Finding Purpose Harder Than Finding Money

Last December Jennifer Rice probed the depths and asked the kind of pertinent questions one asks on a long hike, or fireside with a particularly good pinot noir.

One thing I haven’t thought about until recently is whether I could make a difference in my own profession. Seems a bit odd in hindsight, but I’ve finally recognized that I’ve been suffering from cognitive dissonance: I believe that over-commercialization is leading to the demise of our society, and yet I’m in a profession of helping companies sell stuff that people don’t really need.
Hmm. That’s a problem. Somewhere down the line I subconsciously accepted the message that business isn’t meaningful. Looking back at some of my employers and clients, I can see how I could come to such a conclusion. I’ve been fortunate to work with some companies filled with passion and purpose, but I saw them as a rare exception.
And yet there are plenty of companies out there that do stand for something. They’re serving a need and making a difference. But typically these companies don’t need much branding help; their single-minded passion is the brand, and it fuels success.

While I constantly question the value of what I do in this business, I do not question the meaningfulness of business, or more to the point, the ad business. Business is a powerful tool for social change—in this culture, arguably the most powerful tool. Thus, something as simple as saying, “I’m going to fight for the truth,” can make an impact. In other words, helping to move agency peers and clients off of platitudes like, “We’ll tell ’em what they want to hear” to something more authentic is a big step. A big step made from lots of little steps taken on a day-to-day basis.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.