Confessions Of An Advertising Student: Is Advertising Morally Justifiable?

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The School of Communication Arts 2.0 is a hidden home for creative advertising students. You’ll find it on the top floor of a church in Brixton where a nightclub used to be. Take traditional education, flip it on its head and you have this playground for fledgling creatives nestled in the depths of South London. The school is supported by hundreds of agencies, some of which fund scholarships. Out of 36 students, 11 have help with fees. 

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. 

Graham Fink came to school recently and talked about drawing with his eyes. He showed us a woman who hypnotized sharks and a blind man who painted.

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 light-headed 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 who hypnotised sharks and a blind man who 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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