Advertisers find new ways to infiltrate people’s lives

In the past, advertisers have been content to exist along the periphery of peoples’ lives, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 17. Now companies are clamouring to attach their names to the various activities you do and places you visit and the ways and means with which you go about your daily life.

Advertisers don’t say they’re out to sponsor "life," explains Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business. But sponsoring life events is what they’ve learned to do, he says. "Marketers are trying to be in the world around people as they go about their lives. From being where it’s convenient for the marketer, now they want to be where the people are. That’s the big switch."

The strategy has been upended from simply targeting the routine parts of people’s lives, on their commute to work, for example, "driving up Yonge Street there’s the side of a building painted," Middleton explains. "But now, also as they go out – to the Grammys or the Gillers or to a special night with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall."

For some companies, this shift is by necessity. They’re reaching fewer people through traditional media. "It’s a generation that no longer either believes or is exposed as much to in-home advertising, newspapers, magazines, direct marketing into the home," says York U’s Middleton.

As for Scotiabank’s snagging some of the country’s top cinemas, Middleton calls it "brilliant." "You associate banks with places to go put your money. Now it’s associated with the spending part of peoples’ lives," he says. It’s the bank as the new "facilitator of your access to joy and fun."

Middleton sees a possible backlash on the horizon, especially among young people. This would either come in the form of, "I hate them. I feel like a pawn in their game. I don’t want to feel controlled or managed. Or, another response would be that (the marketing) becomes like wallpaper and you start not to notice it. And there’s nothing worse for an advertiser than to be wallpaper."

That boring job should sound an alarm

People who are bored need to create more challenges and find more meaning in their work lives, declared the Career Couch column in The New York Times Feb. 17. They need to find a way out of the feeling that "there’s nothing to do, they’re forced to do things they don’t want to do, or they don’t know what they want to do," said John Eastwood, a psychology professor in York University’s Faculty of Health who has studied boredom. Over all, boredom is a state of "being disengaged from one’s environment," he said, and it reflects a passive relationship to one’s work. 

A telltale sign of boredom is that time seems to pass very slowly, Eastwood said. This can be accompanied by difficulty concentrating and feelings of depletion and lethargy. Low-energy states may alternate with feelings of agitation and irritability as the sufferer struggles to find some kind of engagement, he said.  

Boredom tends to afflict people who have a high need for stimulation, Eastwood said. People who have a hard time understanding or labeling their emotions are also vulnerable, because emotions give us the "compass points" that can lead us toward meaningful activities, he said.

Canadian companies slow to gear up for US downturn

Canadian companies are curbing costs and tweaking investment plans as the US economy sputters, possibly to the point of recession – but they’re not in slash-and-burn mode, reported The Globe and Mail Feb. 19. A reticence to expand more aggressively overseas is driving some people up the wall. "Canadian companies are a little slow," said Bernie Wolf, director of the international MBA program at York University’s Schulich School of Business. "They need to be exploring newer, more dynamic markets." Canada’s multicultural population should make the economy more global and spur domestic activity, he added. "I’m frustrated we don’t make better use of our immigrants and allow them to be more entrepreneurial."  

More and more adult students show it’s never too late for education

Going back to school when you have a job and a family is a daunting prospect, reported The Vancouver Sun Feb. 19. When Pablo Heyman decided to earn an executive MBA while he was working in marketing and sales with Cadbury Schweppes PLC, he knew it was going to be a struggle. The program he chose, at York University’s Schulich School of Business, demanded every other weekend over 18 months, as well as intensive, week-long study periods that included trips to Chicago and Hong Kong. On top of that, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Between school and his job, Heyman had little time left for what he calls "the third leg" – family life. "It’s like a marathon and you run on a kind of adrenaline," he says. "You just work harder because you’re motivated. But you can’t keep up that rhythm of life."  

But he was motivated. "I always wanted to do an MBA," says Heyman. "It builds your confidence, your ability to manage your time and your soft skills," such as leadership. What’s more, learning from other executives – both professors and other students – would expose him to real-life management lessons he could apply to his job.  

US in Afghanistan has ‘veneer of UN authority’, says prof

In a column about how invoking Lester Pearson’s name in the Manley report has revived the Harper government’s flagging campaign to extend Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan, Linda McQuaig cited a York law professor. After invading Afghanistan and toppling the government, Washington won UN authorization for the new government it installed, and for its ongoing intervention through NATO, wrote McQuaig. As a result, the US presence in Afghanistan – like the one in Iraq – now has "a veneer of UN authority," notes Osgoode Hall Law School professor Michael Mandel.  

