I like to think of myself as a pretty moral gal. My mum’s both a hippy and a journalist, so I grew up buying organic, steering clear of notorious brands, signing about 8 petitions a day (#clicktivism) and keeping critical of the institutions we all interact with on a daily basis. As a part-time actress (and even on occasion, model) I’ve had a few bookings from projects friends have been working on. Usually I’ll say yes to anything basically ethical that I’ll get cash or an adventure out of, but the most recent advert offer really messed with me, and led to what I’m calling The Great Facebook Debate of 2015.
Last week, a certain snack food company came a-knockin’ with the offer of a day’s trip abroad, a fee and, no joke, a private jet.
We’ll call them “AnySnackCo”, because I am not one to fuck with an international corporation unless I have a buddy like SumofUs or Avaaz fighting my corner. (As much as I’m happy to bitch about “AnySnackCo”, I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised to find out they own the land my house is built on, they’re so insidious. It would be like when I found out Coca-Cola owns majority shares in Innocent Smoothies: my. world. crumbled.) So for that reason they’ll remain un-named, but I’ll leave you to add up my astonishingly cryptic clues and work it out for yourself.
They were looking for ‘real people’ (a phrase that as a feminist and performer I always find a bit creepy); a group of cheerful young pals who could have a day of visually-pleasing adventures that would, by the magic of marketing, be crowbarred into the concept of eating the snack-food-that-must-not-be-named.
When I got the message my first instinct was just joy. I’d get money for a single day’s easy work, and can’t lie, a nice ego-boost (these people I don’t know think I can be the face of their snacks! What more could I dream of, as a Cambridge graduate? Nothing. This, this is my peak).
That was, until I remembered I’d been boycotting “AnySnackCo”s products for years because of their policy on palm oil. They are owned by the world’s largest and least ethical consumer of palm oil. By not guaranteeing their sources of oil aren’t causing deforestation, “AnySnackCo”are putting endangered animals at risk in Malaysia and Indonesia, and potentially destroying huge amounts of rainforest. Oh shit.
This wasn’t just looking at a chocolate bar in a shop, wanting the chocolate bar, not buying the chocolate bar and leaving the shop. This was the chocolate bar turning up at your house wrapped in hundred-dollar bills, dancing a jig and promising you a long and prosperous career. The Man had brought out the big guns and it was tempting… so, so tempting.
Torn, I offered it up to the Facebook Hive Mind - the all-adjudicating interweb - for guidance. 86 comments later, I had learned a lot about my friends and family: from the student activist who told me ‘if you don’t do the ad someone else will. There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism anyway lol’, to the charity worker who came clean about considering the offer of a £30/h job with Shell when he’d been unemployed for 6 months, and the musician who’d done a three hour alcohol ad shoot and bought a piano with the fee.
My relatives chimed in with various exhortations to morality, while a few people came out with startling nuggets of wisdom like ‘Failure comes when you trade what you want for what you want right now’. People I’d worked in a pub with were commenting to disagree with the cello scholar from my college, while my secondary school nurse ‘liked’ my third cousin once-removed’s reminder to think of my own priorities. Some wily chaps even found a compromise that still got me the job, suggesting I do it and then give the fee to Greenpeace.
The best suggestion, though, had to be my friend Chris Heasman, who sagely advised ‘Take the private jet, go to where they’re shooting the ad, then spend the rest of the day reciting the snack’s chemical ingredients to the tune of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ until they get so sick of you they give up, scrap the ad and send you back home. In the private jet.’ Touché, Chris…
Well, you can probably tell from the fact that I’m writing this and not reclining on a white leather couch eating lobster with Jamie Dornan right now (because that’s what happens after you do snack ads), that I turned it down.
For a start, my uncle’s reminder that ‘clean hands in a dirty world are priceless’ really hit home: as he pointed out ‘you too have a brand to protect’. Although I’ve always mocked those Oxbridge tossers who bustle about with briefcases saying “Oh I have to ask you not to put that photo on Facebook, it may damage my chances as an MP later”, they do have a point. Even at this age, you have to think about how you’ll want to be seen in the real world: if I join an NGO or become a journalist, people might think twice about the ethos of a purportedly upstanding woman who at twenty-two happily climbed on the first shiny plane that came along, and bugger the orangutans.
It was when I imagined a big camera pointing at me and someone saying “SMILE FOR ANYSNACKCO!”, I realised the sheer amount of acting I’d have to do to pretend to be enjoying it. But beyond that, I’d have been so disappointed in myself. If I wasn’t having amazing fun or getting something new out of it, and the fee was nothing life-changing, what would have been the grounds for compromising on morals I claim to hold dear? The private jet, really? I’d judge myself not just for having done the ad, but for having been seduced into something I’d explicitly rejected - and, disturbingly, I very nearly was, to the point that I had to consult friends just to remind myself of my own convictions. Corporations know how to get what they want, and that’s by tempting and confusing people into apathy - I finally decided I wasn’t going to be swayed so easily.
The view’s much better from my moral high horse anyway.