How-to reduce your water use

Here come the waterworks — Canadians need to use less water, here’s how:

*Please note that the statistics on Quebecers’ water use do not represent water use or access on Indigenous reservations.

How much water does the average Montrealer use every day in their home? Enough to fill two bathtubs.

That’s 225 L of clean water. The province-wide average is even bigger, at 400 L per person every day, according to McGill University.

How much fresh water do private industries use per year? About 10 times household use, Statistics Canada notes.

Most of our household water use comes from addressing basic physical needs. 65 per cent comes from toilet flushing and bathing. The rest is accounted for in our drinking, preparing meals, and cleaning (including laundry).

We could trim down our water use by letting it mellow when it’s yellow, but a more impactful change could simply be redirecting our efforts to curb the wasteful practices of big industries, which make up 68 per cent of Canada’s annual fresh water use, according to McGill University.

Why is this important? After all, Canada is known for its abundant access to freshwater lakes and rivers. However, that’s not the full story.

“Canada has some 20 per cent of the world’s total fresh water resources,” according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Of that, only seven per cent is renewable fresh water, making the supply “heavily used and often overly stressed.”

Household water use accounts for 20 per cent of the total fresh water use in Canada, and farming practices use just 12 per cent.

Still, voices in green consumption continue to refocus the lens of public discourse about climate change on personal action, despite the well-documented majority impact coming from private industry.

How can the public influence the ecological footprint left by private industry? We can start by reducing our consumption of the products these companies sell.

This logic runs counter to the profit goals of private industry, and they’re putting up a fight against it.

Marketers have identified a key change in the public: people want to feel like the companies they shop at share their values. “Sustainability, trust, ethical sourcing, and social responsibility are increasingly important to how consumers select their products and services,” according to Harvard Business Review (HBR)’s analysis of The EY Future Consumer Index.

HBR puts it this way: Pre-pandemic, “Your brand should stand behind great products.” As an additional requirement post-pandemic, “Your brand should stand behind great values.” The association of a brand with values creates the phenomenon of “brand values,” which amount to the marketing strategies that companies develop to target a particular consumer profile and its associated value system.

This loophole absolves the public from facing the actual scale of the problem of over-consumption, while validating the feeling that we’re curbing our personal climate footprint. Compliance with this marketing strategy also helps to reduce our guilt without requiring companies to actually improve their production practices.

Some might call this a win-win, others a lose-lose.

Reducing water use within the production line and reducing consumption of those products altogether would ultimately have the biggest impact on water waste in Canada.

Instead, companies look to their marketing teams to come up with how-tos that focus on tweaks in the public’s household behaviour (like switching the laundry setting to cold water) and divert attention from industry and consumer waste.

In the current cultural focus on resilience catalyzed by COVID-19, HBR elaborates, “Marketing now has the opportunity to seize an ongoing central role in that dialogue.”

Corporations have identified a key role that marketing plays in the way the public talks about the health crisis, and by extension, the climate crisis. When brands dictate the narrative surrounding these discussions, solutions are limited to those that propel their “broader growth and innovation agenda.” Those solutions all require our participation in industry waste.

Comparing the respective impacts of personal versus industrial water use provides a distilled picture of the biggest threats to sustainability. It is vital to critically assess the narrative around consumption by considering who tells the story, who benefits from the story, and ultimately, how the story obscures the harder truths about our contribution to climate change.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab


How to recognize, reject and report during Fraud Prevention Month

This March marks the 15th edition Fraud Prevention Month in Canada, dedicated to educating and increasing awareness among Canadians on how to recognize different types of fraud, how to avoid attempts and report incidents if they become victims.

Just last year, Canadians lost $98 million dollars to fraudulent activity according to the Canadian government’s Anti-Fraud Centre. While stereotypical scams still exist––CRA scam calls––fraudulent methods have evolved and have become more difficult for victims to steer clear of.

Jeffrey Thomson, a senior intelligence analyst for the RCMP, said the biggest change in scams targeting Canadians over the years is their direct approach.

