It’s come to this: U of Ottawa cancels yoga class over fears of ‘cultural appropriation’

Here’s proof that our PC-obsessed world eventually becomes a satire of itself.

A mind-bending act of political correctness by student leaders at the University of Ottawa has sparked an international backlash on social media.

Student leaders at the university have halted free yoga classes over concerns that its practice was not sufficiently sensitive to yoga’s cultural roots.

The decision earlier this fall meant that about 60 students in yoga instructor Jennifer Scharf’s weekly class lost out on the program, which had been offered through the university’s Centre for Students with Disabilities since 2008.

The instructor offered to rebrand the program as a ‘mindful stretching’ class, but that idea was rejected because a suitable French translation could not be reached

Read the entire article. I’m not sure if the most appropriate response is tears or laughter — or maybe tears of laughter. The money quote, for me, comes right at the end where the article lists all the “forms of oppression” the Centre for Students with Disabilities is fighting against:

“We also acknowledge that ableism is not a siloed issue, but one that affects a variety of communities and individuals. In working to dismantle ableism, we also work to challenge all forms of oppression including, but not limited to, heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, queerphobia, HIV-phobia, sex negativity, fatphobia, femme-phobia, misogyny, transmisogyny, racism, classism, ableism, xenophobia, sexism, and linguistic discrimination.”

In a world in which terrorists are burning people in cages, crucifying children and gunning down people in nightclubs and cafes, this is what they’re worrying about at U of Ottawa.

Is “waithood” the new stop between youth and adulthood?

We all know that Millennials are still living with their parents well past the age when Boomers or Gen X’ers had moved out. Turns out it’s a worldwide phenomenon, as  this report from the BBC illustrates.

The main driver is financial —  thanks to sky-high unemployment or underemployment,  the young people can’t afford to live independently. The results are serious, as public policymakers as well as marketers must re-examine a host of assumptions about how society will be structured, where revenues will come from, what public resources will be required. All the age-based models are essentially up for grabs.

The article includes some interesting observations about the “idealized” youth culture, and the new emphasis on flexibility:

“Economics is important, but culture plays a crucial role too,” says Steven Mintz, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “In the past, people aspired to be older. The dominant culture was an adult culture, which was associated with sophistication, worldliness and experience. Today, that has been inverted. Youth culture is the ideal – most people aspire to be younger, not older, and it is youth culture that is seen as more thrilling than anything that adulthood has to offer.

“No-one says ‘Life begins at 40’ any more, at least not without irony.”

Mintz points out that it is only in the past 100 years or so that people have considered adolescence a distinct stage in a person’s life. Perhaps we are currently seeing the emergence of a new stage in development in which young people choose to scope out their options on the job market rather than start on a career, save up for travel instead of a house, and take a series of sexual partners instead of settling down.

Instead of figuring out how they fit in, they are working out their own identity – and until that process is complete, the emphasis is on keeping one’s options open.

It could be argued that this is simply making a virtue out of necessity, but that doesn’t matter. Given the size of the Millennial demographic (larger than the Boomers now), the prevalence of these attitudes and behaviors makes nonsense out of traditional strategies, whether in the public or private sectors.

It is time for some drastic re-thinking.


Meet the Cry-Bully: a hideous hybrid of victim and victor.

Can you be a victim and a tyrant at the same time? If victimhood is the currency, then the answer is a resounding yes.

In this brilliant and disturbing piece from the Spectator blog, Julie Burchill identifies a chilling new phenomenon. Although her frame of reference is British, it isn’t hard to identify the trend, and it’s particularly prevalent, in the North American context, in academia.

As the Yale Hallowe’en costume lunacy heated up, one of the protesters wrote an op-ed in the student newspaper that included the line, “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” To which Richard Dawkins, no less, tweeted: “And she was accepted into Yale. Grow up, spoiled brat.”

It gets worse. In the wake of the horrific terror attack in Paris, some American activists complained on Twitter about the news coverage stealing the headlines they had previously enjoyed.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Fortunately, I don’t think it’s too widespread. It does seem to be concentrated in the media and on campus. But if it goes further, and lasts longer, it will be interesting to see the effects spill over — on to marketing, for example.

Imagine if an in-depth analysis of a target market — say, a meaningfully large segment of Millennials — reveals  that a sense of victimhood (and its corollary,  helplessness) really is a major driver of attitude and response. What would be the implications for an ad campaign? I can just see the headline now: MAKE THEM BUY IT FOR YOU. (Works for just about every product category.)


