I’ve always been a touch annoyed by the more fancifully Utopian claims about my profession (by “my profession” I mean advertising or marketing; everyone else is off the hook). Not because there’s something specifically wrong about advertising or being in business or making money. It’s what most of us do—try and make money in some interesting way--by habit and custom and relative necessity. Or laziness. Or all four.
But I’ve always preferred more astringent pleasures to the soothing bromides of selective attention and I was thinking it would be interesting if someone set up a site (I checked “I suck” isn’t available) where we could anonymously confess our moral qualms about some marketing activity or another. Whenever I bring up this topic, colleagues always make reference to their own or a colleague’s principled refusal to work on a tobacco account, but that’s a little too easy. (Personally, I’m not sure I mind ciggy advertising so long as it’s directed at adults compared to say marketing crap to kids but that’s another subject.) There are blurrier ethical boundaries that strike me as more interesting to confess. Or to hear someone else confess, which is frankly, a lot more interesting.
So for instance, un-anonymously: I’ve recently been reminded that I played a role facilitating this financial crisis. No, I didn’t sell credit swaps or mortgage securities but I did write strategies for advertising that marketed more mortgages and credit cards to people who probably couldn’t afford them under terms that would likely put them deeper underwater in no time flat. Now the arguments for doing this work are well-known: it isn’t or wasn't illegal, I was only giving them what they wanted, they could have read the small print, caveat emptor, I was only doing my job, etc., etc. Then again, I didn't sit in Congress and pass legislation to protect credit-card companies from defaulting consumers. So that's some comfort.