The Issue with Sarah Being Beautiful, and Smart

A few weeks ago, at Thanksgiving dinner, my 10 year old cousin reached for a mini carrot cake cupcake (completed with a luscious cream cheese frosting). But the status of her trajectory remained incomplete, as her hand hoovered over the plate of treats, my sweet, quiet, and shy cousin uttered her longest string of words of the night, “I can’t eat this, I am getting fat.”

My cousin is 10. She is taller than average for her age, her body weight and composition is at a healthy level, and she looks great in black pants covered in printed rainbow hearts. But despite this, at her young age, she is already worried about her weight and her physical image.

And then over dinner with a few girlfriends, the topic of body image surfaced. I brought up my cousin’s reaction to the cupcakes and how alarming it is that girls are pressured to look a certain way from a young age. In conjunction, we approached how the industry recently applauded a food manufacturing brand for launching an advertising campaign to rebrand with a message of self-empowerment. With the last bites of our burgers and rice bowls lingering on the table, the conversation took a turn, why is it that society and media is so focused on the physical image of a girl and not what a girl has done or is capable of doing.

My friend Sarah is in law school, she can run a 800 much faster than I will ever attempt, and she has the ability to make me laugh till my sides ache even if I’m feeling down. Despite the fact Sarah can do all this I’ve introduced her to friends with the following: Sarah is beautiful, and she’s smart. Somehow, despite all that Sarah can do, the way she looks has been prioritized ahead of what she can do. What kind of message have I been sending with such an introduction?

Last month Mattel launched a new piece of creative showcasing how Barbie “encourage[s] girls on their journey to self-discovery”. The commercial, titled Imagine the Possibilities, is powerful. This creative captures young girls dreaming big and making an impact. This contrasts with the commercials of my youth where Barbie and friends merely spent the days shopping and driving around in pink convertibles with the sole goal of looking glamourous. When you play with the little Lego men you imagine them as building forts, strategizing battle plans, and developing new innovations for the village (my little Lego men never wished for hair transplants)- the imagination behind this toy set is captured in propelling actions. And this new Barbie campaign encourages girls to do the same – to imagine the possibilities of the future.

Because you know what, Sarah is smart and beautiful.

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Learning to Enjoy the Moment

The workout of the day was not going well. The left hip was tight, the trail I was on was not the most familiar, and I was going solo, without a clue as to whether I was on pace or not. But here I was, in a tank top and a pair of shorts in 18 degrees (celsius), in October, on an endless trail in the Bay Area in California.

My turnaround from being a student to working in advertising was less than a week. And the turnaround from my previous role in advertising to working at Rotman again was a mere weekend. The last couple of months have been jam-packed and every day carried a feel of go-go-go. As a bit of a constant worrier with a strong belief that every contingency should have a contingency I’ve propelled myself from project to project with enthusiasm and extremely detailed orientated outlooks. I’ve gotten to run some pretty cool projects in the last couple of weeks but I’ve realized that I haven’t been very good at letting myself enjoy the moment.

It wasn’t until Monday evening, with a glass of Prosecco in my hand and a plate of biscotti in front of me, that I realized I had survived. Over 300 first year students had rotated through a courtyard and the WO basement for 4 hours where most of them learnt at least something, were sufficiently entertained, and at the very least, left with a stomach full of pizza. Another event hit record attendance and we made it through Q&A without any cringing. And then 350 students were sent out to wander the streets of Toronto and solve puzzles where they were drenched by torrential rain but they still came back with smiles and enough positively to thank me for directing them to the snack station. All of these moments (and more) were wins but I had been too busy moving from one project to the next to realize this and enjoy the moment.

So here I was today, feeling not the greatest about my workout, but running down a beautiful trail in Northern California when I re-realized something – I really need to learn to enjoy the moment. It is October but I was basked in warm sunlight, I had just passed the campus of one of the largest tech companies in the world to my left, rivers ran on my right, and this trail was endless. According to the real life laws of being an adult I should be behind a desk in Toronto, not here. But because I am here, I need to stop worrying for a second and just enjoy the moment. Moments like these are the ones that keep us going when the road gets tough.

***Once again, thank you to those of you that have been there for me the last few weeks, whether as a volunteer, a student panellist, a conference leader, a listening ear, or as a cider provider – couldn’t have done it without you

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Thank You.

The last few weeks have been extremely jam-packed as I hopped over from my previous role in advertising to cover a student life position at my alma mater. With a lead time of just over 2 weeks to finalize and execute the concepts developed by my predecessor for 3 large scale/flagship events in 10 days, I got a crash course in how to hit the ground running.

