Who’s Responsible?

I just read a great piece by Seth Godin that essentially says that marketers are responsible for the affects that the products/services they market have on society. From his piece:

If marketing works, it means that free choice isn’t quite so free.
It means that marketers get to influence and amplify desires. The
number of SUVs sold in the United States is a bazillion times bigger
than it was in 1962. Is that because people suddenly want them, or is
it because car marketers built them and marketed them?

Cigarette consumption is way down. Is that because people suddenly
don’t want them any more, or is it because advertising opportunities
are limited?

Others will tell you that if it’s legal, it’s fair game. If it’s legal for Edelman
to post a blog called Working Families for Wal-Mart (when it’s really
working Edelman employees for Wal-Mart), then they have every right to
do so. In fact, they have an obligation to their shareholders to do so. Or so they say.

I believe that every criminal, no matter how heinous the crime,
deserves an attorney. I don’t believe that every product and every
organization and every politician deserves world-class marketing or PR…

Let me be really clear, just in case. If you think that the world
would be a better place if everyone owned a handgun, then yes, market
handguns as hard as you can. If you honestly believe that kids are well
served by drinking a dozen spoonfuls of sugar every morning before
school, then I may believe you’re wrong, but you should go ahead and
market your artificially-sweetened juice product. My point is that you
have no right to market things you know are harmful or that lead to bad
outcomes, regardless of how much you need that job.

Along the way, “just doing my job,” has become a mantra for blind
marketers who are making short-term mistakes in order to avoid a
conflict with the client or the boss. As marketing becomes every more
powerful, this is just untenable. It’s unacceptable.

If you get asked to market something, you’re responsible. You’re
responsible for the impacts, the costs, the side effects and the
damage. You killed that kid. You poisoned that river. You led to that
fight. If you can’t put your name on it, I hope you’ll walk away. If
only 10% of us did that, imagine the changes. Imagine how proud you’d
be of your work.

Thankfully I’ve never had to market anything of social consequence, but I have had to market products that I looked at and thought to myself, "Who in their right mind would spend $x for this?"  In those cases it was extremely difficult to write compelling copy or to enthusiastically sell the product, and honestly I didn’t stay with those companies for long.  The flip side of the coin is that I’ve worked with services/products that I didn’t personally find valuable but it was abundantly clear that the customers did, and from that experience I learned to try and work beyond my own biases.  In other words just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that there aren’t a million people out there who do like it.  Either way I agree with Godin that if you market it or sell it, you are responsible for it.

Cross posted on LowderEnterprises.com.

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