Mommy, am I going to hell?

Had a really good IM conversation last night with a really talented copywriter/cd friend of mine that rolled around to an inevitable question that’s always deep down there in a creative’s gut if you dig hard enough with a sharp enough stick.

Big Question: Is what we do bad?

Big Corollary Question: Is there something else we could be doing that’s more meaningful?

Personally, I’ve come to terms with these two questions in my own way. And I believe we all have to find our own answers to these. In fact, it’s the only way really talented people can do what we do.

Because really talented people tend to be people of conscience, in my experience. And there are different ways of looking at what we do for a living when we create events that promote brands. Because promoting brands also means promoting, in some fashion or another, consumption. And capitalism. And then there’s the question of desire.

I’m going to set aside capitalism and consumption, because if you’re anti those completely then you need to find a relatively ignored Island in the Philippine archipelago that doesn’t have running water or electricity or a capitalist-based economy and live there. Or else move to North Korea. Good luck.

Desire, however–that’s pretty rich. I’m certainly not stupid enough to believe, as was promoted by the blithering paranoia of Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders, that advertising creates desire. Not even Hitler, the most powerful evil ever, created desire. He just found it and exploited it.

But our larger post-industrial, consumption-based mega-culture does, in fact, dangle things in front of people’s eyes and say “Don’t you want this?” Or “Wouldn’t you like to be like her? Or him?”

No question, we as artful (and therefore powerful) agents of commerce must always ask ourselves if we want the things we promote to thrive and grow or not. But there’s another way to think about what we do as agents of commerce.

Adolphus Busch

With the advent of brands as engines of meaning (see the white paper on Brand Culture I co-authored), and with people now shopping not so much for things as for the meaning and values attached to those things (or services or whatever), we can actually remind brands, and the people who temporarily are their custodians, of the real values that lie at the heart of the brand. Those things, beyond the profit motive, that, for instance, first caused Adolphus Busch to bring a Bohemian lager-styled beer to America — one like the beer brewed in Budweis.

I now quote Wikipedia: “In 1876, Busch introduced Budweiser, with the ambition of transcending regional tastes.”

Notice the words “ambition” and “transcending.” Busch had toured Europe and somehow got inspired to bring back the beer that later became the most popular in the world. [OK, so Budweiser is now number 2 to its sibling, Bud Light. It’s still a Bud.] Now, I’m not saying that Anheuser Busch is inspired with an ambition to transcend anything today. I wouldn’t know. InBev doesn’t whisper in my ear. But even AB has, at its foundation, a value or ambition that “transcended” pure profit.

As any real business owner knows, profit is the side-affect of doing something well and smartly that gives people what they want. If a company or a brand is to endure, there has to be more there than greed. So what I propose is that, as agents of commerce, we advise our clients to look into the hearts of their brands to find those core values and then 1) tell them to the world and then 2) live them.

The best part is, once you start telling them to the world, you have to start living them or you’re dead. We can be, for our clients, the better angels of their nature (to use Abraham Lincoln’s words). We can steer them back (or forward) to the things that people really care about today, which is the values that drive a company.

Sheesh. That’s enough of that for right now. Later on maybe I’ll think aloud about the question of whether we could be doing something more meaningful.


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