This article was first published in 2000 in
Fifteen minutes before I met James Brown
for the first time, I was sitting in the hotel room of his
manager, Roosevelt Royce Johnson, at the Fairmont Hotel in San
Francisco. My partner Stacy and I were planning to feature Mr.
Brown in a commercial for Nike, and Roosevelt had invited us to
his room to discuss Mr. Brown's marketing potential.
Incense burned in the room, the maid was
making the bed and Roosevelt had brought in stage-sized
speakers so he could play us James Brown's latest single,
coincidentally called "Just Do It," which he
recommended we use for the soundtrack of the TV spot. That
didn't seem very likely, because although the song title was
the same as Nike's tagline, it had a slightly different
meaning. The lyrics, as I remember them, went "Just do it,
do it, do it, do it...all night long."
Roosevelt told us about Mr. Brown's other
marketing ventures, including two signature fragrances for men
and women. The perfume was called "Try Me." The
cologne was called "I Smell Good."
We went downstairs, briefly met Mr. Brown
and joined the police-escorted motorcade towards the convention
center. We arrived at the back door, and in a scene reminiscent
of the nightclub entrance in Goodfellas, we snaked our way through the bowels of the
building towards the dressing room. Lining the sides of the
hallway, shoulder to shoulder, were all the convention center
employees, in uniform, standing at attention and saying, one by
one, "Good evening Mr. Brown," "Hello Mr.
After a blistering show, we returned
backstage to present the storyboards to Mr. Brown. It's
dangerous meeting legends - they can only disappoint - but an
hour and a half with James Brown revealed an intense, warm,
sincere, intelligent man. I was already floating before he
remarked to me, "You have a broadcasting voice. You ever
done any broadcasting?"
No, not really. "Radio? Disk jockey?
MC?" No, I said again, increasingly embarrassed. Stacy
interrupted: "He sang in a rock band." James slapped
his hand on the table, pointed at me and erupted, "I knew
it! You got the FEELING!"
Advertising can be such a fun business. I
love the people. Some of the smartest, funniest, kindest, most
creative, most alive people I know I've met through
advertising. Five of the people in my wedding party were people
I met in the business. Including the woman in the white dress.
Advertising is rewarding in its ability to
let you express yourself. Something about the act of creating
something and then sharing it with the world. Industrial
designer Victor Papanek compared it to the feeling of building,
and then flying a kite. I remember the first ad that I created
that actually ran. It was an in-house ad for the college
newspaper. I stopped at each news stand and looked at paper
after paper to see that my idea was really running in the
Advertising is a bit of a paradox. While it
is a wonderfully fruitful and stimulating and rewarding way to
make a living, it is also increasingly criticized. While
thousands of people find our work entertaining, a growing
number find it disturbing. In a 1999 Gallup poll, advertising
ranked 43rd of 45 professions based on ethics and honesty. Adbusters is a
thriving, if niche, magazine that sets out to "galvanize
resistance against those who would...diminish our lives."
Articles critical of advertising are cropping up more
frequently in mainstream magazines such as National Public
Radio, Harper's, and Newsweek.
Why do people criticize us? Are we allowed
to ask that question?
I had 13 years of Catholic education so I
know a little bit about unacceptable questions. In fourth grade
we studied Adam and Eve and their two sons, Cain and Abel.
"Where did Cain and Abel find girlfriends?" This, I
discovered, was an unacceptable question. And when the
questions were allowed, the answers often weren't very
satisfying. In a discussion about the afterlife in sophomore
Scripture class, I asked whether Jews and Protestants who lived
good lives could enter heaven. Father didn't have to search
long for the answer. "In heaven, God has a beautiful
mansion. God sits in the living room with the Catholics
gathered around his feet. Jews sit on the porch." We can
do a better job asking ourselves tough questions and attempting
As we stare into the new millennium, it is
important that we look with a critical eye at what we do, its
effects on the world and how we can do our job better. For the
next few pages, let's say there are no unacceptable questions
and try our best to examine the issues with an open mind. (I
might add that after school I encountered more than a few
Catholics who were very willing to entertain tough questions.
Doubt, as one priest friend of mine told me, either exposes
false gods or strengthens one's faith.)
