Life is Awesome

What do you have to celebrate today?  No matter how crappy life seems to be, or how dismal the weather outside, there is always something to celebrate.  So take a minute to think about what’s awesome in your life today and then CELEBRATE IT!

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Go out and have a party!  My party plans: Get a massage and then buy myself some beautiful new yarn.  Yup, that’s how I’m going to celebrate a bundle of good news.

Life truly is awesome.

 

#Hashtag of the Week 4

Michael-Jordan-Championship-RingsThis week’s trending topic is #MJ50.  If you’re wondering what on earth that stands for, it means Michael Jordan’s turning 50 today!  Happy birthday, Michael Jordan!  Not only is Mr Jordan by consensus the greatest basketball player of all time, he is also one of the most successful celebrity endorsers, and the inspiration (as @bostonkid17 on Twitter put it) for the “greatest sneaker ever made.”

Michael Jordan’s talent and global fame combined to lift basketball’s international popularity.  His participation along with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and other big stars on the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” further helped to make it one of the world’s favorite sports.  But more than bringing basketball to new heights, Jordan’s personal image as the world’s greatest player made him an incredibly popular figure throughout the 90s, and therefore a magnet for celebrity endorsement.

Marketers dream of a celebrity endorser like Michael Jordan.  Nike hit the jackpot when they created the Air Jordan sneaker which eventually led to the spinoff Jordan Brand, which in 2010 made $1 billion in sales for Nike.  He has represented brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet and Gatorade, and as a result is constantly on Forbes’ top 100 celebrities list.  With such success as this, it’s no wonder that celebrities are always looking for endorsement deals and brands are willing to pay big bucks for them.

But I think we should give Mr Jordan his due.  Do we really think that any celebrity today, be they Lady Gaga or Tiger Woods (whoops!) holds a candle to what Michael Jordan has done for the brands he represents?  Really, to me they are all just following in his footsteps, trying to be as successful as he has been in maintaining an equilibrium between his personal image and his brand (for, after all, there is no better example of a personal brand than Michael Jordan’s).

Today, we are inundated with celebrity endorsements.  I learned on TV yesterday, for instance, that Rafael Nadal apparently plays online poker!  Who knew?  And while stars had been lending their clout to marketing ventures long before Michael Jordan came along, I would argue that he did it biggest and he did it best.  He has set the bar for profit-making celebrity endorsement, and brands who don’t have him are still looking for their own “Michael Jordan.”

So for being the most bad-ass godfather of celebrity endorsement, I congratulate you Mr Jordan!  Here’s wishing you a very happy birthday.

Love,

TheBrainInJane

Lent

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday.  Traditionally, it is a time of fasting, penitence, self-examination and anticipation of the celebration of Easter.  (Fun fact: Carnival and Mardi Gras – French for “fat Tuesday” – were traditionally celebrations of excess the day before Lent began and all fun was banned.  That’s why we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday!)

chi_rhoOne popular lenten activity is self-denial of some kind.  Every year I hear people talking about what they’re giving up for Lent.  Usually it has something to do with food: alcohol, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks, what have you.  It’s usually something that is considered a minor vice, something unhealthy or slightly naughty.  It’s also usually given up with a bit of an ulterior motive: if we give up an unhealthy food that we like, then perhaps we’ll feel good about showing self-control, and lose a few pounds while we’re at it.

One Sunday before Lent a few years ago, the priest at my church back home preached about the practice of giving things up for Lent and how he had observed that it has become more of a popular thing to do rather than any kind of spiritual sacrifice.  So he suggested the idea of adding something for Lent!  Why not add something to our lives that we have heretofore not done?  Something that adds value not only to our lives, but to others’.  Perhaps we could volunteer, do a chore that a brother, sister, spouse or parent hates, or even write to someone we haven’t been in touch with for a while and ask how they’re doing.

That idea really struck me as lovely, and that year I started to write letters with a few friends with whom I had lost touch.  My letters were answered and have led to some wonderful correspondences.  Since then, seeing how such a small effort on my part brought a little sunshine to someone’s life, I have tried to add something like this to my routine each Lent.

I’m not particularly spiritual, and I don’t know if doing this is making me a better person or anything.  But it certainly makes me feel better.  It feels like a step towards being slightly less selfish, less self-centered.  In doing something, no matter how small, for someone else, I try in a tiny way to imitate the vast compassion and love of Christ.  But even if a person doesn’t believe in Christ and religion isn’t his or her thing, I think anyone can agree that doing something for someone else feels good and IS good!

