Do creative agencies need to work on their purpose?

When creative agencies insist that their clients have a purpose, should we be surprised when their employees question what their own is? Patrick Burgoyne wonders if it’s finally time for ad and design firms to be clear on their ethical stance

Aside from foreswearing tobacco clients (though many design and ad agencies continue to do work for them on the quiet), most creative agencies operate what amounts to an ‘if it’s legal, we’ll work on it’ policy when it comes to deciding what accounts to take on. But in the age of Extinction Rebellion and unparalleled levels of political polarisation, how long will this line hold?

A clue to the potential troubles that lie ahead came recently with the news that employees of Ogilvy in the US had expressed alarm at the work the agency was doing for the US Customs and Border Protection agency. The CBP, you will recall, is the organisation currently supervising the often horrific treatment of families at the US southern border. On July 4, RAICES, a US group that provides legal assistance to immigrants, shared a CBP video on Twitter that painted a rather rosier picture of life at the border than that reported by various US lawmakers and news organisations. It was ‘state propaganda’, RAICES cried, and claimed Ogilvy was responsible for making it.