on the Barbie account she was assigned. It was her belief that Barbie was not a positive role model for girls, that it instilled false female values. She sued and got her job back.

The last agency I worked at had a beer account. I was going to hire a rookie voice actor for a radio spot for the beer client, but he declined the offer because he did not agree with promoting beer/alcohol consumption. His parents and brother had died at the hands of a drunk driver, a powerful and influential person who was acquitted of multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter and literally drove away with murder. This actor was a rookie and badly needed the job to help build his portfolio and get known in the industry, and it was to be a high-profile campaign. He still said no.

I was recently assigned a particularly disturbing account that made me question just what the hell I am doing, professionally. Nine times out of ten, I am the devil’s advocate.

Among my clients are/have been:
• A developer that uses large sums of money to break laws and rape my country’s natural resources to build hotels and condos, all in the name of “economic development.”

• A pharmaceutical company that charges $300 for a pill that costs them three cents to make. This pill literally saves lives, but only the lives of those who can pay.

• A health insurance company that makes it all but impossible for you to get the coverage you need, yet has no problem debiting their monthly fee from your checking account.

• Beer and rum companies that on one hand encourage you to drink as much as you can, yet on the other ask that you “drink responsibly,” all in the name corporate social responsibility.

• A lottery management company that preys on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the poor (rich people rarely play lottery), with promises of streets paved of gold. Their efforts are disguised as initiatives to help fund better schools, road improvements, and boosting the public employees’ retirement fund.

• An ultra and openly fascist industrial manufacturer’s association that bombs the government with ridiculous amounts of campaign funding, all to create legislation that favors their private interests, while putting at risk the civil liberties and social stability of our society.

• An education association that represents companies that provide tutoring services for public school students. They milk federal funding year after year, while the quality of public education goes down the tubes. It’s in their best interest that the students keep failing… and we (I) helped develop strategies to make this so.

These are just a few that come to mind right now.
I know that it’s no use crying over spilled milk. This is the path that I chose, after all. But I can’t help but think of all the crap that goes on behind closed doors and the role that I – and my employers, past and present – play in these grand schemes.


Joker said...

Many a time have I asked myself just that. Looking myself in the mirror and just wondering what the fuck I was thinking in getting into this business. I felt dirty, unappreciated, shit on and frustrated to no end. I had to put up with questionable campaigns, questionable clients etc... guess that's the life we get paid to live

Jake P. said...

A couple of thoughts, in no particular order:

1) I count myself as lucky that I've never had to make a direct decision to fire a client that was doing something unquestionably immoral. The one time it *almost* happened, the deal fell apart before I would have had to make such a decision. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking that I got as close as I did.

2) That said, my clients are not and will never be angels; they are businesses. Some of them sell stuff that, for example, I would counsel my kids not to participate in--not because it's immoral, dangerous, or evil, but because it's dumb or a waste of money. But that's a value judgment. On the other hand, a far greater number of my clients are contributors to society.

3) I am not an angel, nor would I want my kids to imitate my every thought or deed. (God help them!) I would be a hypocrite to say "no" to an opportunity to work with Budweiser and then drink a few beers tonight. But I sleep OK at night.

4) Your final point is the one the one that makes you realize it's just a game. The fact is that, if you interact with other human beings at any level, someone in your web of influence is doing something sketchy or downright malicious. Someone else is saving lives or improving them. We live, and produce, in shades of grey.

5) These are important things for creatives to consider *before* a situation arises. Where do you draw the line, and what do you do when no one is looking?

Anyway, thought-provoking post!

Teenie said...

Lovely post, NoRestrictions. Who we are is made up of our entire lives, personal and professional alike. I've often wondered if I would ever be able to work on a cigarette account, or for clients who are ruining the world we live in for profit.

That said, I've seen public money (as in our TAXES) go down the toilet because of fickle, undecisive clients. I've watched 25 (no kidding) concepts get scrapped because clients needed focus groups to vote above a 70% approval rate--yet the company was still hiking user fees in the guise of making a bigger profit. If the public knew how much money was flat-out wasted because people were too afraid to to their jobs, they'd be outraged.

Where do we draw our lines? It's a good question. And there's no easy answers.

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