Is it possible to work in marketing and not be part of the capitalist agenda?

Photo by Jo San Diego on Unsplash

Let’s start with a confession. I’m firmly against capitalism, but I work in marketing. There’s a huge oxymoron at play in my working life. Isn’t there?

Marketing is the core enabling force for capitalism. The very aim of marketing is to persuade an audience to do something. Working in marketing usually means finding ways to influence consumers to spend more of their money on your product or service. Marketing stimulates consumer spending, propping up our capitalist society.

As you’ll see from my Medium profile, I’m deeply concerned about climate change and its impacts. Our capitalist society, with it’s focus on profit and growth, is largely responsible for the climate emergency we now find ourselves in. Overconsumption is destroying the planet, using up resources and leaving a trail of trash and greenhouse gases behind.

I believe that to tackle the climate crisis, we need to leave capitalism behind, and look to new economic models which hold our wellbeing and our planet in the highest regard —models such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics.

I mention wellbeing, because a capitalist society is also an uncaring one.

As humans, we get a rush of dopamine from spending money on new things. It’s the same rush we get from drinking or gambling, and it’s where the all too common term ‘retail therapy’ gets its name. Brands are well aware of this, and use it to increase their sales, with constant marketing that tells us we must buy the latest item or trend to be happy. But that dopamine hit doesn’t last long. From bus stop posters to mid-podcast ads to influencers on Instagram, marketing surrounds us 24/7, informing our decisions and making us keep buying more and more. There’s a reason it’s called ‘influencer’ marketing.

So with the clear connections with climate change and overconsumption that go against my values and beliefs, how can I possibly working in marketing?

It’s simple really. I think that marketing can (sometimes) be a force for good.

My first couple of marketing roles were in big corporate organisations. My ‘success’ in the roles was measured largely by the revenue I was bringing in from increasing sales and finding new customers. Exceeding targets meant bumping up the already obscene bonuses of the CEO and senior leadership team at the end of the financial year. I was miserable and unmotivated, spending 8 hours a day working against my core values as a person.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Every organisation can benefit from marketing, not just profit-based, corporate companies. Marketing doesn’t have to be about selling unnecessary products for the capitalist agenda. It can be about selling alternative products which are doing things in a better way, with transparent working practices and carbon neutral practices. Or it doesn’t have to be about selling anything. It can be about education and information about important topics — such as climate change solutions. It can be campaigns to raise funds for impactful charities.

I beat the Sunday night blues by doing work I love, every day of the week. By aligning my personal values with the work I do and the types of organisations I do it for I’m no longer searching for motivation, it’s inherently there.

And it’s not just about the mission and impact of the organisation, it can also be about the marketing itself.

Shopping may give us dopamine spikes that make us feel happy, but doing good makes us feel even better — and can even improve our physical health.

In experiments where people are given money and told to spend it on themselves or on someone else, those who spent the money on others felt the happiest at the end of the experiment. Incredibly, research has also shown that people who donate to charity have lower blood pressure.

Marketing truly can be a force for good.

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