So why is advertising increasingly
One reason, I'm convinced, is because
there's so much of it. Of course there are more magazine,
outdoor, TV and radio ads than ever, but the latest category is
"guerrilla media," also known as "ambient
advertising," or as a friend of mine calls it,
As an ad person, putting a "got
milk?" sticker on bananas seemed creative, but when I
brought one of those bananas home last week, it felt intrusive,
which of course was what it was meant to be. Do any of us
really want advertising on our food? The Wall Street Journal recently
reported Pizza Hut's failed plan to project their logo on the
moon with lasers. They were dissuaded not by common sense or
good taste, but because it was technically impossible. It's all
part of a trend where more and more public space is becoming
Between the stickered bananas and the ads
over the urinals and on the floor of our supermarkets, we're
exposed to 3000 commercial messages a day. That's one every
fifteen seconds, assuming we sleep for 8 hours, and I'd guess
right now there's someone figuring out how to get to us while
our eyes are closed.
Advertising is a 450 billion dollar
business. That's just media advertising. When you throw in
packaging, point of purchase and direct mail, it's closer to a
trillion. A trillion dollars. This blitzkrieg of advertising is
Much of advertising's growth - it's grown
eight-fold since 1935 - came in reaction to America's new
techniques of mass production, which required mass consumption.
In 1959, retailing analyst Victor Lebow
wrote in the Journal of Retailing: "Our enormously productive economy . . .
demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we
convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek
our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in
consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out,
replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate."
And so, advertising evolved from being a
relatively passive source of information to a persuasive tool
for manufacturing desire. This may be getting closer to the
reason advertising is criticized: the
role we play in helping to create a consumer economy.
Since 1950, Americans have consumed as much
as all of the world's peoples who have ever lived. Our economy
depends on it. Two thirds of our gross domestic product is
consumer-driven. We have helped create a world of abundance
that has been very good for a lot of people. Not just everyone
in our business. Virtually everyone in our country, and every
industrial country, has reaped rewards from our consumer
According to the 1998 UN Human Development Report: "More people are better fed and housed than ever
before. Living standards have risen to enable hundreds of
millions to enjoy housing with hot water and cold, warmth and
electricity, transport to and from work - with time for leisure
and sports, vacations and activities beyond anything imagined
at the start of the century." Unfortunately, this
describes only a small part of the world.
And the disparities are deep.
Personal consumption is divided as follows:
One fifth of people in the wealthiest industrial nations - US,
Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan - account for 86% of total
private consumption expenditures. The middle three fifths
account for 12.7% of the spending. The bottom fifth account for
The richest fifth consume 58% of the
world's energy, 65% of the electricity, 87% of the cars, 74% of
the telephones, 46% of the meat and 84% of the paper. In each
of these areas, the share of the bottom fifth is in single
digits. Some immediately see a problem there. The disparity is
too wide to be equitable. It's not fair.
But suppose you look at this in another
way. Suppose you see this situation not as finite, but as a
snapshot, a step along the way towards a superabundant world.
One day, can't everyone have the TVs, cellphones, SUVs,
videogames and mega-malls that we have?
Simply put, no.
To understand why, we have to look at the
idea of sustainability. In a sustainable system, consuming
doesn't deplete or permanently damage resources. Thirty years
ago the environmentalists told us the problem would be that
we'd run out of oil, or non-renewable resources. Good news. We
haven't. The bad news is that the way we consume hurts the
world in two other ways.
First, we're overusing renewable resources.
Things like water, fish and wood. We're using them faster than
the earth is able to regenerate them. We're cutting down trees
too fast; we're overgrazing too much land; we're over-fishing.
Second, we're overextending the earth's
sink capacity. The earth has a natural ability to absorb waste,
as long as we don't push it to do more than it can handle.
Consuming as much as we do creates an enormous amount of stuff,
gas and solid waste.
What about recycling?
Recycling is a good idea, and it makes us
more aware of the issue of waste, but it doesn't touch the
problem. Most of the waste comes from the manufacturing,
packaging, and distribution of what we use - things beyond our
control. Per capita waste has increased three-fold since 1980.
Basically, it won't work to keep going the
way we're going. We can't sustain it. If everyone consumed the
way Americans do, we would need four more earths to support it.
We've reached our limit.
Many of the people working on this dilemma,
scientists and sustainability experts, have arrived at a common
solution. If we compare their solution to where we are headed
as an industry, it may hold the answer to why we're targeted by
Let's look at consumption in a different
way. Alan Durning of the Worldwatch Institute analyzed the
division as follows. The overconsumers are the 20% of the
people living in industrial countries. They're the ones
consuming at a rate that cannot be sustained.