A program orientation, a kickoff event for an experiential learning program, and the flagship first year conference ran like a flawless script for the participants. But while students, volunteers, friends, and colleagues kept coming up to me during and after the events to congratulate me on the production I personally think it should be my team of volunteers that deserve the praise. I want to thank all of your for volunteering your time, your experiences, and your positivity.

In my folders I have decks for one event that were built by some of you who were in Japan or Italy at the time. I have a list of names of those of you that decided to spend one of the last days of summer as shepherds. And then there is that extra long list of you that attended conference leader orientations, panelist dry runs, MC dry runs, and read my countless emails that all showed up today to help run the production titled Destination RC. We hit some snags along the way due to uncontrollable factors like the weather and a case of the travelling flu but you all went with it and the show went on in a spectacular fashion.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for putting on such a great show. You are all rockstars and I wish I could take all of you out to party like one too.

Ps. My resting face is naturally worried/sad – don’t worry about me ;)

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Advertising 101: Monkey Business

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen an advertisement, a TV commercial, Youtube pre roll, or print ad, that made you cringe.

One such commercial that comes to mind is courtesy of Oliver Jewellery, this infamous Cashman spot is one that everyone in Toronto has seen at some point in their life and just cringed, hard. Cashman is so bad it’s almost good in that if the ask, the pure objective, is to create retained awareness, the ad agency might just get a pass.

I’ve always wondered what the concept behind the commercial is. I can’t for the life of me understand why Russell Oliver ever thought it is a good idea to put himself, behaving in an overly loud and intrusive manner, on camera. I guess in some circles it’s always a good idea to wave bills in front of half-dressed girls while singing: I’m the cashman? With this portrayal the Oliver Jewellery brand is associated with adjectives ranging from cheap to gaudy to indent – not exactly the most desirable terms for a brand to be aligned with. Personally, I feel this reel is one that borderlines disrespect for the customer. This whole commercials just screams: WHY?

Why would a client ever chose to authorize a media buy to deliver the commercial that portrays their brand in such a manner? Why did the agency even produce such an artless annoying commercial that is just packed with aggressive selling? Moreover, why was such a concept even presented to the client?

A few weeks ago a member of the creative team I work with shared some insight about the role of the agency as we sat in a meeting musing over concepts. He had this to offer:

Don’t present a monkey (to client) unless you want to hear ooh-ooh-ahh-ahh in the commercial.  

The client may be the one with the final word on the concept that is distributed but it is the agency that has control over what is presented to client. I believe the agency has the responsibility to ensure work that they produce and facilitate is work that the client and the agency itself can be proud of.

On the flipside, head over to Marketing Mag  for Ads You Must See.

Ps. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22 :)





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Advertising 101: In the Case of New & Free

What are you doing now?

I currently work in advertising.

Is it like Mad Men?

And the million dollar question has landed. The above conversation set is one that I have relived countless times in the last few months.

According to piece of paper in my parents’ living room I specialized in management and did a concentration in marketing during my years at Rotman. But I have to admit that I left school and dove into the agency life with little knowledge of the ad industry. As a student, the ad industry was one that was rarely ever touched upon in the classroom and as a result, it was one that had remained elusive and even mysteriously glamorous (other than the paycheck comparisons with client side). Now, with a full 3 months of my foray into the industry under my belt, I thought I would share a few lessons and a glimpse into the agency side with fellow aspiring marketers, advertisers, Mad Men enthusiasts, or just the curious soul.

For starters, I have yet to experience the 9 am old fashioneds and closed office door games that Mad Men is so fond of. And the crisp suits that Don Draper and Roger Sterling tend to sport are only seen at the coffee line, on the frames of the RBC guys down the street. My team prefers jeans and I have worn Lulus on Fridays. However, the beer cart is not a myth.

On a less fluffy note, I would like to share an insight a creative director I work with shared with me recently during a meeting:

If you can use new, use it. If you can use free, use it. And if you can use both, do it.

New is a word that is associated with the positive and free is one that triggers the feelings toward loss aversion. Of course that doesn’t equate to throwing these words into the copy where ever. If you do, you will only succeed in gaining single-day or single-week followers on Twitter that are merely interested in obtaining your company’s giveaways through the search function.

For more, Shopify has a fun read with examples.

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The Beauty of Summerlicious

Ciders, patio visits, and trips to the island are all signs that summer in Toronto has kicked off. With the season in full swing, I am more than excited to partake in one of my favourite Toronto summer events, Summerlicious (thanks to scheduled posts, I am likely dining at SoCo Kitchen + Bar as  you read this).

