Student Life

From the world of advertising to the classroom

Marketing professor Peter Elenakis talks about his career and teaching methods

If you’ve ever taken one of Peter Elenakis’s marketing classes, you’ll probably agree that they aren’t like your typical John Molson School of Business course. Sure, his classes have lectures, assignments, exams—but they also contain something you wouldn’t expect from a business course: improv lessons.

For Elenakis, doing things differently helps students to get out of their comfort zones and see the business world in a different way. He said he brings in someone from Montreal Improv to work with the students in his MBA class once a semester, and it allows them to think more creatively.

“A bunch of these students are professionals and are used to a corporate environment and a certain way of doing things,” Elenakis said. “Doing the improv lesson allows them to accept other people’s ideas and also become better presenters.”

As Elenakis explained, presentations are a large part of the business world, which demands that students become expert presenters when pitching an idea. One of the methods Elenakis uses to make his students better at giving talks is to bar them from using PowerPoint.

“Surprisingly, the last few semesters that I’ve been doing this, the presentations without PowerPoint are better than the ones with PowerPoint,” Elenakis said. “I had one student sitting next to me say, ‘It’s not that good with the PowerPoint. We prefer without.’”

While teaching marketing courses at Marianopolis in Montreal before his time at Concordia, Elenakis noticed students were reluctant to present freely and express their ideas comfortably. At the time, Elenakis was doing improv at Second City in Toronto and noticed that improvising improved his presentation skills and his ability to think creatively. That’s when he decided to bring those skills to the classroom and taught his CEGEP students improv, before eventually bringing improv into his classes at Concordia.

Throughout his career, Elenakis has had other experiences with improv and acting. While working in the field on various marketing campaigns, Elenakis got to be in some TV commercials.

Elenakis said he was in a Rub A535 commercial and also got to play a bartender in a Johnnie Walker Whiskey ad. When asked about how he got to star in these commercials, Elenakis’s answer was simple: “We needed an extra and couldn’t afford anybody else.”

Elenakis’ presentation and improv skills aren’t the only tools he brings to the classroom. He also brings years of experience in business, which began all the way back in his college years, when he decided he wanted to go into advertising.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

It was his love of pop culture and television shows like Bewitched that piqued his interest in the field and eventually led him to business school at McGill University.

“As I went to business school, I fell into marketing, and there was a lot of pop culture and entertainment associated with it, so I liked it,” Elenakis said.

After graduating, Elenakis took time off to travel, before looking for a job in advertising. He sent out 50 CVs and called up every company he sent one to. Instead of asking for a job, he asked if the companies had any insights they could give him about the business world.

These conversations led to interviews ,which, after a while, led him to his first job in the industry. Elenakis has worked in Montreal and Toronto at companies like J.W. Thompson, Leo Burnett, Taxi, Cossette and a small media company called Mediavation.

At the beginning of his career, Elenakis got to work on big projects with some of the world’s most recognizable brands. However, as he explained, he had more of a junior role when starting out.

“I was an assistant media planner, so my job was to get information and determine where they should be spending their money,” Elenakis said. “I was working with Kraft at the time, and I got to look at their budget and see where they could allocate funds.”

Two other big projects Elenakis worked on were with Kellogs and Nintendo. With Kellogs, he worked in the product development department. At the time, the company was trying to position itself in the world of breakfast cereal.

After doing some research, they realized people were no longer sitting down to eat a bowl of cereal in the morning, so they developed on-the-go cereal bars.

“Foods like bagels and muffins were increasing in sales, so we had to figure out how to make our product on-the-go,” Elenakis said. “That’s when we took our Special K cereal and put it into a bar format.”

With Nintendo, Elenakis was originally in charge of their games division and licenses. Before moving on from the company, Elenakis got to partake in the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, a console people still play to this day.

He explained that the biggest challenge in launching the Nintendo 64 was the supply coming out of Japan. Nintendo considered Japan and the United States to be their two biggest markets, while Canada was their third-largest. This meant Elenakis and his colleagues needed to find a way to generate demand, but not too much, because there wouldn’t be enough supply to appease increased demand.

