Culture is not an excuse

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Watched this video Scared Straight: Out of Advertising, and as much as it was funny and entertaining as a parody, it also disturbed me quite a little. A parody is an exaggerated from of something in order to entertain, but inside there is always some level of truth.

So essentially this video portrays #agencylife as such:

  • Ruins family life (creative director hasn’t seen his son since he was an ultrasound scan 4 years ago)
  • Losing your soul and sacrificing your principles (“You know what I gave up for these (awards)? Everything.”)
  • Insatiable thirst for Awards (although no one seems to see the point)
  • Bitter, cynical, dehumanised bits of what’s left (of your soul)
  • Be prepared to lose your dignity and your self-esteem stripped bare
  • Respect (and self-respect) has no place here


While the video was kind of cruel to idealistic young graduates looking to enter advertising, unfortunately from personal experience, it is all true to a certain degree.

And if you can’t take it, you’re either weak, ‘not cut out for this industry’, or it’s simply failure on your part. 

Seriously?!? Doesn’t this sound a little familiar – like victim blaming?? “You chose this career yourself.”

I’ve been told once too often in response to burning out, “Well this is the nature of our industry.” 

While I respect industry standards, I feel this is used too often as an excuse to conveniently dismiss the need for change. Or to numb oneself to the possibility or duty (if you’re in a superior position) to improve the company or industry culture.

It’s always easy to push the blame to something bigger than individuals or teams, whether it is the government, big corporations or “the industry”.

It’s like Big Brother in 1984 – who’s this guy anyway?? No one actually knows yet everybody obeys the hell out of him. 


Culture is created by people, and the collective is built from the individual. I think this is worth thinking about because it doesn’t just happen in advertising.

My partner is a civil engineer in a company dealing with structural design. As an ordinary member of the public, you would think that this industry prizes safety and quality above all else. Right??

The reality is, a lot of the work involves different parties and stakeholders pushing responsibility to one another. No one wants to take responsibility. And what’s more appalling is, like any other industry, everything depends on cutting costs – it’s a numbers game. The fact that they are constructing public goods that affects the safety and lives of an entire country’s citizens doesn’t insulate this industry from the capitalist economy’s laws of supply and demand.

When questioning the way things work, my partner was told blatantly by fellow engineers, “It’s the nature of our industry.”


On another instance, I read this NPR article, which deals with the contentious topic of sexual harassment in the workplace (remember what I said about victim blaming earlier?). A female chef who complained about sexual harassment by her male colleagues was told by the HR department, “Sorry this happened to you, but that’s the way kitchens can be.”


You see, whether it’s a kitchen, an office, or an industry, this is how things will turn out and continue to be if everyone lives to conform. Even if it is company or industry culture, we should not continue to accept and condone things that are not right and not beneficial – for ourselves, each other and the bigger picture – in the long term.

After all, how many actresses/singers/performers had to put up with, “This is Hollywood for you,” before the Harvey Weinstein case actually got people to pay attention??



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