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In my 4th year Political Communications seminar (POLS 419), we were asked to create a politically-focused ad campaign.  Given our interest in electoral reform, my partner Steven Venner & I decided to focus our campaign on electoral reform, specifically, a federal change to the MMP system.  We chose FairVote Canada as our fictional client because they have been monumental in inspiring and mobilizing for change to the electoral system.

Here are our ads (you can click on the thumbnails to make the graphics bigger)

– Educational Flight –

– Mobilization Flight –

– Flaws in the Current System Flight –

We had a lot of fun putting the ads together, and learned a lot about iMovie, Photoshop and MMP along the way.

Is there a limit to how far is too far with being politically correct?

An incident that came to a head this week at Queen’s has made this a serious question.  Over the past few years, Queen’s has become known as a campus that, according to many, is chock full of Islamophobia, white privilege, racism, and bigotry.  I’m not going to deny that the campus is full of incidents that are largely questionable and oppressive, but I do think the way the AMS has been handling complaints leaves something to be desired.  In such a climate, both the University and the student government attempt to quell any potential incidents as soon as possible, often leaving their common sense behind.

At AMS Assembly last week, the executive announced that an event planned for Tuesday March 30, entitled the SUMO SHOWDOWN was to be cancelled due to complaints and an apology had been issued on the AMS website. (check it out here).  The apology rings true, although it is filled with a bunch of terminology that many students will scoff at and likely won’t understand.  However, I understand from a public relations perspective why the AMS had to issue such an apology and stop the event.  Even so, I think the AMS has started down a slippery slope.

(Sumo wrestling costumes, much like those the AMS planned to use.
Photo courtesy of Flickr)

The thing I find most worrisome is a quote from AMS Communications officer Brandon Sloan in the National Post coverage, where he states, “We would never want to host and event that would offend some members”.  Newsflash, AMS.  Every event, every action, every statement is going to offend SOMEONE.  The AMS is setting a dangerous precedent by essentially saying anything that offends is unwanted on campus.  How about exploring toleration?

In my second year philosophy class, we explored the issue of toleration.  The example that sticks out is one of pornography.  We were given a situation involving three individuals: A pornographer, a Muslim man, and an average person who runs a newsstand.  The pornographer relies on pornography for his livelihood.  The average person running the newsstand does not necessarily agree with pornography, but realizes that other people enjoy it, so he sells it anyways.  The Muslim man is deeply offended by the very existence of pornography and has stated that he cannot tolerate its existence.  In fact, he is offended by the very fact that there is a business in his neighborhood that sells pornographic materials, and wants it shut down.

Who must tolerate whom in this situation?  In the case of the AMS, the person who has decided they cannot be contented with merely tolerating a situation that is greatly beneficial to some and insignificant to others, is the winner.  Even if these people would be able to go on in their day-to-day lives knowing that, for example, on Queen’s campus and in many other parts of the world, Sumo costumes are used, their opinions and feelings must prevail.  With this in mind, how far will the AMS go to prevent offence and ignore the idea of toleration?

I wonder if they will prevent the QP from serving green beer on St. Patrick’s day, given that the holiday has been appropriated from the English and turned into a mockery of the struggles of the Irish people.

I wonder if they will have lists of banned words or phrases as an appendix to Bourinot’s Rules to ensure no one who attends Assembly is offended.

I wonder if they will change frosh week to prevent any and all pelvic thrusting, suggestive language, events that prevent those who are not able to participate.

I wonder if they will cut funds to the SHRC and prevent them from holding events because many on campus don’t believe in premarital sex or are offended by homosexuality.  Going even further, the SHRC gets AMS Student fees, some of which go towards their pro-choice abortion accompaniment program, where they send a volunteer to accompany a woman to her abortion.

I wonder if they will cancel Vogue and Rogue.  Just yesterday, the AMS Twitter account advertised that the Vogue Charity Fashion Show committee application deadline had been extended.  Given the backlash that both Vogue and Rogue, a show designed to showcase non-traditional beauty, received, should the AMS refuse to support fashion shows on campus?