Ivory tower meets the marketplace: Moody’s predicts college closures to triple by 2017

A report by Moody’s in late September predicts a tripling in the closure rate of small colleges and universities in 2017. They just aren’t going to be able to raise revenues quickly enough.

This is just one indicator of the profound changes that will be sweeping through higher ed in the coming decades. It speaks to a resistance on the part of more payers — i.e., the older generations — to underwrite ever-more-expensive programs that yield ever-less-productive outcomes in the real world. As a result, the larger colleges are offering heavy discounts while at the same time trying to boost amenities, and the smaller institutions just can’t compete.

Check the full report here.

This year’s Hallowe’en scare: Helpful universities offer special consultants to make sure no one is offended by costumes

In case you think the Yale Hallowe’en fiasco was a one-off, I’ve been doing a little checking and found this article about colleges creating sensitivity consultants to make sure the kids don’t wear anything offensive. Evidently you were able to check your costume idea ahead of time, and one of the helpful advisers would let you know if you were offending anyone, and if so, whom.

It’s easy to poke fun at this nonsense, but underneath it are two serious issues:

  • Some universities are actually paying people to do this. If these are the kinds of jobs for which budgets exist, this in turn feeds ever-rising tuition fees and, as we’ve seen, buyer resistance. At a time when universities are struggling to maintain (a) relevancy and (b) at least a semi-decent value proposition, a Hallowe’en costume consultancy program is…well, since it’s about Hallowe’en…grosteque. Macabre. Scary.
  • If the kids can’t figure out how to deal with Hallowe’en costumes without adult help — which was really the point of the Yale nonsense — then what’s going to happen when they leave the hallowed halls? Shouldn’t we be starting to see a connection between the underemployed college grads and the stuff they learned — or didn’t learn — back in university?

Do we need a new marketing model? 2 – The age of ageless

Is longevity destroying marketing?

It’s certainly destroying the classic marketing model, based on age-driven consumer “life stages.” The model, which predates Don Draper, decrees that the most valuable target audience is young families — they’re independent shoppers for the first time, and they’re just forming all the brand preferences that will guide their future behavior in the marketplace for decades to come. Beyond 50 — or certainly, beyond 50 — don’t even bother. Their brand habits are already locked. And besides, they’re going to die soon.

In my previous post on this topic, I showed how longevity has made nonsense of this model. The “older” generations are living longer and longer, are not retiring “on schedule” at 65, and still represent the majority of  purchasing power. Meanwhile, the “younger” generations are not moving into the marketplace on the same timetable as previous generations — they’re still living at home with their parents, into their late 20s, and they’re delaying the steps that would have marked new family formation: marriage, first kids, first home.

Is this true of everyone? Of course not. The absolute number of “older” people who are indeed retiring at 65, trying to live on fixed incomes, forced to become very cautious and modest consumers, and in general matching the past stereotypes of old age, is in the millions. Similarly, the number of Millennials who are getting rolling when the model says they will, is also in the millions. One size does not fit all.

The important point is that age is not as great a predictor of behavior as it used to be. What has happened is that age-driven behavior has been pushed to the two extreme margins — childhood and end of life.

At the “young” end, we have birth, childhood, adolescence and twentysomething. The patterns of behavior haven’t really changed: more or less complete dependency on parents, and little or no participation in the marketplace. The age when this safely applies — 0 to 18 — is the same as the model.

At the “old” end, we have retirement, gradual deterioration of health, decreased participation in the consumer marketplace (although heavy spending on health care) and, finally, death.  The age when this safely applies is being pushed further and further out: the fastest-growing age group, in percentage terms, is centenarians.

In between the two extremes, age is significantly less of a driver than it has ever been. The model must be adjusted — dramatically, I think — to reflect this new reality. We are moving to the “age of ageless” — an age in which we will not be able to count on age to be the main determinant of consumer attitude and behavior.

Yet age still defines media-buying targets, for example: adults 18-34, women 25-49, etc. This is primitive. It’s the application of obsolete thinking and obsolete tools to a demonstrably different marketplace:

  • It’s absurd to think that newlyweds who are 35 will behave the same way as their parents or grandparents (the Baby Boomers) did as newlyweds at 25
  • Even more absurd to think that newlyweds who can’t dream of owning a home in the foreseeable future will behave the same way as their parents did when they bought that “starter” home in their late 20’s or early 30’s
  • Or that people who are having their first children at 35 (or older) will behave the same way as their parents or grandparents did when they welcomed, at 25, their first baby

In all three cases, the people in question are simultaneously younger and older: they’re not hitting key demographic benchmarks (marriage, first kid, first home) until later, but they do have that many more years of knowledge and experience under their belts when they do hit the benchmarks.