The sustainers are the middle 60%. They
have electricity, clean water, adequate food. They have fewer
cars, and depend more on public transportation. They're not
deprived. And their style of living does not threaten the
The excluded are the bottom 20%. They have
very limited and in some case no access to clean water, safe
food, shelter and health care. Because of their dependency on
the land, they also deplete resources in an effort to survive.
So, surprisingly, their style of living also threatens the
In order to create a sustainable system,
the bottom 1.1 billion people must increase their consumption
levels, the middle 3.3 billion must continue down the same
road, and the top 1.1 billion need to consume in more
appropriate, responsible ways.
In fact, if we look at where our industry
is heading, we're ignoring the excluded, encouraging the
sustainers to join the overconsumers, while pushing the
overconsumers to an entirely new stratum:
Despite being keenly aware that we live on
a finite planet, with a limited amount of resources, we
continue to perpetuate a world-view of continuous, unlimited
and ever-expanding consumption. We continue to encourage
runaway spending, in direct opposition to the sort of action
recommended to get us out of the mess we're in. That's how
ecologists and scientists are looking at it. Let's look at
advertising from a sociologist's view.
Advertising apparently works. We're
spending more than ever. Yet somehow we're not keeping up. The
social demands of spending rise faster than our income. A Roper
Center poll revealed that the amount of annual income required
so that you can "fulfill your dreams" doubled between
1987 to 1994. Luxuries have become "necessities."
As my wife and I build a home together,
we've discovered that there are standard items that we're
almost expected to own, the required trappings of being a young
American couple: an answering machine, a cordless phone, at
least one television, cable TV, a VCR, a stereo, cassette
player and CD player, a microwave, dishwasher, washer and
drier, air conditioning, two cars. Owning these things would
have made you the talk of the neighborhood barely a generation
ago. Now you stand out by not having them.
Trying to keep up has its costs. Credit
card debt is at the highest ever, doubling from 1990 to 1996.
Household savings are at the lowest point ever, one fourth of
what they were 15 years ago. Do you know how many households
making more than $100,000 say they can't afford everything they
really need? 27 percent.
How much is advertising responsible for
To answer, it may help to examine the way
advertising works - the process that goes on in the mind of a
person targeted by our ads. Advertising's goal, of course, is
to make you want something. To create desire. That begins by
making you unhappy with what you currently have, or don't have.
Advertising widens the gap between what you have and what you
want. Wanting to buy something, then, is a response to the
feelings of dissatisfaction, envy and craving. A perpetual
state of conflict.
It's on these emotions that a world economy
and a dominant philosophy have been built, encouraging the act
of spending to increase personal happiness, well-being, and
ultimately, one's identity. These aren't controversial ideas.
They're merely a description of the process.
When I use the word advertising, I don't
mean any individual ad. A particular ad can be entertaining or
funny or touching or boring. We need to look beyond the
emotional reaction created by a specific ad and look at the
combined effect of the thousands we see. Advertising's
influence comes from the common theme underlying every ad,
repeated thousands of times, day after day after day: Buying things will make you happy.
When you build a system on a foundation of
desire, dissatisfaction, envy and inadequacy, people buy
things, yes, but it's no surprise that it happens at the
expense of some damage to the psyche.
The dangers of materialism is one of the
few topics virtually every world religion agrees on. Which
tells me we should pay attention. It only takes two world
religions to agree to keep me from eating pork. And if
materialism's not bad enough, we are increasingly telling
people that their non-material needs may be fulfilled through
Increasingly, account planning involves
using anthropologists' tools to determine deep human longings -
freedom, belonging, fulfillment, power, love - and showing how
our clients' products can fulfill those needs.
In a speech to the American Association of
Advertising in April 1999, the chairman of the agency
conglomerate Interpublic Group admitted that "The people
who sell you sport utility vehicles are selling you the means
to go anywhere you like. You're almost certainly not going to
go there. But you are going to feel pretty powerful. They're
putting you in the Power Business, the Feel Good
To claim that a particular brand of SUV
will make you more powerful is not exactly a lie, but as
essayist Jonathan Dee wrote, it's "a kind of
truthlessness." In perpetuating that truthlessness, in
telling people it's not who you are, it's what you own,
advertising distorts something essential about ourselves,
something invisible, but possibly the most important aspect of
Ecologic unsustainability, social
instability, materialism, spiritual damage. Wow. What do we
have to say about this?
