On selling your soul to the devil

Oct 19 2016 Published by under industry, life in the office

Say you work for a toy company*. You enjoy making toys and you know the toys make the kids happy. The company that you work for has to sell the toys in order to make profit. But in order to get the parents of the kids to buy the toys, the company thinks they need to market them with gender-specific advertising. You are not in the marketing department, so very far away from where these decisions are made. And - as I said - you like the toys, the company and the fact that you make kids happy with the toys, but not the way the toys are marketed. And when you address this with your direct colleagues (so not the marketeers), most of them say:"Well, this is just how the world works, boys like cars and girls like dolls, we cannot change this. Also, this successful marketing is what pays your bills."  Whereas I feel that changing this might actually be a little contribution to a more equal world, and at the same time, the company emphasizes they value a diverse workforce, which in my mind is almost not compatible with the marketing strategy behind their products.

Have I sold my soul to the devil? Do I accept this is the way things are or do I try to change this somehow? If you work in a commercial setting: how do you deal with things you personally disagree with?


* Clearly I don't, but for the sake of the argument it doesn't matter.

7 responses so far

  • Ass(ociate) Prof says:

    I think you're OK, and your marketing people might not be all that evil.

    There are a lot of things in academia that I personally disagree with. I disagree with spending taxpayer dollars to support (gender-specific) university athletic programs, I disagree with mandates or even pressure to put trigger warnings in syllabuses, I disagree fundamentally with the concept and practice of treating students as customers. I agree that the university is a very important piece of the social contract, economic engine, and a place to engage with new ideas.

    So, well, there you have it. You might also consider that while the inclination to make everything about children gender-neutral is great, it is very likely that the biological gender differences in children go beyond anatomy and might reach into preferences and behavior. The differences have been (and still are) used to the disadvantage of women, but that doesn't mean that boys and girls aren't different. As biologists and biochemists we know this: endocrinology influences behavior, and boys and girls have different developmental programs. As parents, we see that behavior of boys and girls can be described in a venn diagram: some behaviors appear more often in boys, some in girls, some in both. As much as I'd like to think it's all just how we socialize children, as my socially liberal view of the world would prefer, my biologist side can see that the explanations are more complicated.

    The reality may also be that we still project gender stereotypes onto our children. Is the marketing department perpetuating this behavior or responding to it? Does the marketing strategy disadvantage or stigmatize one gender over another, or is it a way to focus the message?

    • babyattachmode says:

      Just to be clear: I don't actually work for a toy company but use it as a metaphor to discuss feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the commercial strategy of the company I work for. But you're right that there is a fine line between focussing the message versus disadvantaging or stigmatizing a gender (in this hypothetical case).

  • becca says:

    I struggle with this a lot. I want to good work at a place that isn't evil. The disconnect between what universities say they do and what they actually do was hard for me in undergrad, but dreadful in grad school (being at Penn State as the news of the Sandusky scandal broke did *not* help).
    I like to think that if somebody asked me to sign off on the study that supposedly showed OxyContin worked for 12 hours, I wouldn't have done it (well, at least if I had known enough about opiates to realize that would fuel addiction, and not just seen it as a cheap marketing gimmick akin to getting a new patent for every ER/SR/XL tiny formulation tweak imaginable). On the other hand, while I think marketing Pedialyte as a hangover cure is a little hard to substantiate, I also think it's mostly funny/clever and not harmful. So I definitely care whether things are marketed in a way that results in harm, but I don't care much about whether they are marketed honestly.
    Ultimately, you're not responsible for the entirety of ethical impacts of a giant organization. But you also have a duty to try to make it a better organization where you can. It's just hard to know how sometimes.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Thanks for your comment. Yes it's clear that you cannot change the world (or a large company), but I'm struggling with how much to try and change it.

  • Namnezia says:

    I think if you see intrinsic value in the product you are developing, then the net effect is positive, even if you don't like the marketing tactics.

  • chall says:

    I said no to a job when I was a post-doc since I couldn't mesh my view of the world with this specific corporation and their line of ads. Clearly that's a somewhat privileged view to be able to have, but at the time I drew my line there. I found another job so I didn't have to think too much about it. An old coworker of mine now works for a tobacco company and we had a couple of discussions about this....

    I think there are ways to approach the disconnect to make you feel better about it. Of course, you can always say "it's not your job since it's marketing" and they mainly care about the big bucks rolling in, not necessarily the ethics/moral you would like to adhere to". the toy analogy would make me sad, but until there are clear data on that "gender neutral advertising" works - I'm hard pressed PR will change. When it comes to more complex things like pharma... it's just really difficult. (one of the reasons I'm still in non-profit even though I've ventured over to look at the options behind door number 2)

    At my present job I've worked with PR/Communications on a number of things and I flatter myself to think that I've made some good connections and that they have listened to some of my concerns when I have voiced them. However, I'm not that naive to think that it would be that easy. Although, it never hurts to try and influence people with good arguments, right?

    TLDR; it's complicated. let me know if you get a good solution.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Thanks for your comment. The company actually has a website where they invite everyone to post their comments, questions and dreams about the future of the company so I may just write this up and post it there if I can get the wording right. Will keep you updated 😉

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