By Henry Foenander
How to sleep at night
We had an interesting masterclass today. Probably the most interesting one we’ve had at the school. I’m using the word interesting very specifically for a reason. I didn’t learn much from the speaker. As one of our (brave) classmates said, we already knew the things we were being told. We didn’t get any creative techniques from it, we didn’t learn a snappy quote or a clever trick. We sat in our pit and we listened to what the speaker had to say… for about 5 minutes.
Then we started to ask questions. Arguably, and probably truthfully, our line of questioning had a tone to it. One of doubt, maybe cynicism and perhaps even frustration. You might think that’s understandable, perhaps the masterclass offended us, maybe it was the morning and we were a bit tired and groggy or perhaps the subject matter was one we weren’t invested in.
Upon reflection it’s impossible for any of this to be true. We are an open minded bunch; it takes a lot to offend us. We’re not allowed to be tired and groggy in the mornings, that may as well be written in the rule book. But most importantly, the subject matter was one that I imagine, is held high above all else by the majority of the students.
It was a class on the morality of advertising.
I don’t want to describe how we behaved as an attitude, I think it was more complex than that, and it was without the immature connotations that go with an attitude, our objections were intelligent, and well thought out. It felt more like a resistance. The speaker had described the difficulties of behaving in a moral sphere whilst working in advertising, and had shown us his (positive) forecast of how the industry might self-heal in this area.
Sounds pleasant enough? Sounds like it should be right up our street? We’re young creatives, mostly from a generation that is or will be forced to confront these issues. This should be our favourite topic, So why the opposition?
What follows is my analysis, my explanation on why the energy in the pit was one I don’t think we’d experienced before. I imagine many of my classmates and mentors will disagree with me, if you’re reading this and think your one of them please do comment, challenge me, I’m probably entirely mistaken. But if nothing else a SCAB is a good place to speak your mind, so I will.
I believe that what was said in the pit today, challenged our justifications.
Is advertising immoral? I’ve had this conversation with myself a thousand times, before I even knew I wanted to be part of the industry. We sell things to people, we more than adhere to consumption, we encourage it. But this has never swayed me from honestly believing that becoming part of this industry is a good use of my time on earth.
It’s never swayed me because I found a justification. I believe that the beauty of advertising is that it allows you to steer powerful brands into performing real actions, that have a positive effect on both people and the planet.
For example, if a toilet paper brand plants two trees for every pack of toilet paper they sell, then I have a chance to grow a forest. Who else can say that? If the brand doesn’t want to plant tree’s I have the opportunity to convince that brand to do so. This is my justification, and it’s important to me.
But this morning we were told that this justification isn’t sound, that selling most products leaves a negative impact on the world. The more we sell, the more they make, the more they make, the less there is, the less there is for other people and the less there is for the planet.
This rattled me to tell the truth. I felt defensive. The justification that let me sleep at night, knowing I can do good, was being challenged. This might have been what other people experienced, it might not.
But looking back at it, this masterclass reminded me of an important lesson. Never get comfortable. Always question, both others and yourself. I haven’t had to deal with the tangled, snarled question of morality since I’ve been at SCA, but I’m so glad this speaker reminded me. Because now I have to re-examine my justifications, re-confirm why I’m here. Once I’ve done that, and I’m confident I will, I’ll be more motivated than ever to succeed.