Because I’ve had so much fun learning to cook over the last year, I’d like to add a volunteering activity in a soup kitchen to my lenten routine.  The idea is that hopefully the habit will stick, and continue to provide fulfilling and enriching experiences long after Lent 2013 is over.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll make a new friend, hear a cool story or have my heart touched by some small but beautiful gesture.

#Hashtag of the Week 3

Now that I’m back from a holiday and my house hasn’t been broken into, I can confess that a trip has been the reason for my silence.  I had fully planned to blog while away (at least one article), but WordPress doesn’t work too well on the iPad.  Besides, I was in Florida to enjoy the sunshine, not to sit in the hotel blogging!  But now I’m back and it’s time to look at the #hashtag of the week.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 7.23.55 PMLast week, #beattheflu was trending in Canada, and I thought it would be interesting to see what public health-related Twitter feeds were saying about it.  It turned out not to be anything to do with public health, but a clever Twitter marketing cooperation between @naturallysavvy and @AVogel_ca. NaturallySavvy.com bills itself as a “guide to natural, organic and green living.” They have 8,615 followers on Twitter, and they use their website to promote organic and/or natural products and brands.  A. Vogel is a producer of natural, plant-based remedies for stress, insomnia, flu, weight loss, etc.  Judging from their relatively short Twitter feed, A. Vogel has been on Twitter only since the end of last year.

The #beattheflu conversation, hosted by Naturally Savvy, invited followers to ask questions about flu prevention or dealing with the flu.  Naturopath and biochemist Josée Fortin, tweeting on behalf of A. Vogel, followed the conversation and would recommend A. Vogel products to help answer followers’ questions.  Naturally Savvy would then retweet or quote A. Vogel’s suggestions.  Two lucky tweeters were selected (I’m not sure how) to win an A. Vogel flu and cold buster kit, and the Twitter event was billed as informative and fun.  Simples!  All of Naturally Savvy’s followers were then made aware of A. Vogel’s wonderful new products.

I have to admit that I am skeptical about many products that are billed as “natural”.  Having learned much about the practice of greenwashing in a corporate social responsibility class (thanks, Dr. Leonidou!), I know that words like “natural” and “organic” have very different meanings in different countries and to different companies.  Brands liberally splash these words on their products, and in truth they actually mean very little.  Be that as it may, this is a clever strategy on A. Vogel’s part to use a perceived expert as a brand advocate.  These Twitter parties are a great form of word-of-mouth marketing, and A. Vogel is using Naturally Savvy’s power as an opinion leader quite cleverly.

Not only that, but they selected a hashtag that attracts attention.  North America is experiencing a particularly nasty flu season, and tweeting parents who are concerned about keeping their families flu-free are a large and lucrative market.  They are using a kind of fear appeal – that is, appealing to people’s anxiety about the flu and presenting their products as the “natural” solution.  The hashtag was well conceived and I would be curious to know how much A. Vogel’s sales have increased as a result, if at all.

Addiction

I am having some technical difficulties with my devices and have limited access to the interwebs, which is why I have been FORCED into silence on this blog. However, I will soon be back and posting again.

This imposed hiatus has made me realize just how addicted to social media I am. Seriously, I’m a junkie and this cannot possibly be healthy. But rest assured that like a true addict as soon as my drug of choice is available again, I’ll be right back at it! (This is not to make light of addiction, which is a serious condition.)

See you soon, Internet! I love you!

Power Outages & Oreos

So Beyoncé’s pyrotechnic show caused a power outage at the Superbowl last night!  Did anyone else hear about that??  Crazy stuff, right??  Oh wait, apparently I’m late breaking the news, because during the now-famous post-halftime power outage, Twitter users posted up to 231,000 tweets per minute about the sudden gloom.

Responses to this year’s Superbowl commercials have been mixed, though apparently most people agree on one: the Budweiser bit featuring a baby Clydesdale has become the third most shared video in advertisement history, according to Unruly media.  Psy’s pistachio commercial, Crackin’ Gangham Style, certainly made me giggle; The GoDaddy.com Big Kiss commercial is creating buzz just by being gross (seriously, only click if you can stand smooching noises); and Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd’s appearance in the Samsung Galaxy commercial is admittedly pretty funny.