Should our student government refuse to support any venture that might possibly prove controversial and, thus, offensive?

The answer is no.  Let the protests happen.  Let people engage in the discussion and debate many of these events are meant to provoke.  Realize that an incident such as the Sumo Showdown is not going to incite an uprising in the student body.  It’s easy to complain, but many are content to just do so and will not go any further.  With this in mind, by all means, try to remain as inclusive as possible.  Just don’t take every instance of ‘offence’ as a means to back down and apologize.

EDIT: If you haven’t read this piece by a former AMS president, then please do. It’s fantastic and says everything I wasn’t able to say.

Are we virtual hoarders?

I am nearly certain that, if there were such a show, I would be starring in it.

Social networking sites, email accounts & blogs have become the new under-the-bed shoebox.  As we become increasingly reliant on our online existence, it is only natural that we also form a growing attachment to things that exist online.  Everyone has felt that pang of loss when your computer crashes, taking all your photos and class notes with it, but how will we feel the day Facebook is gone?  What effect will it have on us to delete old emails or Facebook albums?

I predict nothing short of the pangs of regret and longing felt by those hoarders as the cluttered contents of their living rooms, garages, basements and attics are purged…with perhaps the added benefit of relief and closure.

Last week, I decided to block all of my Facebook albums (barring three mostly featuring my dog as a puppy), tagged photos, and videos from everyone but my closest friends.

(the author’s Facebook photo pages, before & after the purge)

While this had the ultimate effect of cleaning up my digital footprint and online persona, especially since you can’t always control what other people post online about you, it also blocked off a part of myself that I had displayed online for the past five years.  Facebook made the decision earlier this year to reduce the wall-to-wall feature to a certain number of posts, essentially deleting all ‘ancient’ correspondence with our friends online.

Did we have a right, as users of this social networking site, to keep our content safe?  Do we have a responsibility to keep this kind of content up for others who may have deep-seated interest in it?  Should I have kept up all my albums, numerous from my years as my friend group’s resident paparazzi, so that my friends could maintain their own online identity and digital attachment to them?  I am certain that, once people realize the albums are gone, the pleas to have them return will be as vehement as those from image-savers asking for certain photos to be taken down.  A housemate of mine had a similar experience when a former housemate ‘defriended’ her, a casualty of which was all photos taken of her from second and third year.  While my housemate was originally a bit infuriated, she’s come to terms with the fact that the photos were probably not the most flattering and do not show her as she’d like to be seen professionally.  We are at a point, as millennials entering the workforce, that we must strike a careful balance between digital attachment and our online professional identity.

While it may make sense to keep old content others may have a vested interest in, what about content that has become inherently personal?  We routinely delete mundane emails, but what about those that we keep for sentimental reasons?  I no longer use my Hotmail account to receive messages, but I will admit that I keep it up and running because it houses folders full of emails from old beaus and friends that are no longer as close.  While it’s great to have these memories, I can’t help but feel that my online life is ‘cluttered’ because of their existence.  It would be great to finally streamline and have only two email accounts (personal & professional).

With regards to blogging and online creative content, I haven’t taken down my old Xanga account.  Even though it contains ridiculous amounts of embarrassing, teenage angst-y content, I consider it a sort of online diary, a snapshot of my life in high school.  Someday, I think I’d like to look back and laugh on those photos from ex boyfriend’s proms and those thinly veiled references to my crush of the moment, followed up by messages in solidarity from my girlfriends.  But, really, do I want everyone to be able to look back on those often-awkward memories?

(The author’s highschool Xanga, with identifying details removed to protect the innocent)

As we are forced to censor our online selves, for the sake of our professional relationships and opportunities, as well as for closure, what stays and what goes?  Dealing with digital attachment will become necessary as our inboxes fill up and we trade our fan-girl (backstreetgirl16) Hotmail accounts for more professional handles.  My advice?  Keep everything, but keep it close.  Blocking off your Facebook albums and making your old Xanga private is a great way to keep the memories but prevent them from hurting your professional life.  And those emails from exes?  Do what I plan to do – print them off, stuff them in an envelope, and file them away in that shoebox full of unrequited love under your bed.  That’s where they belong, after all.