“It used to be they’re trying to trick them into sending money and trick them into, you know, congratulations you’ve won a prize, or whatever the con was but today its just, you owe back taxes and if you don’t pay right away you’re going to be arrested and charged, fined, deported,” said Thomson.

In 2019, the top reported form of fraud was extortion, where information or money is urgently demanded through scare tactics like threats and blackmailing. CRA tax scams through illicit phone calls are still a nuisance throughout Canada, but new methods involve holding a person’s personal data against them.

Scammers use methods such as hacking a person’s webcam and recording them visiting explicit websites or doing something personal. This can include emailing pictures of personal data including SIN numbers or old email passwords, or locking a person out of their own email.

Thomson said it is important to recognize the variety of forms in which these types of fraud can occur, specifying: “over the phone, internet, social networking, email, text messaging –  just over the internet through fake websites.”

“Anytime you get an unsolicited call, text message, email, whatever it might be, that’s requesting personal or financial information, and requesting to make the payment in an urgent nature, you got to take a step back, you got to stop, you got to think about it, don’t react, don’t pay, don’t provide the information, do your due diligence, and then report,” said Thomson.

Thomson also said that victims of fraudulent messages can call the police, who can redirect them to a contact for help. The type of information being used to threaten the victim will determine what institution they will need to contact—such as, if a SIN number has been stolen, Service Canada must be contacted for help.

Kata Rados spoke at the Montreal Fraud Prevention Month launched by the Competition Bureau of Canada about popular modern scams that target Millenials and Gen-X. Rados, the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, highlighted how social media has become a popular tool for fraud.

An example Rados used was health marketing scams: “scammers sometimes offer what appear to be legitimate alternative medicines and treatments that quickly and easily treat serious conditions–often endorsed by celebrities or sham testimonials.”

Rados said that sometimes people’s insecurities can entice them to share personal information and to buy an item from a sponsored post on social media. Before making the purchase, she recommended being vigilant with online offers. Taking the time to check if the company is legitimate and has good reviews, is one way to not fall into a trap.

For Jessie Arens, a second-year honours English literature student at Concordia, it was wanting to save money on clothes that made her the victim of a scam. She first saw a clothing company advertisement on Facebook. After reading some reviews and seeing videos about the company, she decided to make her first purchase.

She paid to receive items in a week, but after 4 weeks, her items hadn’t even been shipped. Fortunately, after a dozen emails and several calls, Arens was able to receive a refund for her $75 purchase.

She says the website looked legitimate, adding that “there were a ton of amazing reviews, which I found out after much digging were fake reviews. Other website and Facebook comments warned against ordering from them and described similar experiences to mine.”

The Competition Bureau has information on how to spot potential fraud in their free online book Little Black Book of Scams, available through their website.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


A marketing student’s strategy to a journalist’s success

The world of journalism is changing every day, making it more difficult for the traditional newspaper journalist to find a job. As a result, journalists should specialize in different areas, like marketing, in order to be more appealing to hiring managers.

According to IBISworld, the newspaper publishing industry in Canada is shrinking with a growth rate of minus 1.4 per cent by 2020, due to the rapid technological change that has altered media consumption. Traditional newspaper journalists are now being left without a home because big companies like Domino’s Pizza, Dove and Nike are now turning to social media influencers, online advertising and other digital platforms to share information to reach their desired target markets.

So how can we create more opportunities in this field? Well, maybe the solution begins with blending journalism with different areas of expertise.

This past spring, I graduated with a bachelors in marketing and a dream to work in advertising. While surfing through job posts, I noticed many advertising jobs were asking for journalism or communications graduates. I was amazed to find employers in the field I was planning to enter were looking for different skill-sets.

I soon realized that I needed to change my mindset. I had to blend my marketing knowledge with something else. With the increased demand in niche journalism, the multi-skilled journalist is high in demand. In Mark Stencel and Kim Perry’s newsroom study, where they randomly surveyed media leaders on their hiring tendencies, it was discovered that nontraditional skill-sets were more sought after — coding, digital design, social media distribution and data metrics were at the top of the list. Proving that journalists need to be more than journalists to successfully navigate through the new changes in this field.