Reports of witchcraft in Africa are sensationalized

In their Feb. 18 syndicated column, Craig and Marc Kielburger turned to a York professor to make the case that reports of the rampant presence of witchcraft in Africa are often sensationalized. "There are particular groups in particular regions that practice exorcism," explains Pablo Idahosa, the director of York’s African Studies Program. "You can’t generalize. It’s like saying Canadians practice exorcism when it’s actually just a community in Montreal."  

Idahosa points to the rise of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity as a driving force behind these severe forms of witchcraft. He also says that impoverished locals sometimes have no choice but to visit witch doctors, as hospitals are just too expensive for them.  "A lot of this has to do with poverty," he explains.  

Ways to get up from being emotionally down

Everyone has low points in their life: relationship trouble, financial difficulties, self-esteem issues, wrote the National Post Feb. 19. And things may seem bleak, especially in the depths of these cold winter months. But, experts insist, it’s possible to bounce back. Myriam Mongrain, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, writes in an e-mail that there is a new body of research in the positive psychology movement wherein people have shown they are capable of increasing their levels of resilience. "In other words," she says, "people can be taught to cope more constructively. Addressing problems directly, rather than avoiding them, using social networks for help, working on one’s self-esteem, focusing on the positives, along with a healthy lifestyle, can all contribute to greater resilience."  

New book says a judge should have tried Conrad Black

In Canada, the trial of Conrad Black would have been a bench or judge-alone trial, argues Steven Skurka, criminal lawyer and former adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in an excerpt from his new book, Tilted: The Trial of Conrad Black, published Feb. 16 in the National Post. There are several reasons that the case was well-suited to be tried by a judge sitting alone.  

Firstly, none of the defendants testified, and there is always a residual concern that a jury will interpret that as a conspiracy of silence. Secondly, the premise of the defence was that the vast millions of dollars of non-competition payments the defendants received were lawful and approved by the Hollinger audit committee, but ultimately the defence conceded that no direct economic benefit to the shareholders resulted. That is not an attractive argument to make to a jury….However, the forgotten piece of the puzzle was supplied during the trial by Professor Jinyan Li of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. She testified that it makes no difference who requests the non-compete payment or if it benefits the purchaser. It only matters what the contract the parties enter into states and whether the contract is legally enforceable.  

Few know about board that settles disputes over problem cars

Even officials with the automotive manufacturer-funded program that has been described as Canada’s answer to US lemon laws admit that few consumers seem to know about the 14-year-old national program that motorists can use to resolve disputes with car dealers over vehicles that have problems that cannot be resolved under warranty, reported the Kingston Whig-Standard Feb. 16. The Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan, an independent claims-settling body that, while funded by carmakers, has an independent board of directors and about 100 independent arbitrators across the country, most of them lawyers. 

James Savary, economics professor emeritus at York’s Glendon College and head of the organization’s board of directors, says the arbitration body has a low public profile that it is trying to raise. Nevertheless, it handles hundreds of cases a year. In 2004, it handled 600 cases; in 2007, that number had fallen to 337. "That’s our biggest problem," Savary said of the number of car buyers who aren’t aware of the program. "I think in large part that is because the quality of the vehicles being produced by the automakers is getting better." Savary noted that if a consumer threatens to go to the arbitrator, dealers may make more of an effort to resolve the problem. "They’re realizing it is in their interest to settle with consumers," he said.  

University students could get a break on transit costs

Students at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus could be the first in Toronto to have a discounted Metropass purchased as a part of their tuition, after the Toronto Transit Commission approved a tentative deal with the student union for the implementation of a U-Pass program, reported the Scarborough Mirror Feb. 15. The U-Pass program is also being considered by student unions at York University, the University of Toronto’s St. George Campus, Ryerson University and George Brown College – but none of those institutions will be able to hold student referenda until at least the fall.  

