Give me an A. Give me an R. Give me an S. Give me an E. Give me an H. Give me an O. Give me an L. Give me an E. Give me an S.
When I started in advertising the chairman of our agency had a personal project he wanted some creative help with. It was a campaign to save his local hunt/shoot, which was under threat from the kind of forces that prize base-level kindness over brutal death etc.
He asked the rest of the department, all of whom declined the opportunity (possibly using the words ‘fuck’, ‘off’, ‘you’, ‘posh’, ‘fat’ and perhaps ‘cunt’). However, when he got round to us we said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I think it was a combination of having little or nothing to work on, wanting a chance to make some kind of mark, pleasing the über-boss, not being immensely bothered about animal rights and the murky arguments for and against shooting animals for fun.
So we created a campaign and we weren’t (as far as I’m aware) ostracised by the rest of the department. Things rolled along until we got fired for an unrelated incident, and I thought no more about it until a couple of days ago when I wondered about the extent to which principles should come into play in your advertising career, or indeed your life.
Of course, the great Bill Bernbach famously said that a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money, but where should you draw the line? If you dig into most corporations these days you can find dubious practices of one kind or another, from zero hours contracts to shady investments of pension funds, so do you refuse to work for any of them?
I remember being on a Pepsi shoot back in 2001 when I was reading No Logo. Like many others, I was quite taken with the ideas and examples in that book and found myself pretty pissed off with these giant corporations and their shitty methods of making lots of cash at the expense of the poor, overworked sods who couldn’t even go to the lav when they needed to. Sitting next to me was the major Pepsi client, a 70something fella who had seen and done everything in corporate America. He pronounced such concerns to be bullshit and bit of a drag on the essential point of human existence: to keep the wheels of capitalism spinning as fast as possible.
So this isn’t an easy question to answer.
I can’t find the link, but I’ve written before about how we are all essentially cheerleaders for each company we represent, whether as advertising creatives or people who plunk down a Barclays credit card in a restaurant or order a pint of Stella in a pub. We endorse all those corporations to one degree or another, generally without a second thought for the consequences or the alternatives. For my part that’s down to sheer laziness/love of convenience; I mean, would I have the balls and/or inclination to bother that would be required to turn down an HSBC brief on the grounds that they laundered so much drug money? Or refuse to work on a massive multimedia campaign for a 20th Century Fox movie (or indeed refuse to see such a movie) because I disagree with the effect Rupert Murdoch has on the planet? I’d say probably not. And should I feel guilty for that? I suppose so, but whether or not I’d take things to the point where my ‘principle’ would actually cost me money, I’d have to say it’s unlikely.
When I worked at AMV there was a fundamental corporate principle not to advertise cigarettes or products aimed at kids. A few years into my time there I was given a brief for Monster Munch, a product aimed squarely at children. I pointed this out but no one seemed to care very much and then neither did I. When push came to shove it wasn’t a principle at all, or perhaps it was, but that principle had long been beaten into submission by the need/want to generate cash. Maybe we wouldn’t advertise toys, but we’d turn a blind eye to snacks.
So I wonder, have you ever turned down a brief based a a disagreement with the operating practices of the corporation involved? If so, what happened? And if not, what stops you taking things further?
Answers on a Socialist Worker subscription postcard.