“You aren’t advertising to a standing army; you are advertising to a moving parade.”

David Ogilvy


“One can resist the invasion of an army but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”

Victor Hugo


I know businesses are hesitant to wade into social issues. It is fraught with peril. That said. Look at this Google chart Axios offers us with regard to topics. It was an absolutely crazy time in the world as Trump offered the world an onslaught of crazy shit. I would argue it was impossible to not engage, therefore, the question a business had to answer was “how do I engage.” And if that is so, I would argue it would behoove all business people to think of it as “convergence opportunities charting” where if you engaged in a relevant thoughtful way – what would your business look like in the eyes of people as it spoke out?

Now. Crazy lightning rod topics or not, businesses kill for convergence moments in which #’s of people coalesce, if but for a moment or two, to say something to them. That’s why businesses do events. That’s why health clubs look at towel dispensers as communication/experience opportunities (while members may all do different workouts 90% stop at the dispenser). Twitter is like the workouts & the convergence moments are the towel dispensers. Scan someone’s thread & it centers on their interest (cats, climate, bad jokes, community, politics, etc.), but when a convergence topic hits everyone pays attention. Even if you hesitate to weigh in on issues it is difficult to not see these as opportunities to not only elevate your business brand socially, but also to expand your business. Personally, I believe all businesses should make their personal stand on society issues as part of their brand. But that’s me.

Yeah. I believe businesses should take a stand on social issues.

I am in the minority, but I believe business should get involved in society issues. Maybe not all, but they should take a stand. To me silence is not an option. I believe if you have a podium and the opportunity to speak you should accept the burden of responsibility and try and ‘lift society to a higher level.’ And if you don’t give a rat’s ass what I think, Peter Drucker also thought business should be involved in society.

So let me take a moment and comment on business responsibility and their choices with regard to what they say in communications. I do so because in today’s heightened sense of politicism and divisive rhetoric a shitload of people are making noise about “advertising should honor the event and not use it to make a political statement.” That’s is nuts to me.


If not then, then when?


If not me, then who?


There are surely consequences for your actions. But far too often this discussion devolves into a simplistic binary choice – an ‘either/or’ choice. You stand for this therefore you hate that. In other words, you cannot be pro-choice and yet respectful or understanding of pro-life, you cannot desire stronger immigration rules and still be accepting of immigrants, you cannot believe in your religion and still accept that how others worship, or not worship, is meaningful. It’s all wrong because Life, in most cases, is not some simplistic binary choice. You can, and should, believe in something and yet still can, and should, be accepting and respectful of others views. To do this not only would we need to embrace respect, but also assume that most people, let’s say maybe 99% of people, do the best they can and make the best decisions they can <no matter how flawed those decisions may look in our eyes>.

That said. I believe communications, in general, should always seek to highlight the opportunity for us to see the better, or best, version of who and what we are. And that is where I believe business marketing and advertising should not fear speaking out. And I would point out that is not political nor is it divisive, but a general point of view on contributing to a better society.

Look. Companies make statements all the time. Maybe they do more vocally internally, but part of any good organization is a sense of what they believe is right, versus wrong, and how they may define integrity & values. Frankly. We need more companies standing up and vocalizing this publicly. This is not about saying “you are wrong for believing this” or “we do not agree with you,” but rather more about normalizing what is right.

I talk with a shitload of business people, not about advertising or marketing per se,, but rather about simply being successful in the marketplace.

I focus on distinction and not differentiation.

I focus on worrying about “me” and what I want to say rather than finding some elusive, and most likely nonexistent, ‘white space’ in some industry.

I focus on saying the right things and doing it the right way and suggesting that if you tell people the right way to think about things that eventually people will see you as ‘right’ rather than ‘wrong.’

This is not about free speech or any political motivation, but it is about how business, and work life, is an important part of the societal fabric of who and what we are and how and what we think.

In my eyes if you really want to discuss how political correctness has gone awry, it would be in the business world. It wasn’t too long ago that business played a significant role in shaping society. Yeah. I said that. As Peter Drucker pointed out back in the early 1990’s in something he called “salvation by society” businesses understood that work made up a significant portion of people’s lives and therefore they had some responsibility to investing in the fabric of society and communities. As time and views have shifted toward ‘making a dollar’ and profits the work place became less and less an extension of society, but rather simply ‘a place to work and get a paycheck’.