Blending marketing and journalism is one way to stand out. Two of the more popular combinations of journalism and marketing are brand journalism and content marketing. Brand journalism is a hybrid of traditional journalism, marketing and public relations. In Andy Bull’s book titled Brand Journalism, he states that brand journalism incorporates the storytelling aspect of journalism, core elements from strategic public relations and marketing principles like visionary planning, research, a defined purpose and incisive messages. 

On Business2Community, a website where business professionals share and receive thoughts that can further their business and gain network opportunities, Sarah Skerik explained that brand journalism looks to build awareness, earn media exposure  and build brand credibility while setting context for directional brand messaging. So in other words, brand journalism is the telling of stories to create a comprehensive image of the brand.

For example, both McDonalds and Ronald McDonald House Charities benefit from positive stories written about the charity. In 2017, McDonald’s McHappy Day raised almost $3.5 million across Canada to help Ronald McDonald House of Charities. By promoting the charity, they also promoted their products.

In comparison, The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a “marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.” Their goal is to capture interest, educate and introduce essential benefits of something short yet memorable, like words, catch phrases, and images that stimulates strong emotions that stay in the mind. According to eMarketer, in 2019, 84.5 per cent of companies in the US with more than 100 employees utilized digital content marketing strategies. 

Content marketing usually involves a campaign. Newsletters, daily emails and interactives come to mind. Therefore, brand journalism is a subset of content marketing because it can be looked at as a campaign. An example of successful content marketing would be when you are offered 10 per cent off your next purchase just for signing up for a newsletter. Another example is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign where you are able to customize your own bottle of Coke.

Whether you pick brand journalism or content marketing, I think marketing is one of the best skills one can add to their list of abilities as a journalist. Traditional journalism is changing. By adding marketing to your skillset, your employer would know you have the ability to write a great piece geared appropriately to the targeted market, making it easier to reach your goal. With journalism taking on more and more marketing characteristics everyday, this seems like the most logical choice.


Graphic by Victoria Blair

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

Getting down to the business of being your own boss

Are you thirsting to start your own business but remain burdened by your fears? Are you craving to be your own boss? Have you been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, but are afraid to let it penetrate your life? It’s time to annihilate those fears, reassess your goals, and consider that startups may not be as daunting as they may seem.

Anna Van Tuinen, founder of her own start-up business Paper Anniversary making her handmade jewellery. Photo provided by Anna Van Tuinen

Anna Van Tuinen, a 25-year-old American entrepreneur and creator of Paper Anniversary, was inspired by the overwhelming amount of creativity upon her arrival in Montreal. Since the fourth grade, she’s been playing with origami and for the last six years, she’s been making paper jewelry as a hobby. Recently, she decided to transform this pastime into a business and now she sells sustainable jewelry online made of bamboo paper that’s imported from Japan, Thailand, and Nepal. Her idea was incited by the western cultural tradition of giving paper for a first year wedding anniversary gift.

“Though this began as a hobby, after reading Jesse Krieger’s Lifestyle Entrepreneur and speaking to an entrepreneur friend, I realized I wanted that self-employed lifestyle,” she said.

Van Tuinen embraces self-employment because she can make her own schedule and work from any location. After creating her website,, through Shopify, her business was launched in a mere 24 hours.

By setting goals, testing the market, and learning to prioritize, she turned her business into a success in three months, which allowed her to quit her day job.

John Molson School of Business (JMSB) professor and Concordia graduate, Eric Martineau, another entrepreneur, recommends getting started while you’re still in school and your day job is not yet your livelihood. By asking his advertising professors for guidance and building relationships with them while he was in school, he was able to grow his own business.

“If you want to start your business, do projects in school on an industry you’d like to look into,” said Martineau.

