One day in 2016 I was in Galway, telling a guy about my recent decision to pursue a brand-new career from scratch. He looked at me in exaggerated shock and said, “You’re a lawyer, and now you want to work in advertising?! Wow… That is even more evil!”.
I laughed, of course, and have quoted this brutal piece of Irish humour many times since. I even made it the opening of my set, when I explored yet one more cynical vocation, stand-up comedy. But just as sincerely as I laughed then, I also got a bit annoyed, and still do.
No big news though: law and advertising often feature in the top polls of least trusted or least respected professions. Years ago, I used to be asked countless times “Wouldn’t you feel terrible about defending ______?” (insert criminal category of your choice, the more disgustingly wicked, the better). Similarly, now in advertising, I’m questioned about “selling people stuff that they don’t need”.
Well, despite my evil nature – now publicly unveiled – I can’t deny the existence and relevance of such ethical issues. But I also think that the role of both lawyers and advertisers deserves a deeper and more flattering look.
First of all, let’s recap the obvious. Not all clients are bad, whatever bad means. Let’s even say that most of them might actually be kind of good and deserve good help from good professionals. This is true for the clients of lawyers – yes, even criminal lawyers! – and this is certainly true in advertising.
But most of all, here’s my main point in defence of both lawyers and advertisers: it’s all about helping someone get their voice heard. Finding out what’s their story and trying to tell it more effectively. Getting their story in front of the right people thanks to certain tools and knowledge – be they procedural laws, media rules, or ‘simply’ good communication.
Yes, some stories are better than others, and it’s neither lawyers’ nor advertisers’ role to judge or rule – there are judges and regulators for this. Still, in advertising at least, we can always make choices. Just think of FCB Inferno, stopping working with Nivea due to some homophobic comments. You read of similar stories more and more often, nowadays.
Despite the objective of lawyers or advertisers isn’t necessarily to make the world better, they actually often do. By fighting injustices, setting new trends, persuading judges to challenge old-fashioned ways, or engaging audiences in standing up for something.
So although there will always be more polls or guys in a pub ready to call me evil, I think I will still laugh, and then tell them a story: the one about all the stories I have yet to tell.
By Silvia Cutrera