What an empty thought that is.

Our work lives, like it or not, represent a significant portion of our lives not just in terms of sheer hours, but also in terms of thinking we are exposed to, accepted behavior and general attitudes on what is right & what is wrong. For a business to avoid that ‘fabric of society’ responsibility is shameful.

Once again, there are absolutely consequences for your actions. But that is what business positioning is really all about. Distinctness and forcing people to think – think about you, think about what you are offering and thinking about how they feel about you, your message and, uhm, themselves. That is what business positioning and marketing and advertising, at its core, is all about. We dumb it down into some ‘selling shit’ soundbite, but that is dumb.


I know.

People will debate with me and, to be fair, this whole discussion wanders along the razor thin line of inclusionary versus exclusionary. If your message is effective, concise and clear, it will absolutely be inclusionary for those who see themselves in what you have to say and offer and potentially exclusionary to others at exactly the same time. However, when done well, a business’s communications captures the brands’ distinctness <which is a campfire to those who want to be included> and offers a better version of people <so that people do not dislike you, they simply think ‘they are not for me’>.  

But to do what I am suggesting a business has to set political correctness off to the side, not think about politics at all and simply think about people. The people who they desire to try their products and services and how they would like to showcase those people as the best version of themselves. And then after doing that they have to place the burden of responsibility upon their shoulders, open the door and stride out into the word to share it with people.


I am suggesting business, and the people within it, have a responsibility.


I am suggesting business is something more than simply selling stuff.


“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society.

We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Bill Bernbach


“We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it.

We are so busy listening to statistics we forget we can create them.”

Bill Bernbach


I would suggest to any business person reading this that responsibility is responsibility. All responsibility is only as overwhelming or ‘whelming’ a you make it. And if you do not accept your responsibility to tell the truth as excitingly and convincingly as you possibly can, lies will win. If you choose to vulgarize the society or brutalize it or even ignore it <all under the guise of ‘understanding what the consumer wants’>, society will lose.

To be clear.

I honestly do not despair when I look at business in today’s world, but I do get aggravated.



I get angry.

I get angry that we are not accepting the responsibility.

I get angry that we are not strong enough to accept the burden.

I get angry that many do not even presume the responsibility is within their purview.

Business, whether you like it or not, shapes society.

What we do matters.

What we say matters.

Selling stuff may matter to our bottom line and the existence of our business, but we cannot ignore that a thriving business actually contributes to a greater good — the existence of a healthy society.

Far too often by simply focusing on ‘selling stuff’ the byproduct of our ignoring the larger responsibility is that we brutalizing society in some form or fashion.

Am I suggesting that selling stuff or being profitable isn’t important? Of course not.

All I am suggesting is that HOW you sell stuff and be profitable matters. And that you have a responsibility in HOW you do what you do. Because HOW you do things impacts society. It shapes society. It can vulgarize or brutalize … or invigorate or instill good.

HOW you do things has a power way beyond simply you or what you do in that moment.

HOW you do things is a pebble dropping into a pond.

Responsibility assumes you are neither impotent nor harmless.


“Advertising is far from impotent or harmless; it is not a mere mirror image. Its power is real, and on the brink of a great increase. Not the power to brainwash overnight, but the power to create subtle and real change.

The power to prevail.”

Eric Clark, The Want Makers: Inside the World of Advertising, 1988


Your responsibility in business is sometimes subtle, but always real.

I worry that business people everywhere, but in particular communications, have become so focused on getting shit done and ‘attaining the bottom line’ that they have forgotten the responsibility.

I worry that business people worry so much about politics and ‘political correctness’ they have forgotten that when good people remain silent the only one who wins is bad.

Just think about what thinking I offered today.

This isn’t about causes.

This isn’t about social responsibility <or the welfare of people>.

This is about understanding that what you do impacts people.

This is about whether you, as business people, accept the burden of responsibility to help shape a society which is a reflection of the best versions of who and what we are.

I will say while I’m not trying to ruin the mirage that business is just about business, I’d like everyone to think just a bit harder that with determination and with potentially a little unjustified confidence, you can not only get through the times of uncertainty, but maybe shape a better world. Ponder.

Written by Bruce