Resolution time: The challenge to commercial persuaders for 2009

Posted by Rob Walker on December 18, 2008
Posted Under:,Suggestions

I’ve just belatedly read a bit in Ad Age declaring the importance of values such as sustainability and social responsibility in the year ahead, and offering various resolutions for 2009 to its readership of commercial persuasion pros. Number 3 is:

Pick a local, entrepreneurial company that has a business model with social or envieronmental responsibility at its core, and go and work for them — pro-bono if there’s no other way.

That strikes me as pretty lame and unimaginative.

Why? Because the basic paradigm offered is that all agencies do is “go and work for” somebody. They don’t have their own ideas, they don’t have their own beliefs. They’re willing to “work for” someone who stands for something — but they themselves stand for nothing. And are (or so this “resolution” suggests) essentially incapable of standing for anything.

So I would say a better resolution might be:

Pick an idea that you believe in — with social or environmental responsibility at its core.

Now go out there and use your persuasion talents to advance that idea in the public sphere. Change behavior in ways that do not involve buying your clients’ stuff, that do not involve the profit motive at all.

Do it because you  — yes, you; not an entrepreneur or a brand that you work for; you — actually believe in something, and you stand for something, and you have ideas, and you care.

Don’t look for a client, pro bono or otherwise, who has values. Just have values.

In fact, I hereby issue the Murketing Challenge to all commercial persuasion pros (in advertising, marketing, PR, “ideation,” whatever) for 2009: If you do a project like this, of any kind, something where you, the commercial persuader, or your agency, does work to advance an idea that you believe in, tell me about it and I will happily publicize it here. And if anybody really does anything, maybe I’ll even give out a prize. (If so I would base it on the reactions of readers, etc., not just my personal reaction.)

This is not work on behalf of a client of any kind — company, nonprofit, politician, political group, or charity — it’s work on behalf of you, and something you believe in.

It can be as big as unconsumption, and as small as making a positive change in the neighborhood where you are based.

If you like this idea, then spread this post, and tell me what you come up with at

If you don’t like this idea, then don’t.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Does getting people to convert to a religion of my choice count? Just kidding. Sorry, I had to.

I look forward to seeing the results of your challenge.

Written By Dr. Horowitz on December 18th, 2008 @ 11:09 am

Yeah, well, I’ll be honest with you, I’ll be shocked if a) anybody spreads the word, and b) any persuader responds in any tangible way.

We’ll see. Perhaps Murketing readers will prove me wrong. Consider that a spinoff challenge!

Written By Rob Walker on December 18th, 2008 @ 11:57 am

I probably don’t qualify as I’m not really a marketing pro (I’m a web developer) but I’ve been thinking this month about retooling my well-known but irregularly updated hip-hop blog into something completely different – a hub for projects focussed on reducing the digital divide.

Written By rafi on December 18th, 2008 @ 5:30 pm

rafi, sure you qualify — there are no rules here! And I think that’s an important topic that people have sort of forgotten about. So keep me posted.

Written By Rob Walker on December 19th, 2008 @ 8:17 am

Mr. Walker, Ive heard tmuch talk especially in the last 6 months of this notion of responsible, compassionate, altruistic-dare I say communistic capitalism/socialist democracy?.
The “profit by not having a profit motive,” is such an esoteric concept, (even most churches would be hard pressed not to laugh hysterically).
I am certain many in the commercial persuasion sector will find the idea way too obtuse if not downright f@#ing ridiculous.
This is because the last person who tried it became branded a revolutionary and enemy of the state and was literally crucufied.
Poverty and martrydom are anathema to most comfortable citizens of the industrialized world, especially in the obesity capital of the galaxy, America.
I would like that the citizens of the world “come together” (and we could use Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s record-if Michael lets us use it for free -as the soundtrack) and join us erstwhile do-gooders in a new social and economic justice movement that rebrands America and removes like Tide, the stain of corporate and personal greed and corruption that has destroyed the hopes and the lives and generations of millions all over the world in the past 6 months.

Lets blog for ideas on the name of that new America.
We can hold our first rally at the entrance to Goldman and Sachs, (or Bernie Maddoffs apartment-major major worldwide free press on that one).
ive already started.
Visit my site please.
Lawrence Cobb-El
Executive Director, School Streets and Beyond.

P.S. I vote Professor Linda Solomon – Purchae College as the minister of propaganda. I know she’s got some choice words and phrases for the scoundrels, thieves and adulterers whove sold out the American Dream.
Viva la revolucionne!
And hey, maybe we could get Nike as a sponsor…

Written By Lawrence Cobb-El on December 21st, 2008 @ 4:25 pm
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