I've realized that my line of work conflicts with deeply held values
July 10, 2014 6:29 PM   Subscribe

However I have few other options other than to continue on in the marketing industry.

This has literally kept me up at night for the past several nights. Basically I am a freelance writer who fell into marketing at about the time the economic downturn in the U.S began. Recently I've begun to reevaluate my life, and I've comes to see that working in marketing conflicts with my values of environmental sustainability, honesty, and embracing simplicity instead of materialism. These are things that are very important to me, yet I'm working in a field meant to basically persuade (and sometimes manipulate) people to buy things. More and more things.
I've tried finding ways around this. For instance I considered that I could take on clients that are environmentally responsible companies, but "green" has become such a trend lately that everyone wants to be seen as ecofriendly. Plus manufacturing anything at all can add to carbon pollution, and I feel guilty for contributing to a problem I'd like to help solve.
I don't have a college degree, so it wouldn't be so simple as to jump into another profession. I'm going back to school to study literature (remember I started out as a well intentioned writer), but in the meantime, can you think of a way I can continue doing my work without feeling like I'm selling my soul?
I realize that this could easily turn into a debate as to whether or not marketing is actually evil, but my question is a reflection of my own experiences and views (especially after reading the hyperlinked blog post).
posted by Cybria to Work & Money (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Couldn't you work for the marketing department of a nonprofit organization that reflects your values?
posted by fieldtrip at 6:31 PM on July 10, 2014 [14 favorites]

Or a B Corporation?
posted by capricorn at 6:33 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Places like museums and colleges have marketing jobs, and they definitely need promotion.

If you can't jump ship right now, what about offering some marketing services to good causes with low budgets? For example, small farms, charities, etc.
posted by wintersweet at 6:46 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Marketing for non-profit theater companies. They so, so need help right now (and always, I guess).

Find some small local theaters that focus on new work by new artists. They tend to employ local actors and crews, and definitely have a positive impact on communities.
posted by toofuture at 7:01 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've comes to see that working in marketing conflicts with my values of environmental sustainability, honesty, and embracing simplicity instead of materialism. These are things that are very important to me, yet I'm working in a field meant to basically persuade (and sometimes manipulate) people to buy things. More and more things.

I'm in marketing. It's my passion, and I have to say this is an extremely sad and narrow view of the field that I love.

How do you know about the Red Cross? What about Heifer International? How about Planned Parenthood? Goodwill? Sustainability focused companies? The American Heart Association? etc.


I don't want to promote where I work, so I'll keep it vague. The company I work for is in resale. So we get people to sell their items for cash or store credit, then resell them. So everyone wins and local communities have a way to earn money for their stuff and not put everything in a landfill. Plus if we can't take an item, we donate them to local charities.So, even though it's retail and we want people to shop, it's also stuff that they need, plus it's a great business model that truly helps out families on tight budgets.

Marketing is not your problem. Your specific job or company is your problem. Granted, non-profits may pay less, so it's really up to you. But please don't come into a view that the entire field of marketing is somehow this way, that's just not the case. Look into fields you want to work in, and find jobs relevant to your work experience. Even project management is a part of marketing and doesn't mean you're making people buy stuff.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:34 PM on July 10, 2014 [16 favorites]

Maybe some kind of B2B marketing would be less offensive. The products and services my company offers are legitimately needed by other businesses, and one of our major areas of focus is helping them optimize a particular aspect of their business that can help them be more efficient with less space and equipment in many cases. Our marketing department is definitely not about pushing people to buy things they don't need, we would actually prefer to sell our expertise in helping them do more with less than just push them to buy more and more of our products without knowing what they optimally need.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:22 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, in my company the marketing manager puts out the quarterly customer newsletter. She often includes articles on "going green", being more energy efficient to save on costs, safety topics and many other things that are positive and helpful.

Content marketing is huge right now. If you get into a content-focused marketing department, you could quite possibly spend a huge chunk of your time writing blog posts, articles, tweets, white papers and webinars to educate your customers on topics near and dear to you that would have real value to them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:36 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

"but "green" has become such a trend lately that everyone wants to be seen as ecofriendly"

Greenwashing is a thing, yes - Google it - but there are tons of positions where you are objectively working to promote sustainable solutions. Welcome to the world of non-profit and advocacy-based marketing. And the great thing is, if you have big business/corporate experience, those skills are HIGHLY valued. You're liable to be better at marketing for social good causes than an overly-earnest bleeding heart type who just wants to save the world and doesn't know the first thing about messaging tactics. (I say this as an overly-earnest bleeding heart type who had to learn a lot of that stuff the hard way.)
posted by whenbynowandtreebyleaf at 10:03 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going back to school to study literature (remember I started out as a well intentioned writer), but in the meantime, can you think of a way I can continue doing my work without feeling like I'm selling my soul?

What is your goal? Why are you going back to school? Which industry do you really want to work in? Try to align your work to that. Do you want to become a professional writer? Try to find work in the publishing industry, or with an online publication. Nonprofits also employ marketers.

Marketers have a host of employable skills: communication, organisation, creative thinking, cross-department cooperation, etc. Don't start with the job, start with what you want to do.
posted by third word on a random page at 10:14 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Think of marketing as telling other people about what your employer or client does, and go work for people doing good things tht other people need to know about. Still marketing but not evil.