But my favorite was the Whisper Fight from Oreo and then their response to the power outage.  In a stroke of genius, Oreo had someone on hand to whip up this baby:

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Oreo is right on the money

Congratulations, Oreo!  For what it’s worth, you win The Brain In Jane prize for best commercial!  The video combined with the brilliant response to real-time events show that Oreo and their agency 360i have what it takes to stay relevant and clever and get people talking.  Well done!

#Hashtag of the Week 2

super-bowlA major trending topic in North America this week has been, unsurprisingly, the #Superbowl!  Woo-hoo!  American football!  How FUN!

Alright, I have to confess that I know very little about American football, and I have little to no interest in the game (rugby is my bag, baby!).  However, the Superbowl is more than just a football game.  It is a showcase of all that is good (?) about US culture.  The concert at half time features some of the US’s top artists (and sometimes foreigners, like that crazy Paul McCartney!).  Perhaps an even more important representation of American culture, though, are the Superbowl ads.

The Superbowl captures a HUGE national audience, and advertisers know that they have to step up to the plate (whoops, is that a baseball analogy?) to break through the clutter.  And the pressure is on to perform: with a price tag of about $4 million for a 30-second spot, a flop would make for a pretty expensive failure.  Over the years it has become tradition for brands to prepare their cleverest, most attention-grabbing ads for the Superbowl.  Some have lived on in our collective memories (we all remember the first time we encountered the man our men could smell like) and others have gone down in history as the worst ads ever.

Ad Age published an article listing the commercial spaces bought by which companies, but I’m afraid I spent so long on the article that AdAge.com got mad at me and demanded I subscribe in order to continue reading.  Needless to say, I did not subscribe.  However, I do remember that the list includes giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Chevrolet and Oreos, among others.  There are also some relative newcomers on the scene such as GoDaddy.com.  Some brands release their ads for some pre-game exposure before the big day, while others keep them dead secret until Superbowl Sunday.  They hope the clips will go viral, and eagerly look forward to the online conversations their spots will generate.  Already Twitter is abuzz with comments about the pre-released ads, and a significant number of tweets with the #Superbowl hashtag have nothing to do with football.  It will be interesting to follow the reaction to this year’s commercials and see if they have better luck than Volkswagen so far.

If you weren’t planning to watch the Superbowl, perhaps you’ll reconsider simply for the pleasure of seeing these commercials.  Who knows, you could see the ad that will spark the next viral video craze!  Or, if you can’t even bring yourself to watch it for the ads, you can browse through Mashable’s top ten Superbowl commercials of all time.

Happy Superbowl Sunday!

Checking in with Mooncup Ltd.

Sadly, I feel it necessary to warn any male readers of this blog that this post discusses feminine hygiene products and will include words like “vagina,” “menstrual,” “tampon,” and perhaps even “blood.”  But if you can handle it, it will be interesting and informative.  Oh, don’t be such a sissy!

Yesterday morning, I woke up to find a link to this video in my Facebook feed.  Mooncup Ltd. is AT IT AGAIN with the viral video game!  Mooncup Ltd. FTW!!!

Many of you may not know that while at the University of Leeds Business School, I wrote my master’s project on communication issues surrounding the Mooncup, a reusable form of sanitary protection for women.  I follow them on Facebook and Twitter and am always delighted when I see something new from Mooncup Ltd.  I was especially happy when I saw yesterday’s video because it shows a shift Mooncup Ltd.’s marketing messages.

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Part of the “Love Your Vagina” campaign

In 2010, Mooncup Ltd. launched their first print advertising campaign entitled, “Love Your Vagina.”  Posters on the London Underground and other public spaces showed different pet names for a woman’s genitals and extolled women to love their vaginas and visit this website.  Once there, you could contribute your own pet name, and in the spring of 2011, the “Love Your Vagina” song made its debut on YouTube and has been getting awkwardly stuck in people’s heads since (hehehe, just watching it again now makes me giggle!).

All this is wonderful, of course, and it set the advertising world abuzz with praise for their creativity.  Mooncup Ltd.’s advertising agency, St Luke’s, even won silver at the London International Awards.  But what did it do for sales of the Mooncup?  Not much, apparently.  And that’s why I wanted to help out (being a devoted Mooncup user myself).

"Love Your Beach? Love Your Vagina."
“Love Your Beach? Love Your Vagina.”

