The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author.

I was recently spending time with some folks who I had never met, and before long, the conversation turned to current events – specifically the myriad of scandals in which the big tech companies have become embroiled. Soon, my new friends were discussing how creepy and distasteful it is that Google and Facebook collect consumer data, and were marveling at the specificity with which they are shown ads on the platform. A little bit later, we began talking about our jobs, and I was asked what I do. Sheepishly, I admitted that I worked for a digital ads agency, and was one of those people who managed ad campaigns on the very platforms that were just being excoriated.

I’m guessing that this is an experience that a lot of those in the PPC industry share. As platforms like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft become increasingly powerful in our world (and become increasingly a part of our political and civil discourse), it’s an experience that is only going to occur more frequently. So, in a time when digital marketers are looked upon by some with an amount of scorn previously reserved for debt collectors and telemarketers, can the PPC practitioner feel good about their job’s impact on the world?

Before answering that question directly, I acknowledge that the PPC industry, and more broadly the tech companies that it supports, does and should provoke legitimate concerns. While I believe there is some misunderstanding and/or hyperbolic rhetoric around the issue of just how much personal data these companies (and by extension, digital marketers) have, there is no denying that personal data has been mishandled in the past. And, to the extent that digital marketers deliver revenue to Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, their impact on the world is tied to the impact of those tech giants. Whatever you think of those companies, the litany of recent headlines regarding monopolistic practices, mistreatment of workers, and giving a platform to hate speech leaves no doubt that these companies are not uniformly forces for good.

So, how can a digital marketer end their workdays without feeling like a nefarious scumbucket? First and foremost, they can do their jobs in a way that is consistent with the best version of the industry. While each individual has their own opinion of what the “best” version of the industry looks like, the standards below would likely find consensus:

  • Truthful: Digital ads should not mislead consumers, and should accurately describe the promoted products and services.
  • Non-Intrusive: Digital ads should facilitate a productive, enjoyable Internet experience. This standard is incompatible with campaigns that are spammy and frustrate users (check out this post for an example of where the industry is currently falling short of this standard).
  • Respectful Of Personal Data. Digital marketers should ensure that personal data, such as the data they might be given access to in the form of consumer lists, is secure. 
  • Non-Discriminatory: Especially for those working in sensitive areas like employment, credit, and housing, digital marketers must design campaigns that do not discriminate on the basis of a protected class (for some background knowledge on this topic, see our posts on housing and employment advertising on Facebook) 

Meeting those standards can go a long way to helping digital marketers feel as though they aren’t actively doing wrong in the world. But can digital marketers actually improve the world? I think so, but here too each individual will answer the question “how does my job fulfill me?” differently. The three answers to that question I’ve outlined below are some of the most common.

  1. “I Promote the work of companies and organizations that I believe in.” Whether you work in-house or for an agency, it’s possible to find great meaning in the products and services you promote. Personally, I’ve found that when I get to know my clients better, I become more passionate about the work that their companies do. For example, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with an apartment management company and was recently delighted to discover that they had been rated #1 in resident satisfaction. As part of their publicization of the ranking, they shared a resident review that was truly heartwarming. It detailed the amazing lengths the apartment’s staff had gone to help a resident who was in a tough situation. Knowing that I’m helping more folks find a company that cares so much about its consumers gives me the feeling that the work I do can improve the lives of others.
  2. “I work with people that I believe in.” While I do think it’s true that digital marketers can take satisfaction in what they advertise, the immediate gratification of helping a colleague is often a quicker path to feeling good about your work. For veterans of the industry, this might mean seeking out mentorship opportunities to help newcomers in your organization grow and reach their potential. For those who are more recent entrants into the field, simply lending a helping hand when it isn’t expected can make a world of difference. Approaching the workday with a service-to-others mindset can be huge for an individual’s perception of their positive impact, even if you have doubts about the impact of the industry as a whole.
  3. “I recognize that digital marketing enables the Internet and that the Internet can be awesome.” While the beginning of this post detailed many of the negative effects of the industry and the platforms it supports, it is also true that they support many of the modern technological miracles that have become commonplace. The Internet is largely supported by ad revenue – without ads, the Internet as we know it would not exist. And for many people, the Internet, flawed though it may be, has brought about amazing improvements to their quality of life. Google really has made information extraordinarily more accessible than it has ever been before. Facebook really does connect people and helps people maintain and rediscover relationships. And Amazon undoubtedly saves time and money for a huge number of people. To reiterate, I am not claiming that these companies do not have very real and very disturbing issues that need to be addressed – but I do not think that they are the monolithic forces for evil the way they are sometimes painted as.

Each of those three answers certainly has counterarguments, and I fully recognize that each individual’s mileage may vary for their persuasiveness. If you feel moved to do so, please share how your job in PPC fulfills you with us on Twitter @ppchero! We’d love to hear them.