If you just want a day job while you write, then you could also wait tables or work at an animal shelter.

Let me ask....why do you need a lit degree to be a writer? If you want to write, start writing. Unless you plan to teach. But living simply is a lot harder with college debt to pay off.
posted by emjaybee at 10:26 PM on July 10, 2014

While I'm generally not a fan of marketing in general, I think your problem lies not in marketing, but, rather, the company you're marketing for. As others have suggested, you need to find a marketing position for an enterprise more closely aligned with your values. Every public-facing organization has a marketing department of some sort, even non-profits.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:53 AM on July 11, 2014

The solution to the problem of corporations and the environment will not come exclusively from people outside those corporations.

The world needs people who work with and for big corporations, and who will be vocal advocates for change inside those organizations.

You may find you can have a greater impact for change by being on the inside of the corporation, rather than being on the outside. Someone needs to work from the inside to change the corporate culture that allows all of this to happen.
posted by Flood at 6:17 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing all the suggestions above to put your skills to use for an organization or company that does reflect your values. I do communications/marketing for a nonprofit, and though I would absolutely feel a little icky doing marketing for some big corporation, my job makes me feel like I am helping create good in the world. Marketing is absolutely a necessary part of our organization.

And just to expand your thinking on what kinds of places you could work for: nonprofit; B Corp (as mentioned above) or other socially conscious business; federal government agency doing public health, public safety, etc; local government providing social services to people; advocacy group trying to change policy on some issue you care about; educational nonprofit addressing climate change... there are lots of people and organizations out there doing good. Put your skills to use with one of them!
posted by aka burlap at 7:21 AM on July 11, 2014

Market services? that way you will be convincing people to spruce up and continue to make use of the things they have while still keeping the economy flowing.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:43 AM on July 11, 2014

There is a vast world of marketing outside of consumer work. Many of us would despair of staying in the industry if we had to "sell jello and jeans" for our entire careers.

Non-profits, government agencies and B2B have already been mentioned. Also consider professional associations -- can you see yourself helping a trade group recruit and educate its member students and specialists? Or supporting a technical group that needs to grow acceptance for the interface standards it has developed? Doctors, nurses, IT specialists, pipefitters and electricians -- all of these and more have professional groups that need marketing support.
posted by peakcomm at 3:00 PM on July 11, 2014

First: the answer to your question - think about a product, service or mission you have strong, positive feelings for and try to get jobs supporting that. Marketing only sucks if you do not believe that people need what you are pushing and they would be better off knowing about it. I've worked for a non-profit that worked on getting teens understanding and involved in climate change action and I felt like I was steering the collective ship in the right direction. I have a friend who works at The Story of Stuff Project doing marketing. Marketing is just the word for communication with business measurement. So find a business that measures success in the way you do - whether that's a school district (doing communications), a non-profit or something else.

You also have the opportunity to spin marketing writing into web content pretty easily. Now, of course, you'd have to find the right site/sites, but there's value to that. You also can spin it into communications (internal or community) really easily as well.

Second, even though you didn't ask for it, I just want to say I've been there. I wrote raps for Chester Cheetah. I pitched business to Halliburton. I've named a cigarette brand for Phillip-Morris/Altria. I had to write a gossip site that incorporated major household brands into the content in sneaky ways. And it fried me out. Part of what fried me out was actually the how we were doing things - lots of snarky 20-somethings, no respect for the customers or clients, a culture of sexist and ageism and "why aren't you wearing expensive jeans"ism. So I got out of that and controlled who I was going to write for.

I got out of agencies and went in-house with a company I cared about. As part of writing about their green initiative, I got them to do Amazon Frustration-Free packaging out of all recycled materials for the stuff they sold online because I said it would be good marketing. It was. But I also got to stop literal tons of plastic waste. That might be my biggest career impact on the world, even though it's not on my resume.

The sad reality is that people will still buy some stuff without marketing. Would they buy soda? Fancy beer brands? I work in tech because I think that tech without me talks in wonky and robotic ways. So I work to change that.

The even sadder reality is that almost everyone in advertising or marketing hits this wall at some point. They fry out or retire to be painters, movie makers, start a coffee bar. More than half of them according to my LinkedIn are back in marketing within a few years. Not that they're naive or weird or awful.

Doing bad marketing for bad products with bad purposes with bad people is bad. It is soul sucking. It is awful. Do not think that you have to do that.

While you're looking for the nonprofit, government agency or company of good that the world needs to know about, I'm going to recommend:
- Watch the French film 99 FRANCS - exactly the same crisis in beautiful film form
- HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING - if you haven't already seen it
(CRAZY PEOPLE with Dudley Moore also has a similar premise, but it's a terrible movie with great ads, so I can't recommend it unless you just want to watch the ads.)
- Read the book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as Pilgrimage of Identity about a poet who quit his job to be a poet

I am in this business and stay in this business because I want to talk to people like people. No condescending marketing puffery. No business buzzword BS. No convoluted legal language. The service I sell to companies is not writing, but empathy demonstrated through words. And by doing this, I'm able to actually shape the conversation that surrounds people whether they like it or not into more human discourse. I'm able to steer brands towards remembering they're just people talking to people. That matters to me.

Now we just have to find what about this work actually matters to you if you're going to stay in it.
posted by Gucky at 8:55 PM on July 11, 2014

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