My research found that the Mooncup was still (in 2011) a largely unknown sanitary protection option which elicited responses like, “WTF??  Ewwwww!!”  Those who had heard about it associated it largely with hippies and eco-nuts, and wrote it off as not for them.  Mooncup Ltd.’s approach to communication and advertising didn’t jive with this perception.  The “Love Your Vagina” campaign was what is called an emotional appeal which peaked curiosity but did not directly provide much information about what the Mooncup actually is.  The subsequent “Love Your Beach” print campaign also used an emotional appeal about caring for the UK’s beaches by using the Mooncup.  However, it failed to even include the mooncup.co.uk URL in the copy.  No information about what the product actually was was forthcoming.

A thorough literature review showed me that emotional appeals are more effective when dealing with known products.  In interviews with non-users of the Mooncup, I learned that they would rather an informative appeal.   The ideal spot would be in a women’s magazine where a lady could quietly (and privately) read about the product, get used to the idea and then perhaps visit the website.  I also found in my research that Mooncup Ltd.’s tagline of  “safer, greener, cheaper” didn’t really appeal to women.  Rather, ladies were more interested in the Mooncup’s perceived health benefits (keeping natural balance, not irritating or causing TSS), its promise of more reliable protection (not one interviewee expressed complete satisfaction with her current choice of sanitary protection), and its being more convenient (as in, it can hold three times as much and therefore requires less maintenance than other forms of protection).  After months of stress and research (sorry to those of you who lived through that…), I put all this information into a tidy report and sent it off to Kath Clements at Mooncup Ltd.  She wrote me a lovely email thanking me and saying the report contained some real gold nuggets of information.  Hooray!!  That, and receiving a distinction level mark on the project made me feel pretty good.

Fast forward to yesterday morning and the new Tampon vs. Mooncup Rap Battle.  As I said before, I was very happy to see that the video addressed some of my suggestions!  The rap is easy to understand, and it provides a little information about what the Mooncup is and how it works.  The “tampon” side voices misgivings women have about the Mooncup, while the “Mooncup” side answers them.  The video is a bit of a balance between an informational and an emotional appeal, and I think it’s very cleverly done.

Here's a pile of Mooncups!
Here’s a pile of Mooncups!

However, while this is great creative and provides some information, I think that Mooncup Ltd. needs to balance this kind of viral marketing with a parallel informative print campaign.  (Now, to be fair, since I am not in the UK I do not know if they have in fact done this.  It could be that they have a print campaign running right now and I’m just not aware of it.)  As I said, the advantage of print is that you can provide lots of information.  A well-worded description of the product, similar to the one in this video, is an essential starting point for the Mooncup’s diffusion into mainstream consciousness.  Why would someone share an online video of a rap battle between tampon and Mooncup if they don’t even know what a Mooncup is?

In conclusion, this new video is a step in the right direction.  It includes a bit more information about what the Mooncup actually is (hooray!), and it answers some questions.  I’d be really curious to know what kind of an effect this video has on visits to the website and eventually, sales of the Mooncup.  I love how Mooncup Ltd. makes use of social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, but I still feel that in order to get a strong foothold in the mainstream sanitary protection market, they need to do more advertising in traditional media, namely print.  They do have a corner on a niche market, but their advertising activities to date tell me that they are looking to expand into the mainstream.  I hope that they can do it, because, frankly, using a Mooncup has completely changed my period, and I wish the same positive, stress-free experience for all ladies out there.

EDITED: CBC Human Library Project

The following is a re-post of my original report on the Human Library Project, with some corrections.  Thanks to Lela for her feedback and contribution!

As I wrote earlier this week, I went to the Atwater Library in Westmount this morning to participate in the Human Library project.  I had signed up to speak with Lela Savic, a Romani journalist and documentary maker.  She was interning at the Human Library project, and considering her background they invited her to be one of the human libraries this year.

If you watch her introductory video, you will learn that Lela was born in Serbia (then Yugoslavia) and when the war broke out when she was five, her family emigrated to Canada.  I briefly described to her how I am from Switzerland and in Geneva there is a very negative perception of Romani as beggars, pickpockets and thieves.  I asked her to describe her background to me so that I could see a different perspective of Romani.