Martineau, co-founder of Lavacar, a mobile car washing service that comes directly to your workplace, started his company while writing his Masters thesis at Concordia. His friend suggested the idea, while waiting endlessly in line for a car wash. As they were two broke students, neither of them wanted to enter an industry with high startup capital, but they invested what little money they had and managed to get it started. They knew they had nothing to lose and that they could partake in this endeavour without compromising their means to survive.

“Right now is by far the best time in your life to start a business,” said Dominic Tarn, author of The New Goldrush: A Quick Guide to Startups. “Having said that, never make any compromises on your studies [or jobs], but the opportunity is there for the taking right now if you want to dive into entrepreneurship.”

Concordia economics graduate, Jordan Choo, also believes in getting started as a student. A born entrepreneur, Choo began selling ebooks online at the ripe age of 15. Currently a web developer and online marketer with a number of side projects, his experience has allowed him to broaden his network.

“Talk to everyone you meet,” said Choo. “As a student, you have a network of people you see on a daily basis that can help you grow your business.”

Despite the guidance from his peers and mentors, Choo’s biggest challenge was to stay  motivated when obstacles obstructed his path. His mistakes helped him find the holes in his business and resolve them.

Choo explains that his Dad’s advice has been the most helpful.

“The only thing that holds you back is yourself. If you really, truly want something, you will find a way to get it.”

Choo is one of the many students who have participated in Concordia’s entrepreneurship programs. As a former member of Enactus Concordia, an international non-profit organization that helps mobilize students into becoming business leaders, and a participant in The Apprentice, a case competition for students in Montreal, Choo was able to talk to business executives, learn to improvise, and work with a team. He also named District 3 and The Founder Project, two programs that aim to assist student startups, as integral to his success.

“The entrepreneurial spirit in Montreal is taking off at a lightning quick pace. Student startup organizations are popping in campuses across Montreal, the country, and really all of North America”, said founder and CEO of The Founder Project, Ilan Saks.

The Founder Project has contributed to creating 200 student startups, and the Concordia startup program, District 3, located in E.V. 7.105, has already produced numerous startups and founders in the span of a year.

At District 3, students meet with mentors weekly to assess their progress and work individually on their projects in a professional environment. To join the program, the only requirements are a business plan and an appointment.

“You have the name Concordia under you. Every time you meet a sales representative, they can come into a nice building, a conference room. You are being backed unofficially by Concordia,” said Charles E., a graduate of the finance program at JMSB.

Charles E. belongs to a group of students that created a mobile travel agency that helps plan weekend getaways. According to him, the best part about District 3 is that you get to network in a space that provides you with access to expensive resources.

Another JMSB graduate, Jamie Klinger, is also jump starting his business through District 3. His project, the Jack of All Trades Universe, is an online community that provides an outlet for the exchange of products and services through a variety of currencies between people in the same geographic location.

“District 3 introduced me to tools that are good for organization,” he said. “It gives me a useful mentorship, presents what I’m working on, and lets me know if I’m on track and what to do next.”

Aside from classes offered at Concordia that teach students how to become entrepreneurs the access to information provided by programs like District 3 creates an environment of burgeoning business-minded individuals. There is nothing more satisfying than being your own boss, and with all these resources at your fingertips, now is the time to start. So let’s get down to business, shall we?


Concordia Student Union News

CSU hires a marketing specialist

The CSU hired a marketing intern to work within a six-week contract to create a strategic marketing plan that would outline the different aspects of communication available for use with their large undergraduate student body.

Photo by Keith Race

Originally the communications coordinator was in charge of creating a marketing plan, but as VP Finance, Scott Carr informed The Concordian,

“The reality was that there was already too much to do and with this came a load of questions as to how to move forward. I am someone who believes that having a plan that is clear, consistent, and well thought out is the key to success and I wanted to take that approach with the CSU’s marketing.”

With this issue at hand, Carr suggested the idea of hiring a marketing intern. Interviews were conducted in early December by Carr and VP Student Life, Katrina Caruso. The student selected was third year marketing major, Adrian Mahon.

Carr explains that marketing is a really important aspect that has lacked emphasis at both the CSU and Concordia University as a whole and that communicating with over 35,000 undergraduate students is no simple task.

