Iditarod_sled_dog_race2So much advertising is made with a single-minded, self-serving brutality. The advertiser cares only for sales — at any cost. Is there a social cost that makes some advertising unworthy?

In Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, a favorite book, Annie Dillard describes — among many other topics — the assaults on the North Pole by early explorers. She writes on how the British adventurers entertained themselves aboard their ships, with song and dance at banquets with silverware bearing their family crests. When their ships became stuck in the ice, they hopped out and dragged their crested silverware northward — never to be heard from again. The Norwegians follow. When their ships became stuck in the ice, they climbed out with sled dogs and mushed northward. Along the way, they fed the dogs to the dogs, they ate their sled dogs, they passed the frozen bones of the British (and the crested silverware), and they claimed the North Pole.

What does Dillard teach with these tales?

We all have a choice: What will we sacrifice to succeed? Will we eat our own sled dogs? Or are we more like the British, preferring victory only on our own terms. They wouldn’t want to arrive at the North Pole without the correct tableware. It would be a hollow victory.

(There’s so much more to Dillard’s book. Solar eclipses and weasels. You’ll enjoy it.)

I’m not the world’s arbiter of taste. But I know what I want to work on. And I know what leaves my soul hungry, awake at night — when I’ve arrived at the North Pole after a meal of sled dogs. I do want to work on your business, if what you do is good for the folks who use it and does no harm to the kids who are bystanders. After all, they aren’t sled dogs. They’re our children.

When does advertising = eating sled dogs? That’s when our kids see stupid messages that lure them into wasting their lives. Are you making that advertising? If so, please stop. Otherwise, you might discover how embarrassed you are when it’s too late to make amends. That would be a nightmare, surrounded by your grandchildren, as they ask you what your contribution to the world was. Your grandchildren will know if you fed children to the sled dogs.

On this topic, here’s a brilliant film from the Dove soap folks.