I’m on reading week right now, and although I planned on blogging a lot (to make up for my recent silence) I haven’t finished a piece yet.  Thus, here are some recent ads I think are amazing.  Enjoy!

This ad from Old Spice is a nice departure from the usual female objectification we see in advertising.  Although it does play to stereotypes (Diamonds, anyone?), it’s also unique in that it is selling the product to a consumer outside its target market (girlfriends, rather than the men who use it).  If anything, it is “sticky” and not soon forgotten!

There’s something to be said for continuity.  The Budweiser Clydesdale Superbowl commercials have always been a favourite of mine, and not only for the cute animals.  The latest comes second only to the Rocky ad, showing Hank with yet another friend.  It may be cliche, but it truly seems that Hank (the pony) has grown up before our eyes.  I look forward to seeing what Hank is up to next year and, for this reason, will be looking out for the Bud commercial.  The horses might be a gimmick, but they work!

Ah, the infamous Dodge commercial.  I should hate it (and you should think I’d hate it, based upon previous blog tirades), but really…I don’t.  It caught my attention.  It was pretty funny (a lot funnier than the spoof the angry feminists released, might I add…), and the juxtaposition of the roaring vehicle with the quietly angry men was fantastic.  It got people talking, it got the product out there, it was memorable.  Ladies, we get the men in the tight pants fighting over a football – let the men have their creative and fairly hilarious (if the slightest bit sexist) ad.

Who doesn’t like babies? The E-Trade babies series was both adorable and sticky (outweighing the creepy talking baby factor).

That’s all for now! Check back soon for my take on Tiger Wood’s press conference (topic suggested by my Humber PR interviewer!) and what I think he should do next.

I am a feminist.  I had to take a women’s studies course to figure that out.

Sure, I spent my younger years in a male-dominated (both in numbers and patriarchal fashion) family, calling my brother, father, uncles, cousins, & innocent passerby names that ran the gamut fromsexist pig” to “chauvinist” (just imagine how well THAT went over…), thinking that was the way to make a change.  After that brave showing of activism, I shied away from referring to myself as a feminist, given that the term reminded me of the angry, shaved-head activist stereotype.

It wasn’t until I took a women’s studies course that I learned feminism need not be radical, divisive, or ‘crazy’.

Yes, there are professors and students of women’s studies who blame men for all the downfalls of our sex.  Yes, some of these individuals engage in a fair amount of man-hating.  Unfortunately for women’s studies critics, these are not the norm.

What is most unfortunate is that these minor, stereotypical instances of what the study is perceived to be have not only permeated the media but been reinforced by a national newspaper.  The editorial in the National Post last week (find it here) was more than just thoughtless drivel and poor writing.  It displayed nothing but a lack of compassion and knowledge, and seemed to have no purpose other than to attempt to incite rage in the feminist population to prove their dated point – that all feminists are angry, man & authority-hating bitches.

Unfortunately for the National Post editorial board, the reactions incited by the piece have been more along the lines of logical analysis and rebuttal although many, myself included, remain furious.

The Walrus said it best,

“thank you National Post Editorial Board. The next time we’re called upon to defend our common sense, we’ll point to your editorial and leave our opponents to figure out the rest.”

It is unthinkable that a national newspaper, in this day and age, should feel justified in expressing the opinion that to consider women and men equal, apart from genitalia and reproductive organs, is the work of vengeful, out of line feminists and should be discouraged.  Moreover, they ascertain that hiring quotas that encourage equal representation of men, women, and minorities in the workforce are useless.

The National Post should be ashamed of itself.

Pictured: Male university students ironically wearing their “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts during Orientation Week 2006

As long as we have men prancing around in t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ (worn ironically, and even as part of a Halloween costume), we need women’s studies.  As long as women are without equal pay, we need women’s studies.  As long as people believe that all these classes teach is man-hating, we NEED women’s studies.

