An Uncomfortable Truth

It’s an uncomfortable truth for me. But what else to call it when I’ve worked for years in marketing/advertising/branding or whatever we name the next shade of lipstick we’re going to slap on this particular pig?

It’s an industry predicated on shunting our creative energies into recycling tired ideas for profits. From snake oil and miracle tonics to Lehman Brothers and listicles, it’s a world built on angles, spin, and manipulation.

To top it all off, we believe our own lies. We tell ourselves it isn’t so. We shield ourselves like children.

Then something like this comes along: President Donald J. Trump.

I’ve never met the man, don’t need to. I’d prefer to keep as far a distance as possible from him and his perverse rhetoric.

Here’s the irony: I almost want to thank him. Almost.

Because he’s a mirror.

Never had a blowhard so boldly stood in front of a crowd of people and pedaled such blatantly false narratives.

Never has the toxicity of racism, sexism, nationalism — name your -ism — been laid so bare.

Except that…isn’t this what I do for a living?

I don’t go around bullying people and spewing hurtful, hateful nonsense. But he’s just exposing the very social structures that I benefit from every single day.

I didn’t campaign for Trump. I didn’t vote for him. But I can’t pretend like I didn’t help make him happen either.

Every time I forced a smile at a sideways sexist comment. Every time I sat in silence in the midst of thinly veiled racism. Everytime I looked around a video shoot and failed to ask, “How can we possibly tell this story without women? Without people of color? Without anyone from the LGBTQ community?”

This is usually where we queue up our next set of comfort lies. I didn’t create this. I can’t do anything about it. It’s too big for me to tackle. I’m just trying to support my family.

I’m done with it. I’m in this industry, but I don’t have to be of it. Instead, I can take it head on. So can you. Here’s how.

Create opportunities for people who don’t usually get them. Seek out people whose perspective has been historically undervalued at best and ignored at worse. It makes for truer, more compelling, more complete stories. And, it gives people a boost in the process.

Let people contribute at every step. When you invite in someone new, give them a voice in the process. Let them give direction. Let them guide you.

Change the way you network. Go beyond the white dudes that maybe you’ve known forever. Listen. Build new relationships. You’ll be better for it.

Put your work under a microscope. Are your concepts and content reinforcing stereotypes? Do they represent a worldview beyond white males? Take responsibility as a marketer to shape what the industry looks like and what’s possible.

Challenge ignorance. Even if it’s your client. Especially then. You don’t have to be smug, self-righteous, or combative. If it makes you uncomfortable, consider the devastating effects of your silence.

Guide your clients beyond the bottom line. Look, if you’re helping someone sell cookies, you can tell a great story to do it, but it’s still cookies. Push it a step further. How can they engage the community around them? What opportunities are they missing to do some good, to see their business in a broader social context?

Up your game. Can you produce that pushes someone to do more than just buy something? Can you tell deeper stories? It’s all going to make for more compelling content.

Am I doing all of this? Not yet. It’s coming in pieces.

And I’m seeking out different types of work, too. Like teaming up with Stands with Immigrants. I get to bring my skills in branding and marketing to combat a false narrative and give a voice to people who’ve been robbed of theirs.

This might sound like a lot, but it’s like learning a new word. Suddenly, you see it everywhere. Orient your perspective to the greater good and you’ll find all kinds of opportunities to generate much deeper value.

I’m no longer in the business of storytelling. I’m in the business of difference making.