“At that point, Nintendo was the primary sponsor of the Much Music Video Awards, so we paired up with them and launched a promotional campaign,” Elenakis said. This generated the perfect amount of excitement, and the launch of the console went as planned.

Now, Elenakis focuses his attention on small to medium-sized businesses as a media consultant. These companies are typically looking for advice on how their brands should grow and what their message should be when advertising products.

As Elenakis explained, the big difference between working with large companies and small ones is budget restrictions. However, bigger budgets don’t always make the job easier.

“Bigger budgets mean you can do a lot more, but it also means the approval process takes a lot longer,” Elenakis explained. “With small companies, you have to be more resourceful, but things get done quicker because you’re dealing with the owner or president directly.”

While talking about what makes a successful marketing campaign, Elenakis explained that strong insights into a product and how it relates to the consumer’s needs and desires is a recipe for success. Elenakis cited “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign by Dos Equis as an example.

“That campaign functioned on a very simple insight,” he explained. “When guys go out to the bar, they want to seem interesting, otherwise the girl won’t talk to them.”

For Elenakis, the ad worked off a simple premise, but successfully communicated to their target demographic. This is what makes a marketing campaign work.

Elenakis helps coach JMSB students for case competitions. Photo courtesy of Peter Elenakis

In addition to teaching and working with small businesses on the side, Elenakis is also involved with JMSB case competitions as a coach. These case competitions involve a group of business students who are given a situation, whether it’s about finance, marketing or administration, and they must come up with a solution. They then present their idea to a large group where they are judged against other schools.

In these competitions, the teams have about five hours to put together their 20-minute presentation. According to Elenakis, these case competitions are a great way for students to get practical experience.

“It teaches them how to solve a problem, come up with a creative solution, put together a presentation and then present it in front of the judges,” Elenakis said. “It’s a great skill set that they end up learning.”

As a part-time professor, one of the challenges he faces that full-time teachers don’t, is that he’s not always sure if he will be given a class to teach each semester. As he explained, there is no consistency, so it’s harder for him to make a schedule and plan around the courses he teaches. For instance, last fall semester, Elenakis wasn’t given a class.

Despite this hardship, Elenakis has never had a hard time getting what he wants or needs for a class.

“Anytime I ask people for stuff, I get it. There hasn’t been any hesitation, so I’d say it’s been pretty good,” he said.

While he didn’t get to teach this past semester, Elenakis enjoys his job as a professor and watching students grow and learn. As the years have gone on, he has seen students make the jump from the classroom to the professional world.

“One of the great things about teaching is seeing your students progress and going where they want to go,” Elenakis said. “I’ve seen students who wanted to get into advertising and investment and got into it and are now successful. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing that.”

Feature photo by Alexander Cole

Student Life

The terrifying truth about online advertising

Targeted ads dig into your private life to sell you things that you don’t really need

In this day and age, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been using the internet for a number of years. Much like our real lives, the digital content we consume is often riddled with or interrupted by advertisements for products that we don’t necessarily need. What’s different about the online world though, is that these ads are tailored for you, dear user.

When you’re watching TV and a Budweiser ad rolls around, it’s got a specific target demographic audience. The truth is, though, that not everyone who views this ad is part of that demographic. The online world functions quite differently.

The ads you see are a result of what is—in grossly simplified terms—an aggregated amount of data based on your browsing practices. Every search you make identifies with certain key words that are collected and then fed back to you. Advertisers can promote their products to a very specific demographic with a much higher conversion rate than they would using traditional media like radio and television, and at a much lower cost too. Better yet, websites that choose to display these ads can earn revenue by doing so, to help pay for their cost of maintenance or to pocket the money. The earnings are fairly low for smaller websites, but busier sites like Facebook can earn a pretty penny off of your reading space.

If you’ve browsed deeper, there’s no doubt that you’ve landed on pages so completely riddled with ads that the content was almost entirely inaccessible. From overlays on top of text to misleading links for downloads, or just your general obnoxious video that pops out of nowhere, ads are everywhere online. Some of these are directly related to advertisers, while others cautiously hide malicious software that can log your actions to other third party sources, including leaking your passwords.

