A Marketer's Moment of Shame

I have always been proud to be a marketer, whether I was at a large advertisement agency or working from the client side. That is, until earlier this month, the exact date was December 11 -- a date that is now indelibly marked in my mind as the moment when I lost pride in my industry.

Here's what happened.

It was a lovely cool winter Saturday night in NYC, and I had a chance to participate in the 7th Annual Artivist Festival held at the Tribeca Cinemas in lower Manhattan. The name of the festival said it all. I knew the films would be the kind that challenged our ability to claim "plausible deniability" which permits us to do as we like because "we didn't know." The festival gave critical exposure to more than 400 films covering a diverse range of subjects representing 65 countries over the past seven years. The topics were as broad as the cause organizations these films supported: "Rock the Vote", the Drug Policy Alliance, UCLA Center for African Studies, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Sierra Club, and the Coalition for a Sustainable Africa.

So there I was. To be honest, it was pure chance that I happened to go to two films dealing with animal cruelty. One film, Madonna of the Mills is the story of an office manager from Staten Island, who realized that most puppies in pet stores come from "puppy mills" where animals are utterly abused and cruelly disposed of when their breeding value has been exhausted. Her shock was well-founded considering the vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills and nearly all have parasites when purchased. More shocking was that about one million animals are held in these cruel conditions. For Laura, this was unacceptable and she proceeded to save as many of these breeding dogs as she could.

The second film was equally difficult to bear. It was called Skin Trade and it told of the unspeakable cruelty in the treatment of animals to supply the fashion industry with fur product. The film was surprising in the sense that I thought fur had already been relegated to the "uncool" dust bin in the 1980's. But it seems, fur in fashion is experiencing a resurgence propelled by leading designers such as Michael Kors and Prada (here's a full list of designers who use fur and celebrities who wear it ).

Both films were hard to digest when the scope of the problem is understood. However, what made it incomprehensibly worse for me was when I began to understand that many of the worst lies are crafted by the best marketers around. These creative people beautifully wrap these goods in a cloak of respectability, responsibility and "respect for animals" and white wash the brutal reality that, if understood, would significantly reduce demand. A quick investigation of facts from objective organizations, (e.g. -- The Humane Society) easily verifies wide-spread, pervasive patterns of inhumane treatment.

In that moment, when I understood marketing's complicity, I personally bore the shame for my profession. I despaired in thinking about how hard it would be to do anything given the huge, well-funded interest groups that promote the production of these goods. I stubbornly kept turning it over in my mind and it hit me that our leverage was the power of "Judy Consumer's" choices, a heartening thought because that meant lots of us can have an impact. In the case of the puppy mills, the answer is somewhat easy - either adopt from shelters or only buy where you can see the parent of the puppy to ensure it was treated humanely. That alone will make a huge dent in the trafficking of factory-bred puppies. Be sure to tell your friends, too.

Impacting the fur trade is more complicated given its deep pockets which buys it a lot of media and fashion industry coverage. Yet, "Judy Consumer's" small acts of protest can make a big difference. For instance, Jane Velez-Mitchell host of Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on CNN sister station HLN (7pmEST/4pmPacific) shared one tip for expressing civil outrage politely. When confronting someone who proudly admits: "Yes, it's real," Jane says to them in all sincerity, "Isn't that sad." The subtle yet powerful message is that it's sad for the animals and it's sad that the woman feels wonderful at wearing something that comes at too high a cost. "Judy Consumer" can also make a difference by supporting fur-free designers and retailers: Nicole Miller, Calvin Klein, Todd Oldham, Ralph Lauren, Overstock.com and Talbot's who recently pulled all fur from their lines.

With all that said however, I was wondering how my industry might redeem itself. The answer seemed clear. Marketers (and I mean here, media buying agencies, photographers, PR agencies, ad agencies, writers and even models) should rally together and refuse to service any company that profits from the sale of exploited animals. Let's make it as difficult as possible for these purveyors of cruelty to produce the marketing lies that propel demand.

I know this is asking a lot. I also know how easy it is for one to cop out by knowing that it is likely someone will be willing to do this work. But if we reduce the pool of resources, it is likely they will get lower quality work or have to pay much more to get any work done. Either way, we will have accomplished our goal - reducing the effectiveness of their marketing machine. Already, some of the most renowned people in this business have agreed to join in this fight. For instance, Nigel Barker , award-winning fashion photographer and filmmaker, is on board. As spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States, he understands that when people learn about the methods employed when killing the animals, they will also say no to fur.

By the way, I'd also like to direct a special message to my friends in journalism. I'd like to appeal to you, too. Walk away from assignments that cover fur fashion or at least don't give fur in fashion one line of editorial coverage. I know it takes chutzpah to ask this, but I am inspired when I see people like Jane Velez-Mitchell who will take an overt stand against fur in fashion.

I'll end with the lyrics from Jewel's song "Hands" who puts it so simply and elegantly: "In the end, only kindness matters." I believe it pretty much just boils down to that. In the end, I know "Judy Consumer" believes that as well.