My first response, when confronted with the
effects of over-consumption and my involvement as someone in
advertising, was utter denial. I never in my life intended to
widen the inequality gap or misuse natural resources or create
a world hooked on junk. Furthermore, I've never even met a
person who has! We are good people. None of us, as far as I can
tell, intended for this to happen. I just wanted to meet James
Brown! How did it get so out of hand?
When cars first came out, people thought of
them as clean transportation, because horse manure didn't come
out of the tail pipe. But the auto business quickly learned
that they weren't as clean as they originally thought.
Advertising's not as clean as we originally thought.
I disagree with the critics who think that
people in advertising are creeps. My research, conducted with
hundreds of people, tells me that people in advertising are
thoughtful, intelligent, idealistic, compassionate, creative.
In short, all the traits necessary to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, we are often paralyzed because though we
recognize some of the shortcomings of our business, we don't
know where to start.
A good place to begin is by confronting the
fact that some of the consequences of what we do as an industry
don't always line up with what we believe as individuals, and
see what we can do about it. Someone must be thinking:
"You're not criticizing advertising, you're criticizing
capitalism. We're the tail of the dog. Advertising is simply a
tool of corporations."
It is true that we cannot expect a
revolutionary change in advertising without a revolutionary
change in business. This has already begun.
Ray Anderson is the CEO of Interface, a $1
billion carpet company that's part of one of the earth's
dirtiest industries. By its own count, Interface produces over
ten thousand tons of solid waste, 600 million gallons of
polluted water, and 62,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Recently Anderson had an unlikely address for his shareholders:
"I am a plunderer of the earth. Someday people like me may
be put in jail." Interface, with the help of an
environmental consultancy from Sweden called The Natural Step,
is one of a number of corporations taking major steps to retool
itself towards conducting business in a sustainable way.
One of Interface's neater ideas: leasing
carpet instead of selling it. It allows them to control the
recycling so that the carpet doesn't end up in a landfill. As
Anderson said, "Business and industry have to change or we
will take the Earth down with us. This is the next industrial
This brings up a critical question: Must we
wait for our clients to take the lead? Is there room in our
partnership with business to play more than an ethically
neutral role? Must we have a blind dedication to growing our
client's business, regardless the outcome? If our clients are
leading us down a path that is not socially or ecologically
sustainable, or that is harmful to human nature, do we resist,
I don't think any of us like the idea of
being ethically neutral. Every industry has an ethical code, a
line not to be crossed, no matter the cost. Economist and
philosopher John Ruskin called this line the "due
occasion," when it is a person's duty to die rather than
go against a principle critical to his or her profession. What
are those due occasions? Ruskin said, "[For] the soldier,
rather than leave his post in battle. The physician, rather
than leave his post in plague. The lawyer, rather than sanction
What is our due occasion as advertisers?
One man took a stab at identifying it. He
ran an ad agency in New York. In one of the last statements he
ever made, in the preface to a book he never finished, Bill
said: "You and I can no longer isolate our lives. We must
practice our skills on behalf of society. We must not just
believe in what we sell, we must sell what we believe in."
Bernbach's words are deceivingly simple.
"Believe in" is more complicated
than whether we personally like a product. A product must be
evaluated as to how it affects the entire community. Even
beyond choosing products we believe in, can we continue to
promote reckless spending given the evidence of how it affects
the health of people and the planet?
It seems to me, knowing as much as we do,
we can't go back to our cubicles and merely argue about
concepts. It's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. In
light of what we know, debating meaningless issues such as
merits of East Coast vs. West Coast advertising has gone from
irrelevant to absurd. There's nothing wrong with improving
creativity and debating techniques, but it must be done within
a wider context. What is most important to us? That we make our
work more entertaining? Or that we make it more equitable? That
we start another creative revolution? Or are we in need of a
different sort of revolution?
We have made amazing strides in creativity,
technique and economic growth, but how satisfying are these
advances if we ignore or explain away the consequences of our
work? Wouldn't we find deeper joy in celebrating our creativity
if it existed within a broader context? Don't we want to say,
"I feel good about my job," not because we have fun
or because we work on cool commercials, but because our
profession contributes to human growth and is good for the
health of the community?
It's unrealistic to think advertising will
start a revolution. Advertising isn't meant to set social
policy. But advertising is very effective at listening and
reacting to public will. And the public seems to be catching on
to the costs of our extreme patterns of overconsumption.