With this being said, if you’re anything like me and you’re completely sick of seeing this content, know that there are solutions for trimming the fat off of these cluttered, messy pages. Add-ons for browsers like Chrome and Firefox exist, most notably AdBlock+, which allow you to completely block the ads off of many websites. While this may significantly improve your browsing experience, it’s always important to consider that these ads may be the only thing keeping smaller, independent websites alive. Luckily, these add-ons allow you to let certain domains show you advertisements.

Another annoyance is what are known as “toolbars.” These browser extensions that add little tidbits of code to your browser, often disguising themselves as “search helpers” or “download accelerators,” are often riddled with code that has no purpose other than  to pepper you with even more advertisements, making your browsing experience significantly slower and far less enjoyable. There are work-arounds though! For Firefox users, you can use the “add-ons” button from your menu to manage your extensions, and remove those pesky search bars. Chrome users can type “about:plugins” in their URL bar to see a list of installed plugins and extensions that may be plaguing them.

Advertisers will always try to get a step ahead. Considering how much exposure we have to ads in the first place, it’s good to have just a little more control over what we see, and how.


Come for the game, stay for the ads

Image via Flickr.

The Super Bowl is one of the most popular sporting events on television. This year it attracted over 108 million American viewers. With such a wide viewing audience, companies try very hard and pay outrageous amounts of money (over $4 million for 30 seconds of airtime) for their commercials to be seen.

Even if the commercials don’t play in Canada, we can find them all online. We can see the heartwarming ones (like Budweiser’s The Clydesdales: “Brotherhood”), the entertaining ones (Mercedes Benz’s “Soul”) and the hilarious ones (like Taco Bell’s “Viva Young”). However, one thing that has become an alarming trend is the use of sexism and extreme sexualization to sell products.

Advertisers look for ways to make a commercial stick with viewers. If the viewer remembers the commercial, they remember the product. While time and time again companies have been able to do that without bringing inappropriate sexism into their ads, some companies push the limits.

Take for example Go Daddy, a popular web hosting company. Since it began using Danica Patrick as its spokesperson almost five years ago their commercials have consistently been very sexual in nature. Even this year their ad portrays Israeli model Bar Rafaeli making out with actor Jesse Helman. The two are used as symbols for beauty and brains, and this ad uses the nerd-lands-the-gorgeous-woman routine, portraying the woman as brainless.

An ad from Mercedes Benz also played along with a typical stereotype of women. In the ad, American model and actress Kate Upton gets a team of football players to wash her car by just standing there, tossing her hair back and posing suggestively. Not only does this ad degrade the ability of women by limiting her to such a suggestive and sexually-charged position, it also demeans the men who are willing to do anything at the sight of a pair of double Ds.

The ad for the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls was not only overtly sexual, but so completely irrelevant that many people were caught off guard. The show, starring Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, is about two girls who are running a cupcake shop. Instead of relating aspects of their show in the commercial, CBS decided it would be easier to have the two girls showing off their exotic dancing skills on a pole.

The restaurants Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. bought some air time this year, putting out an advertisement for their new burger. And while the burger got some attention, most of the ad was focused on Danish model Nina Agdal, who ate the meal in the most sexual way possible. At the beach wearing a bikini she spent as much time applying spray-on suntan lotion as she did actually eating. She then proceeded to take her top off and dig into a second burger.

The problem with these ads is that they’ve been pushing the envelope of what is and what isn’t acceptable in advertising. It’s time to step back and really think about what commercials we should be putting on T.V..

Every year another company tries to find a way to stand out, and while the competition is understandable, organizations need to dial down the sexualization of their products.

Ironically enough, despite the extreme sexual nature of some of these commercials, one commercial was banned from airing. The commercial, from the pornographic website PornHub, shows an elderly couple sitting on a bench together. That’s it. No sex, no nudity, nothing provocative and yet still not acceptable to air.

Yes, it’s still an advertisement for a pornographic website, but as far as what kind of message it was sending out to viewers it’s tamer and less sexualized than a burger or a car. If they can attract attention without using sex, so can other advertisers.

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