Mad Men, Blue bloods and Sleeping with Satan

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Julian Borra, Executive Creative Director, Saatchi and Saatchi S

What is the environmentally-degraded, resource-ripped, over-populated over-consuming world coming to? Blue blooded sustainability gurus and visionaries – the voices in the consumer wilderness, getting into bed with the evil and emollient mad men and women of Madison Avenue’s hidden persuaders. What on earth are the Savonarolas of the new sustainable world thinking, getting cosy with what some would have us believe are the architects of the monstrous and dreadful consumption that infects the lungs of our wheezing planet?

Surely that just feels wrong on so many levels?

There is a particular cabal of activists and believers who find something fundamentally ‘not right’ at the heart of the flourishing cohabitation of Sustainability Believers and Advertising Practitioners. It is understandable how some would see it simply as a cynical adoption of blue blooded perspectives by some very shifty types to polish the turd of what constitutes the communications industry – a desperate attempt to make it less venal and more credible.

Possibly: but to be fair, the businesses the advertising world serves and the brands they help build have already seized the nettle of Sustainability in an attempt to build flourishing businesses for the long haul that everyone might benefit from. There is, without a doubt, an enormous shade of self-interest in their actions. These are initiatives embraced primarily to create the kinds of efficiencies and economies that keep businesses smart, differentiated and growing – money making to you and me. And as servants to their success, the advertising industry has to evolve to remain viable as a partner in building and sustaining that success whether it likes it or not.

So it ignores the blue blooded perspectives at its peril.

Also, there is no selling into slavery here – this cohabitation is a happily two-sided affair.

For every bed and every Satan, there has to be a blue Faustian lamb that chooses to climb under the duvet with them (or goat perhaps – ‘lamb’ sounding far too ‘sacrificial’ given the consent).There are some resolute and unwavering sustainability visionaries who have willingly and gladly climbed into this bed.

Why? Are they corrupted; cop outs and cowards to the causes they once espoused? Or are they the innovators who realized that throwing bricks at the bastions of consumerism from the outside gets you nowhere. Perhaps they are the people who think that we should start the movement towards a more sustainable form of consumption from the inside out, using both self-interest and enlightenment with equal dexterity and agility, relentlessly recalibrating each against the other to positive net effect and benefit for everyone. Not everyone has the luxury of ‘uncivilization’ – and taking a sabbatical to walk the highways and byways of everywhere from the Danube to the South American jungle to revel in and re-commune with the great spirit nature and all that surrounds us, in search of enlightenment.

To be fair, this is simply an old dilemma reframed for the 21st century. One could posit that the blue activists and their agency sponsors of today are merely our equivalent of the artists of the renaissance and the rich benefactors who chose to ‘embrace’ those artists by ‘commissioning’ their gifts for posterity (ok, and a teensy weensy bit of vanity perhaps). The question now, as it was then, is this; are the purity and wonder of the visionary’s exceptional and rarified pursuit sullied (and therefore negated) by the vulgarity of the commercial transaction and the pawn-like submission of that pursuit to the self-aggrandizement of some exceptionally self-interested people?

You the jury will ultimately decide.

In the meantime I’m all for a solution that means something to someone struggling to live and make a decent life for their family through the banality of their everyday; and who just might start on the road to better by actively choosing a shampoo whose manufacturer was convinced to get involved in ‘this sustainability stuff’ by some stray Sustainability activist who wandered into their boardroom one day and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. And to be fair, in their cohabitation with the greater evil of ad people some of these ‘fallen’ visionaries are managing to get one of the most egocentric self-interested consumption obsessed businesses to start to change the way they think and act.

Blimey.

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  1. Robin McMullen, Wed Apr,04:

    Interesting article. You write in the first paragraph, “…evil and emollient mad men and women of Madison Avenue’s hidden persuaders” An emollient is a skin moisturizer. Were you thinking of some form of the word “emolument” which means compensation for a service performed, or do the evil Madison Avenue folk have the heretofore unknown ability to make our hands silky soft while they pick our pockets?

  2. Lisa, Tue Apr,24:

    Funny catch, Robin. Probably a little bit of both, emollient and emolument.

    I find old fashioned pollution prevention, replete with site assessments, final reports, and follow up, to have been far more beneficial to the Earth than the sustainability movement. P2 programs, the catalyst for change to industrial processes, technologies, and raw materials, resulted in more competitive and profitable facilities, protected worker health, prevented potential liabilities, and, unlike pollution control, included a payback period on investment. All this while protecting the environment. The entire process was measurable and quantifiable, to boot.

    A permit is nothing more than a legal document to pollute. How much better to stop the byproduct of pollution at the source than to try to clean it up after the fact.

    The best idea to save the world yet and after twenty-some years it has fallen by the wayside instead of gaining momentum.

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