In a 1995 Merck Family Poll, 82% of
Americans agreed that "Most of us buy and consume far more
than we need. It's wasteful." In the summary of the poll's
findings, the report's authors state: "People of all
backgrounds share certain fundamental concerns about the values
they see driving society. They believe materialism, greed and
selfishness increasingly dominate American life, crowding out a
more meaningful set of values centered on family,
responsibility and community."
I don't need a poll to tell me this.
Because I know, when it comes down to it, that the road of
reckless materialism is unsatisfying to the human spirit. The
world is waking up. Maybe because of the millennium, change
seems easy to embrace right now. How will we respond?
Change is easy for us. We can change in an
instant. Unlike the changes Ray Anderson made at his carpet
company, we don't have factories to re-tool or technologies to
improve or components to reinvent. We only have to change in
our minds, and once we do, we've changed for real.
What sort of change do we need?
It's time to revise our industry's code of
ethics. In 1924 we identified our principles and wrote them up
as the AAAA Standards of Practice. We must rejuvenate and
reclarify those standards given what we now know about the
state of the world and our relationship to it. The code
asserts, among other things, an obligation to the public and a
dedication to expressing the truth. "The truth" is
tough to pin down, but it certainly cannot include promoting
ideas or products that are harmful to the health of the planet
or society at large.
I believe we all agree on this in
principle; it's just a question of defining what it means. For
example, many agencies already take stands against tobacco,
because it is easy to see the link between tobacco and the
ill-health of the community. The link between other products
and the ill-health of the world is often less obvious.
The 1998 United
Nations Human Development Report on Consumption helped clarify that link. "Consumption
clearly contributes to human development when it enlarges the
capabilities and enriches the lives of people without adversely
affecting the well-being of others, when it is as fair to
future generations as it is to the present ones, when it
respects the carrying capacities of the planet, and when it
encourages lively, creative individuals and communities."
With that as a guide, I propose three clarifications,
restatements, of our industry principles.
1. Promote only those goods and services
that benefit human development.
As I said, I believe we all agree with this
in principle. None of us would promote cigarettes for babies or
a home security system that uses landmines. But it's never that
black and white. How do we determine something that seems so
subjective? To a certain degree, it will always be subjective,
but there are questions we can ask:
- How is the product made? Does it
responsibly use natural resources? Does manufacturing it create
unnecessary waste or pollution? What are its health, safety and
- Is it produced equitably? Are the people
on the assembly line empowered or exploited?
- Is it distributed fairly? Does it benefit
one group disproportionately?
- Does it contribute to the growth of
communities? Does it help us meet our needs? Does it make
people more creative, strengthen them, bring them together? Or
does it isolate and separate people?
As we change our priorities from short term
gains to long term and carefully scrutinize our clients,
customers have demonstrated they're willing to meet us halfway.
Whether it's the increasing consumer support of fairly-traded
coffee, which insures that small coffee producers are not
exploited, or the recent student movement protesting sweatshop
manufacturing of college apparel, which the New York Times called
"the biggest wave of campus activism since the
anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s," people are
beginning to understand the inter-relatedness of their buying
and consuming decisions and the rest of the planet, and
demonstrating that they are willing to make the right choice.
The second principle is also a
reclarification of our industry's commitment to the truth.
2. Refrain from promoting reckless,
irresponsible, competitive consumption.
Advertising as a force to create false
needs is a relatively recent phenomenon, tracing back to less
than a century ago. Is it possible for advertising, while
remaining creative and effective, to return to its original
purpose of informing and educating?
If we are committed to the truth, we must
ask ourselves, is it truthful to promise that material goods
will fulfill deep, human, non-material needs? Is it truthful to
market high-cost status goods to the urban poor? Is it
truthful, knowing what we do about the effects of consumerism,
to continue to promote it as a viable lifestyle?
Can we sell without doing these things? It
depends on which aspects of human nature we choose to speak to
with our work. Do we encourage greed? Do we speak to people as
individualists pursuing maximum personal gain to the exclusion
of others, or as members of a community, a person whose choices
affect a larger group of people?
My third proposal concerns the way we
market to a demographic group that represents over 200 billion
dollars of spending power. Children.
Our industry has had impressive results at
marketing to kids. I recently heard a planner tell the story of
researching the target audience for a lollipop commercial. The
target was kids aged five to twelve, but her research had shown
that there are sharp divisions within that group. Five- and
six-year-olds like bright, bold colors and busy things to look
at. Seven- to nine-year-olds like funny sounding words they can
repeat. Bobbley-wobbley. Toodley-woodley. Ten- to
twelve-year-olds like seeing adults in foolish situations,
because it makes them feel smarter and more in control.
