Is Advertising Morally Justifiable? By @HollyISThomas

By Holly Thomas


Is Advertising Morally Justifiable?

Is it possible to have an ethical career in advertising? It’s something I worry a lot about before I go to sleep at night. It was my biggest concern before starting at the School of Communication Arts and is still something I haven’t worked out. Despite being here for a couple of months now. 

In some ways, I’m almost embarrassed about my place at SCA, whilst being simultaneously incredibly proud. Confusing mixture. I talk about my life at school in different ways depending on who I’m talking to that day. I try to make it acceptable to everyone. If I’m with artsy people, I tend to list the writers that started out as copywriters in an ad agency; Fitzgerald, Rushdie, Heller and so on. To those people, it is a valid and respected stepping stone to ‘pure’ creativity and I can continue my conversation guilt free. If I’m talking to my feminist friends, I say the same thing, but observe that all those people are men. In my own way, I’m dismantling the patriarchy one person at a time, by occupying a space traditionally reserved for men. I’m a real life, modern day Peggy Olsen, I say. 

But I know a lot of people think that it is just a capitalist occupation, often solving a symptom of a problem for economic gain. Am I just adding to the things that I complain about every time I’ve had a drink? Do I want to spend my life selling products that are arguably morally indefensible? Beauty products that reinforce unachievable standards of beauty and diminish women’s self-worth, meat products that contribute to the vast overconsumption of animals at the very steep cost of the environment, or just the broader idea that to be happy we must consume. I think a younger version of myself would have hoped that I would be a part of the solution, not the problem. 

But the truth is I love writing. SCA allows me an entry into a world where I can get paid to do that. It still makes me lightheaded sometimes when I realise that this is my reality, I’m not sure how I got so lucky. I worked at Grey for 8 months as an Account Executive and it was pretty addictive being around people with that much enthusiasm and curiosity for life. I want to work with people I genuinely like. I want to work in a cool office. I want to be challenged in a fast-paced environment. 

Graham Fink came to school recently and talked about drawing with his eyes. He showed us a woman that hypnotised sharks and a blind man that painted. I felt my world expanding – flowers bloomed in my pupils and I was certain I was in the right place. 

I still sometimes wonder if this is an ethical way to spend my life. But for now, I think that’s okay. 

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