More than anything, we need feminists. Don’t be afraid to speak up for what is right for fear of being labeled a radical feminist.  The only radical thing about feminism is that it works.

Gone are the days of anonymous women in Virginia Slims ads, coupled with their memorable tagline.  In today’s celebrity obsessed culture, it seems that advertising and marketing has taken a turn from Mad Men esque ads, focused on witty taglines and imagery, to a focus on celebrity branding.  While the constant publicity garnered by a celebrity sponsor may be an initial boon to a company’s product, it remains that by having them promote a brand a company is, in turn, promoting the lifestyle they lead and the product’s place in said lifestyle.

As such, Tiger Woods’ marriage isn’t the only thing that has been affected by the recent media storm surrounding his infidelity.  As the weeks drag on, his many endorsements are coming under fire, with companies dropping him as more details are released and Woods’ image drifts further away from what the company seeks to align their product with.  While Accenture, Gillette, Gatorade, & A&T have essentially permanently ended their relationship with Woods, Tag Heuer, a watch company that initially dropped Woods’ ads within Australia, has released a statement that it is “downscaling the use of his image in certain markets for a period of time, depending on his decision about returning to professional golf”.  Which ever way the companies are spinning it in the media, one thing is clear: when a celebrity screws up, when their stock goes down, sponsors will drop them.

However, while the companies may have dropped Tiger for current and further advertisement of their brand, the fact remains that Woods will be forever associated with their brand.  Given this, I wonder whether using a celebrity endorsement for a product truly has long-term merit.

Companies have forever attempted to create a ‘lifestyle’ with their product.  Ads show potential consumers how a product will change their life – either by showing a consumer that they are behind the times by not using a product, that using such a product will increase their status, or various other ways a product is indispensible to living the good life.  When a celebrity endorsing a brand is scorned by the media, either for something as superficial as weight gain or for reasons such as infidelity or criminal activity, the bad publicity automatically translates to the brands they are aligned with.  As has become quite evident in our tabloidized culture, any tiny thing is significant when dealing with celebrity media and publicity.  Celebrities tend to be fickle creatures, making me wonder why companies take the risk of aligning their brands with celebrities.  Is SmartWater the brand for cat-loving spinsters, as their choice of Jennifer Aniston as a spokeswoman may suggest?  Should you buy a Tag Heuer watch so you know what time to call your wife to lie about your whereabouts while you’re out with your mistress, just like Tiger Woods? While these probably aren’t the thoughts advertisers planned on consumers having as a result of their ads, their choice to use celebrity endorsements leaves their ads open to interpretation in a way an anonymous face might not.

Now, I don’t mean to discredit the positive effect celebrity endorsement can have on a brand.  However, I do believe that having an implicit rather than explicit endorsement from a celebrity is probably more beneficial in the long run, especially given the volatility of celebrity stock.

Take, for instance, how Starbucks has skyrocketed into its position as a ‘lifestyle’ brand.  The constant onslaught of photographs of celebrities holding the ubiquitous Starbucks cup has, in no way whatsoever, hurt the brand.  If anything, it has become that little piece of luxury that people are willing to shell out over $6 a day for, if only to taste that aspect of elite that a Second Cup or Tim Hortons cup simply does not offer.  However, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would associate Starbucks with a celebrity in rough times and refuse to support the brand because of it.  It remains that a celebrity using a product in their day-to-day life and it being recognized, in whatever small way, has a larger effect than them getting paid to say they endorse it.

As a result, I think true endorsements, those used in daily life, are far more effective than explicit, paid endorsements from celebrities. Just like anyone else, a celeb is more than happy to gush about a product they are happy about.  Word of mouth and social graph endorsements hold far more water in the end than a Photoshopped ad or a spot free of ad-libs.

In this social climate, it remains that although celebrity endorsements seem to be the way things are going, advertisers and brands should continue to rely on the time-honoured tradition of building brand loyalty through word of mouth and implicit endorsement.

(Photos courtesy of Sexy Cigs &  vivre vite et mourir jeune on Flickr)