Sydney copywriter asks: What's the limit on standing by your morals in advertising?

Fat-Chance-article.jpgBy Jordan Alexander Davies

I'm not super prone to taking a stance, and my intention is not to push an opinion. I'm simply looking to guage the temperature on a hypothetical situation I've been mulling over the last couple days.

There was an article in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday. The headline read: Fat Chance of Being Healthy: Young Aussies only have themselves to blame. It was followed by an infographic featuring a bunch of statistics, which presumedly were intended to reinforce the headline. Here's a sample:
37% of 16- to 24-year olds consume alcohol at levels posing a lifetime risk to health.
11% of 12- to 17-year-olds used illict drugs in the past 12 months.
37% of males and 21% of females aged 16 to 24 are overweight or obese.
16.8% of secondary school students in Australia are attracted to people of the same sex as them or both sexes.
    
So here, in 2017, we have a publication that - for all intents and purposes - is suggesting same sex attraction and bisexuality is an unhealthy lifestyle choice that negatively affects the health of our youth. A suggestion that I'm really not stoked about because I personally do not believe that a boy liking another boy (or any of the other non-heterosexual combinations) is A) a choice, and B) going to give him a "fat chance of being healthy".
Pretty irritated about the article and the publication in general, I began to wonder what I would do if I rolled into the office and my ECD said, "mate, we've got a new client - you're going to be working on The Daily Telegraph"?

Which brings me to my hypothetical situation, and a question for the greater advertising community: could I refuse to work on a client for moral reasons?
   
Let me establish the parametres of this question: I believe everyone's entitled to their opinion. This isn't about refusing to work with/for someone just because their opinion is different to mine. This is about working for a company that is actively and publicly pushing an agenda which I have a massive moral objection to. Not totally dissimilar to Don's contention with Lucky Strike.

With that in mind, I ask again: is it a reasonable request for a creative to ask that they not work on a client they have such a strong objection to?
Ignore the other obvious question of, "should I refuse to work on this client?" That lends itself to a whole spectrum of variables, which doesn't quite benefit this discussion.

What if I put it to you this way: would it be okay for a homophobic art director to refuse to work on a newspaper which actively and publicly celebrated same-sex relationships?
Note, I said homophobic and not Christian because there's a difference between a moral opposition, and a religious one.
                                   
Like I mentioned earlier, I'm not hugely prone to taking a stance. I've worked on heaps of clients that have challenged my morality. I guess the reason I feel differently about this is because it feels like there's a difference between selling a product like a car or credit card, and growing the circulation of a newspaper which spreads an opinion to which I am vehemently opposed.

Or, does that distinction actually destroy the foundation of this argument?
Perhaps the bigger question is, "where would you draw the line at working for a client in terms of challenging your morality?" And a step further, "where do we end personally, and begin professionally?"

A final caveat in case it wasn't clear: I'm writing this from the understanding that homosexuality is something way deeper than a "lifestyle choice", as much as there are probably a bunch of confused teens out there who, perhaps looking to improve their health, wish it were.

15 Comments

Ben said:

I thought I'd have no problem working on anything that was legal, booze, pokies, cigs, whatever. And on all those and more, I don't.

However, I found the one brief I wouldn't take - when the plebiscite looked like happening, there was a pile of cash being thrown at the no group, and the brief looked like it could have come our way. There's not a chance in (imaginary) hell I'd do that.

Broadly however, it it's a contentious issue, I'd give my team the option to say no.

Lachlan said:

Reading the Telegraph should have been included as a poor lifestyle choice

matt said:

Better move out of New South Wales as well.

FYI said:

The CD at a highly respected agency (now defunct) refused to work on the agency's two largest clients:

1. A meat marketing client.

2. A cigarette marketing client.

fsf said:

Its the first thing you notice when you come back to australia, generally speaking people here are overweight, on drugs and alcoholics. People need to be taught to respect themselves, and their bodies.

Mike said:

It's the same as being a lawyer being asked to defend someone who has been accused of doing something terrible. It's not your job to judge him, but to put the best case forward for that person so that others can use their common sense to come to a fair judgement.

Just because you don't believe in a particular brand or product does not disqualify you from making the best case for it as a creative. And honestly, if you're squeamish about going into the heads of a target audience who might not necessarily agree with your moral / political / social headspace - then this business is possibly not for you.

Big B said:

Agree with Mike in principal - he makes a very good analogy to defence lawyers.

But I do believe that if you have a genuine issue with something specific - like selling the pokies because you saw what it did to your grandparents, for example, then your agency should give you the room and the right to refuse.

Most people have one or two things that they feel really, truly, absolutely strongly about. You shouldn't have to cross those lines, and shouldn't feel bad saying no.

Money Where Their Mouth Is? said:

I wonder if all those major corporations who put their brand names behind the push for marriage equality (in full page press ads) would ever consider pulling their ads in the Tele on the back of something like this? Your remember? Pretty much every bank, airline, telco, fast food, retail and other big company in the country couldn't wait to join the list. (http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/open-letter-of-support/) Where are they now? The Tele might thrive on public anger, but their lifeblood is still ad revenue.

agree sort of said:

While I agree that you shouldn't do work that you find morally reprehensible...
Let's not compare advertisers to defence lawyers.
Come on guys.
You are not fighting for liberty.
You are not a champion for democracy.
You work in advertising.....

Devils Advocate said:

Oh my gawd. Advertising people comparing themselves to defence lawyers. Please.
Get some perspective. The criminal justice system's purpose is to deliver justice. The advertising industry's purpose is to increase the bullshit. If you don't want to spend your life increasing the bullshit in the world, then maybe find a new job.

TLDR said:

I clicked on this to tell you that you're a snowflake but it was waaaay to long to read. Try to see everything short and punchy. And have a great weekend.

Hi Pathetical said:

Work on the brands and make them fail faster. Double whammy, you get paid and Murdoch goes to hell sooner.

Big B said:

It was an analogy, not a comparison.

Don't think anyone was suggesting that we're doing anything even vaguely important.

Just that we're paid to put forward the best possible argument on behalf of the client, whether it's a good product or not, and whether we agree or not.

That is all.

You're a huckster said:

Get over your self importance and sell stuff - just like you've chosen to be paid to do.

Empress said:

It is important work when you have the platform to sway people psychologically. After all, advertising is a form of psychological language. You should have the right to say "eff off" but, as i am chaotic neutral, I very much like Hi Pathetical(cheeky grin at the name)'s suggestion.

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