Characterized by prix fixe menus from some of the city’s largest and most prominent restaurants, Summerlicious (and its colder months counterpart, Winterlicious) has been part of the local scene since 2003. The city seems to be divided between two different schools of thought regarding these food festivals that were introduced to boost spending following a decline in spending and tourism as a result of the SARS epidemic in 2003. One camp likes to sing the praises of the -licious events, claiming these promotional menus are of great value. And it is undeniable that these affordable prix fixed menus are a great way to catch a glimpse of honeyed Toronto has to offer. But the other end of the table likes to remind us that the -licious events really just offer a glimpse, a tease. A friend texted me the other day and referred to Summerlicious as “watered down”.

As I read his text I took a step back and shook my head just the slightest bit. As someone who lived in the city for 4 years I’ve visited my fair share of restaurants for Summerlicious and Winterlicious. I’ve had great food and great experiences at some (Pangea and Harlem East) and not-so-great experiences at others (one visit resulted in credit card fraud). But I still adore the -licious events.

I adore Summerlicious and Winterlicious because it provide a platform and reason to reconnect with friends and reach beyond the highly frequented pizza and sushi joints. These events check off the why,what and where boxes behind each social activity. Summerlicious and Winterlicious isn’t just about lunch or dinner,the marketing and hype behind it make it an event. The nature of such an  event with a lengthy timeline makes it super easy to meet up with multiple different friends with minimal planning without doing the exact same monotonous thing.

The beauty of Summerlicious isn’t found in the relatively affordable menus of participating restaurants or in the experience the glimpses offer, or even in the food. Instead, the beauty of Summerlicious is found at the table, in laughter and jest, with the friends that you see frequently and the friends that you never get to see without an occasion. Without Summerlicious I would be watching Netflix and eating dinner in pjs right now (not that that’s a bad thing…), but let’s face it, hanging out with a number of gorgeous Rotman Commerce ladies in a pair of delightful heels with a glass of wine is probably the better option :).

If you were hoping to read a restaurant review and not a ramble, sorry! To make up for it, let me redirect you to Aija’s review of SpeakEasy21.


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There is More to Pan Ams than Traffic Disruptions

“We can’t take the HOV lane on Monday!”

My father hit the panic button during dinner on Saturday as my mother asked if I had any friends competing at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. The only thing my dad apparently knows about Pan Ams is that effective today, the HOV lanes will require occupying vehicles to carry 3 passengers. Although, after the panic was expressed, he did ask me what sports would be featured.

The Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games is a major international multi sport event yet the sentiment within the host city is lacking. But really, who can blame the citizens of Toronto and the surrounding region? Google Pan Am Games, turn on the radio, visit Reddit/r/Toronto and the only stories and hype about the Pan Ams are centered on:

  • HOV lane changes/transportation disruptions
  • Unsold tickets
  • Budgets & committee bonus payouts
  • Low hotel occupancy rates

In trying to prepare for the Games, the committee and media has focused entirely too much on the potential disruptions due to excitement, hype, and activation around the Games itself and the corresponding events. In doing so, building the actual excitement about the actual event, the Pan Am Games, has been neglected. Other than one commercial, Invade, and the TTC wraps on trains, I have yet to see commonplace media buys focused on telling the story, the importance, and athleticism of the Games. I believe the people of Toronto and the surrounding supporting committees feel indifferent, rage, and the readiness to fly out of town because they have only been exposed and educated on the potential inconveniences of the Pan Am Games.

During my first week in advertising the very valuable lesson of not overwhelming your consumers was passed down. If you look at the most effective ads out there, whether it be print or video or digital, there is really only one main Call to Action. As one instructor, a partner at a multicultural-focused agency, once told our class, “Decide whether your goal is to capture the share of mind or the share of market”. A campaign can absolutely have more than one Call to Action but in the event of the Pan Am Games, it seems the marketing team and media has missed an important component.

Over the last few months I’ve been delivered many CTAs by the local media and official bodies, from the Pan Am Games team to the City of Toronto, and each CTA has directed a negative connotation toward the games. Torontonians are being told to:

  • Take public transit inside of drive
  • Stay away from HOV lanes
  • Carpool
  • Take a vacation (to avoid the crowds!)

All of these issued CTAs are negative inconveniences (well maybe other than the last one). In contrast to these numerous issues, the positives of the Games, the experiences, have not been released to create awareness. And CTAs to attend such a large international sporting event, if they have been released, have been buried by the negativity.

Personally, I am excited for Pan Ams. With inspiring athletes like Greg McNeil, Sasha Gollish, Donna VakalisSarah Wells, and Rachel Hannah competing, I am more than ready to throw on a red tshirt and cheer on Canadian athletes. Armed with waterpolo tickets, I’m taking the Games as an opportunity to learn about sports that are not my own and enjoy the higher level athleticism. If only other Torontonians realized that there is more to the Pan Am Games than transportation disruptions.

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