She showed us the commercial based on her
findings and it unsurprisingly featured a bumbling, clumsy
adult on a busy, colorful set, talking about the lollipop using
funny sounding words like bobbley-wobbley and toodley-woodley.
And, she reported, kids bought up those lollipops by the
Armed with such sophisticated tools, the
battle for kids' dollars is relatively one-sided. According to
an article in American Demographics entitled "Born to Shop," children
as young as three ask for brand names. Six-month-old babies
recognize corporate logos and spokesmen. Psychologists tell us
that to a child, all information is educational. They simply
cannot distinguish between advertising and other types of
information. And so it is impossible to "target" them
without being, by definition, manipulative.
Commercializing the experience of childhood
has deep consequences. 93% of teenage girls say shopping is
their favorite activity. As a society, we shake our heads and
complain about how materialistic kids are, yet we refuse to see
the connection between their values and our military-scaled
marketing to them.
While some believe the answer is
media-training for kids, I believe that the blame-the-victim
approach puts responsibility on children instead of where it
belongs, on us. In civil society, we must put the welfare of
children ahead of economic benefit. We must follow the lead of
countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the province of
3. Ban all broadcast advertising to
children under 12.
Whether we will take such a radical step
depends on whether we believe this group holds more value as
consumers or as children. This is an ambitious call-to-action.
Maybe it's unrealistic to expect that we would change a system
that, at least in the short run, benefits us. But I'd like to
think that all of us would rather participate in a system that
is healthy and fair. I'd like to think that we have the
capability to understand that our ultimate well-being is tied
to the community's well-being, and that exploitative
relationships that may initially benefit us will eventually
cost us, either through a damaged planet, a damaged social
structure, or a damaged soul.
But how many people reading this have the
power to implement such a dramatic plan in an agency? Some of
us do. But most of the people able to make such changes
probably stopped reading a long time ago. “He’s
nuts. He doesn’t understand reality. He doesn’t
understand the way life works.” I wouldn’t blame
them. In their shoes, I’d probably think the same things.
They’re too invested to risk making any dramatic changes.
But on the other hand, you might be feeling
bothered by some of the things I’ve written - they might
be things you’ve thought yourself – and you might
be feeling a bit powerless to do anything. You might find
yourself a week from now, taking a shower, drinking a cup of
coffee, and some of these ideas are still nagging at you. I
would pay attention. I would pay attention, because as my
friend Ken said, that is a gift. The gift of hearing. It is the
first gift you will have to put to use if you want to affect
any change. Real change will not come swooping in with the
adoption of an oath, it will come gradually, as one by one we
become aware of these issues and question our individual roles.
Your second gift landed you your job. Your
creativity, your intelligence, your ability to look at problems
in unusual ways. No one else is in the position to make as much
difference on these issues as you are. Not social workers, not
teachers, not priests. No one else has the creativity, the
energy and the opportunity that you have. As a person with the
gift of creativity, confronting these sorts of issues is your
According to anthropologists, in primitive
cultures and ancient tribes it was the creative people, the men
and women who saw visions and could create artistic objects,
who served as the conscience of the community. They were the
priests and shamans. Your genes are practically commanding you
to do something!
Where to begin? Look into these issues for
yourself. Read the UN Human
Development Report on Consumption.
Look into the work being done by the places like the Center for
a New American Dream (newdream.org) and the Positive Futures
Network (futurenet.org). Talk about these things at work. Have
a conversation with your boss. Talk with your friends. Start a
These issues are often bewildering. But the
good news is that we don’t have to have a complete
answer. We just need to have a desire to earnestly pursue these
issues, to seek a complete understanding of our work and its
effects on the world. If we shine a light on what we do, I am
confident that truth and our best instincts will combine to
help us take the right steps.
As social activist and educator Howard Zinn
said, "If we do act, in however small a way, we don't have
to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an
infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think
human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around
us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Jelly Helm is an Associate Professor at
Virginia Commonwealth University Adcenter, a graduate school of
advertising in Richmond, Virginia. Previously Jelly was a
Senior Vice President/Group Creative Director at The Martin
Agency, and before that a Creative Director at Wieden &
Kennedy in Amsterdam. Jelly is from Louisville, Kentucky.