For our first teaser from KYD No.9, Greg Foyster reveals the machinations, motivations and manipulations of the advertising industry – and how it is destroying the planet.

If a teaser just isn’t enough, you can find the full text of this essay and more on our website in the coming weeks. For instant gratification, why not pre-order a copy of the latest issue?

Advertising’s re-branded public image troubles me. I’m an old employee of the industry, and The Gruen Transfer reminds me of conversations I had within the walls of advertising agencies, where social issues – such as the link between fast-food marketing and childhood obesity – were acknowledged, and then dismissed with a clever quip. The message, never explicitly stated, was that advertising is just a bit of harmless fun, so we shouldn’t worry about it too much.

Indeed, advertising is fun. The chance to get paid to come up with zany ideas was what attracted me to the industry in the first place. So while my friends sat in university lecture halls learning history or philosophy, I enrolled in RMIT’s creative advertising degree and spent my years of higher education staring at jam jars and sauce bottles, trying to write taglines that captured the emotional essence of kitchen condiments. In retrospect it sounds embarrassingly superficial. But this triviality was what made it such a blast. When what you create seems completely inconsequential, you feel free to create whatever you like.

In my third year, I landed a job as a copywriter at a small Melbourne agency, and I soon had a few television commercials under my belt. I looked set for a stellar career. Then, in 2008, I started writing a column about the environment for youth literary magazine Voiceworks. That’s when I realised advertising wasn’t inconsequential at all. In fact, the work I was doing had grave consequences for the health of the planet.

I became a walking contradiction, spending my weekdays writing ads promoting petrol-guzzling V8 cars and my weekends researching the dire impacts of climate change. To offset my guilt, I started writing pro bono campaigns for environment charities. In the middle of 2008, my inner conflict boiled over at an industry awards night. I slipped outside the swish function room and started crying. After that I refused to work for car companies, and at the end of the year I left my job.

Greg Foyster studied advertising at RMIT University and worked as a
copywriter for five years. Now a journalist published in The Age, The Big Issue, Crikey and G Magazine, he’s currently cycling around Australia researching a book about sustainable living through the blog

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