Or go the other way:

  • It’s nonsense to think that a 65-year-old (by definition, a Baby Boomer) who is still actively working, will be as disengaged from the consumer marketplace as a 65-year-old “retiree” of a previous generation
  • The Boomers are demonstrably soaking up as much tech as they can get their hands on — thus, very much in touch with the same tools the younger generations are using — and at the same time very aware of, and engaged with, their own and their (still living) parents’ health issues. They have no problem simultaneously behaving younger and older.

I’m not arguing,  of course, that age has no influence on attitude and behavior. And certainly, the major milestones of the consumer “life stage” journey remain in place: birth, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, family formation, “middle” age, retirement, decline, death. But the age at which these milestones occur is becoming more muddy. In fact, except for the first few phases — birth, childhood, adolescence — there is no one age that can be counted on.

People are experiencing these milestones at a wider range of ages than ever before — which in turn will trigger radically different sets of attitudes and behaviors. Older people in particular are simultaneously experiencing more than one age — new family formation coinciding with age-related health issues, retirement coinciding with new job (yes — retiring and continuing to work part-time or in a home-based business, a huge trend), embrace of new technology coinciding with “old age.” The nice, neat “here’s what happens at 25” model is ludicrous.

We urgently need some new thinking on all of this. In the next installment, I’ll propose some steps that might be helpful.


Do we need a new marketing model? 1 – Why what we have is nonsense

The “generation gap” and the “reinvention of aging” aren’t news any more. We all understand that the “older” generations aren’t acting the way people of the same age acted in the past, and that the “younger” generations — particularly, the Millennials (in their 20s and young 30s) are experiencing extreme delays in hitting the same demographic and lifestyle benchmarks that previous generations hit at that same age.

This has profound implications for marketing. I’ve written a couple of books on this, with some material dealing with the marketing implications, and it’s the focus of what I write about on this blog. But so far, I haven’t seen anyone in the marketing community take the subject and really run with it. I think it yields an entirely new marketing model.

So far, though, most of the discussion and debate has been about why marketers overspend against the younger segments and underspend against the wealthier older cohorts. There are hundreds of articles complaining that Madison Avenue doesn’t “get it,” that they are still over-reliant on the 18-34, or 24-54, age groups and discount the older Boomers and seniors. There are numerous ad agencies and consultancies whose mission is to the prove that the Millennials are a highly valuable market, and that they (th

e ad agency or consultancy) have unique knowledge about that age group and a unique ability to help marketers reach them.

All well and good.

But I think there’s a lot of room to take the topic much further — and that’s what I propose to do in the next series of posts.

My premise is simple:

Everything is shifting older. Therefore, the classical marketing model is obsolete.

The classical model tied lifestyle to age:

  • Brand influence began in the teens (although the spending power was still with the parents)
  • The young to mid-20’s saw the  formation of new families and the all-important determination of initial brand choices
  • Spending rose steadily through the 30’s and 40’s and maybe early 50’s
  • Retirement followed, meaning that spending dropped and, since brand choices were hardened into place anyway, there was little or no reason to spend marketing dollars against that cohort.

Marketing strategies are still largely based on this model. And there’s no question that life stage component of it is still logical: you  go from a being a child with no purchasing power to a first-time and early-stage shopper in the marketplace, to a full-on consumer, to a cut-back stage and, eventually, the end.

What’s different, of course, is the absolute and total uncoupling of age from life-stage — at least, the ages that were previously assigned to the various stages. This uncoupling is so radical that it makes the entire model nonsense.

  • Family formation has increasingly been shifting into the 30’s, instead of the 20’s
  • First home purchase is increasingly in the 30s
  • Retirement is no longer automatic at 65
  • The fastest-growing age group, in percentage terms, is the centenarian segment

For marketers, the urgent issue ought to be: how do we align our strategies and messaging to these new realities? What do we say to 20-somethings, while waiting for them to have money? What do we say to 60- or even 70-somethings, realizing that they might well be still in the workforce and might have 20 or 30 years of spending power ahead of them? In fact, what does a 30-year spending trajectory look like, for a 60-something, and how do we, as marketers, play into it?

I don’t think marketers are spending nearly enough time figuring this out. To too large an extent, they’re still aligning dollars and age brackets based on the old model that no longer exists. In the next two posts, I’ll suggest some new ways of coming at it.

Stay tuned.