Lela described how she grew up in Canada as any “normal” kid would.  She studied at Concordia University, she has travelled, worked, and maintained her connection with her family roots back in Serbia (in fact, throughout our conversation, she referred to “her village” in Serbia as home, rather than Montreal).  She told me she feels that the fundamental difference between Romani culture and others is that it is a very old, traditional culture.  It is not that different from many southern European cultures, but it is very insular.  For that reason many Romani (especially women) have little interest in education, development or what is going on outside of their group.  This often results in issues in healthcare and a lack of empowerment of women (though in her family, she and her siblings were all encouraged to study, regardless of gender).  Since so few people know anything about Romani culture, Lela feels that many do not understand her cultural perspective.

It was fascinating discussing Gadjo (or non-Romani) perceptions of her people, but also how Romani groups view each other.  She said that here in Canada Romani are viewed in romantic light: when she tells people she is Romani it often inspires images of an exotic “Esmerelda” who dances and sings.  Or, she is asked if her family is nomadic and travels around all the time.  However, in Europe, she hesitates to disclose that she is Romani.  She often gets very negative reactions which range from distrust to outright hostility.  Though she said she has one cousin who is a successful businesswoman in Belgrade, she has other cousins who have been shut out of the business world in Europe because they are Romani.

Lela comes from a community that is sedentary and lives in a group of six neighboring villages in Serbia.  They have intermarried, grown and established themselves as mostly farmers.  There are other groups of Romani who travel, and engage in what are negatively viewed as the stereotypical activities of the Romani, such as pickpocketing, begging, etc.  She said that among Romani there is a specific word for these groups, and they are often looked down upon for “giving Romani a bad name.”  However, because many Romani share the experience of being marginalized and discriminated against, there is an understanding that these groups often have no other choice. It is a vicious cycle: because they are rejected by society as thieves and beggars, they must become just that in order to survive, thus further reinforcing the negative stereotypes.  When one thinks about it, it is heartbreaking to think that a whole group of people is stuck in this wheel.

Lela’s goal is to continue working to educate the outside world about her culture.  She would also like to work as an activist among Romani, as she believes Romani people will more readily accept social reform initiated by one of their own, rather than from perceived outsiders.  Our conversation was fascinating, though brief, and it accomplished the goal the Human Library project set out to do: it opened my eyes to a different perspective and reminded me to always challenge stereotypes and be open to changing preconceived ideas.

After my conversation with Lela, I had a little time to spare, so I asked who would be available for a conversation starting at 11:30.  I had a fascinating conversation with Gabrielle Bouchard, a trans woman who spent most of her life as man, and transitioned to life as a woman in her late thirties.  I will tell you more about our chat in another post, though, as this one is getting on the long side.

Happy Saturday everyone, and have a good weekend!

If you are interested in hearing some of Lela’s interviews with members of the Roma community, you can listen to her interview with Kristin Molnar, her discussion on stereotypes, and her conversation about discrimination against Romani people in Croatia.  Please note that some of these interviews are conducted in French, so if you were looking for a good reason to learn French, here you have it!  I highly recommend you give these a listen.

Just Discovered: Human Library Project

Saturday, 26 January 2013 is Canada’s National Human Library Day.  The Human Library is an initiative “designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding,” (Human Library, 2012).  I just heard about the national initiative on the radio, and it sparked my curiosity, so I looked it up.

For those who won’t click through to the links, the idea is that several people of varied backgrounds, histories and occupations make themselves available for a few hours in a public space to have 20-minute conversations with anyone who signs up to attend.  On Saturday, fourteen local Montreal people will be at the Atwater Library (1200, Avenue Atwater, Westmount) from 11:00 until 16:00.  These folks are a mix of journalists, religious leaders, sports figures and gay rights activists.

I have signed up for a conversation at 11:00am with Lela Savic, a journalist of Romani origins.  She is from the former Yugoslavia and makes documentary films here in Montreal (you can follow her on Twitter here).

When perusing the list of participants, I was particularly interested in meeting and speaking with Ms Savic.  Coming from Geneva, Switzerland, where there are, shall we say, “issues” with the Romani population, I am curious to hear her perspective and to try to understand a bit more about this group which seems to inspire so many different reactions: fear, mistrust, fascination (think of flamenco music!), romanticism, etc.

If you like the sound of this initiative, see if the Human Library is doing anything in your area.  You can also tune in to cbcnews.ca on Saturday between 11:00 and 16:00 Eastern Standard Time to participate in the live event online.  You can also follow CBC on Twitter and get updates about the event at the hashtag #CBCHumanLibrary.

It promises to be an interesting (though brief) conversation!  If any of you have questions you would want me to ask Ms Savic, feel free to post them in the comments.