Osgoode grad is a star NDP candidate in Alberta

Rachel Notley (LLB ’89) admits she’s scrappy. It’s a trait that’s well-suited to the political arena. And perhaps no surprise for the daughter of former NDP leader Grant Notley, who was the face of the New Democrats in Alberta for 16 years until he died in a plane crash in 1984 while returning to his riding, reported Canadian Press in a story published Feb. 19 in The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. "I try to be diplomatic, I do," she said with a giggle. "But there’s no question at times that people think I’m being a little pushy and a little bossy and a little rude. You know, you’ve got to be heard.” Notley, 43, is also the NDP’s star candidate in the campaign for the March 3 Alberta election. She’s running in what has been the relatively safe NDP riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, which has been held by former party leader Raj Pannu, who has decided to retire from politics.  

Cab drivers deserve a better deal

As a study by three academics confirmed last week, Toronto cabbies work long hours for low pay and get little respect, began a Toronto Sun editorial Feb. 17. The main problem is too much supply, not enough demand. Toronto has 5,000 cabs with 10,000 drivers, twice as many as needed. The report’s finding that drivers earn as little as $2.83-an-hour is suspect, because it refers only to drivers at the bottom of the industry food chain and because the study interviewed only 33 Toronto cabbies.  

That said, the larger point made by University of Toronto sociology Professor Sara Abraham, Ryerson politics Professor Aparna Sundar and Osgoode Hall Law School student Dale Whitmore about driver exploitation, is valid. Long hours mean stress, fatigue, and ill health, while the constant hunt for customers with no time for breaks results in unclean cabs and aggressive driving. Cabbies and customers deserve better.  

Math is a challenge for high school students: York-Seneca study

New research shows a large percentage of Ontario high school students do not have the math skills they need to succeed in some community college programs, reported the Kenora Daily Miner & News Feb. 15. A joint York University-Seneca College study looked at the performance of more than 10,000 students enrolled in first-semester math courses at six Toronto-area community colleges. It found that one-third received a D grade or worse – a showing that puts the students at high risk of dropping out.  

A local look through the lens

His friends and colleagues live in places like New York and Paris. But internationally celebrated photojournalist Larry Towell (BFA ’76) is happy operating out of his little farm near Shetland, reported the Sarnia Observer Feb. 16. "I’m from Lambton County, I’ve lived here all my life," the 54-year-old says. "It makes me feel positioned in the world, keeps me anchored." Raised on a farm at Becher, in St. Clair Township, Towell attended a one- room school house until Grade 4, then moved on to East Sombra Public School. After graduating from high school in Wallaceburg, he studied fine arts at York University.  

Over the years he’s made a name for himself covering conflicts in the Middle East and Central America and disasters such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks (he was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001) and Hurricane Katrina. Along the way he has won countless awards, including the World Press Photo of the Year. And his pictures have appeared in Life, Rolling Stone, Esquire and the New York Times, to name just a few publications. 

Tennis champ’s story has been bittersweet

Monica Seles, now officially, finally retired, is obviously a lock for the Tennis Hall of Fame, wrote The Gazette in Montreal Feb. 19. She won nine Grand Slam singles titles – eight of them between 1991 and 1993. But when I think of her, the only word that comes to mind is “sadness,” wrote sports columnist Stephanie Myles. I remember thinking the stab wound inflicted by deranged Graf fan Gunther Parche didn’t seem to be all that severe, by stab-wound standards. But Seles’s innocence and joy was lost that day. And she never got it back. She was still only 22 when she returned to action at the Canadian Open in Toronto nearly 21/2 years later. And she started her comeback in style. I still remember her being surrounded by no fewer than eight beefy bodyguards as she took centre court at York University. Despite showing signs of rust, she beat American Kimberly Po 6-0, 6-3 and started to roll.  

On air

  • Sergei Plekhanov, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, commented on the historic vote by Kosovo to become an independent nation, on CBC Newsworld’s national news Feb. 17. On the fact the Canada had not recognized the new state, Plekhanov said, “there is this conflict which makes Canada uncomfortable, and it also makes Canada uncomfortable because a dangerous precedent is being set.” He was referring to Quebec. 
  • In the wake of Canadian clothing designer Linda Lundström’s bankruptcy, Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed consumers’ unwillingness to pay a premium price for “green” clothing, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” (Toronto) and “Morning North” (Sudbury) Feb. 15. 
  • Stephanie Martin, music professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and music director and organist at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto, was interviewed about the church’s Healey Willan Weekend, on CBC Radio’s “Studio Sparks” Feb. 15. Willan, who died 40 years ago, was once the church’s music director.  
  • Gilary Massa, vice-president of equity for the York Federation of Students, took part in a panel discussion on the identity of today’s young Muslim woman, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Feb. 18.