“The CSU throws multiple events, speaker series, campaigns, provide services and so much more; but what use are they if no one knows they exist? Too many times people have no idea what the CSU does, yet they are the ones funding the activities; they are the ones that it is all for. It is of course not just the CSU that has this problem, even the university’s communication with its students has much room to grow; marketing isn’t as easy as people believe. It isn’t about the small group of students who know about the CSU, it is about making sure that we answer the needs of as many students as we can. It is because of the entire student body that the CSU exists—it better be doing everything it possibly can to help them,” explained Carr.

The six-week contract will wrap up at the end of January and Carr looks forward to reviewing it with the rest of the CSU executive team.  Carr believes the report will establish an objective perspective to CSU executives concerning their audience; Concordia’s undergraduate students, which will be used to realize CSU’s strengths and more significantly, their weaknesses.

Marketing intern, Mahon explained to The Concordian that his main task is to help the CSU evaluate and manage its marketing strategy and determine ways that it can better serve the undergraduate student body at Concordia.  With his 25 hour per week, six-week time cap, Mahon stated that,

“It is always nice to have more time to work on projects, especially large ones such as this. That being said, I feel that I am able to fulfill my obligations under the current time constraints.”

With such a large number of undergraduate students to reach, Mahon suggests that there be someone to work with the CSU regularly.

“Ideally it would be nice to have someone continuously working with the CSU on a part time or full time basis to help them with their marketing, in reaching students. However, there are always financial constraints that must be considered. This decision will be part of my recommendations in the marketing report.”

“This communication is an important aspect to being able to uncover the needs and challenges of undergraduate students so that the CSU can better serve them in the future” said Mahon.


Student Life

Marketers learn the perks of the motto “the customer is always right”

Anew study from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) identifies customization as one of five trends shaping consumer behaviour.

In a world where you can order a latte with the exact amount of caffeine, sweetness and fat that you want, it seems that no matter what you are selling, customization is key. Press photo

“It’s a great way to differentiate yourself in a crowded market,” said Pierre Cléroux, chief economist for the BDC.

The study finds that consumers are looking for products catered specifically to their needs and desires, and new technology makes it all possible.

Customization—individually customized goods or services—is profitable for companies because customers feel appreciated when their individuality is promoted.

The trend will soon reach smartphones—making them as unique as the way you take your coffee.

In late October, Google-owned phone company, Motorola, unveiled Project Ara: a build-your-own-phone approach to smartphones.

Project Ara will enable users to buy a basic frame and customize every aspect inside of it, from adding a keyboard, to choosing the battery and camera size. This level of customization has yet to be seen in smartphones, but Google remains hopeful the move will increase its current 6.9 per cent smartphone market share.

While customization remains mostly uncharted territory in the realm of smartphones, it’s well established in the coffee world of handcrafted beverages.

Starbucks Coffee is a shining example of the success of customization. Customers are notoriously known by baristas for their long list of amendments to standard drinks. If the many recent store openings in the province of Quebec are any indication, letting customers have their way seems to be in their best interest.

However, customization can be like overeating, according to Leslie H. Moeller, vice-president of the Booz Allen strategy and technology consulting firm in Cleveland.

“It feels good when you’re doing it. Then you wake up one day and you’re 80 pounds overweight,” Moeller told management magazine strategy+business.

Marketing professor, Jerry Wind, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, added,  “If customers have too much choice, they cannot make a decision; they freeze.”

While customization is mostly great for businesses, it can be a pitfall for consumers. Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble, argues that despite the perks of customization, unintended negative consequences may arise.

In a TED talk, Pariser explained that the Internet is being subject to filtering, without users necessarily being consulted beforehand. Sites like Facebook, which are tailored to our individual online habits, filter our content accordingly. News and search results, on engines like Google, act the same way using various algorithms. As such, we risk not getting exposed to critical information, simply because other information is being filtered out by customization.

To demonstrate how extreme this idea of relevance could become, Pariser asked two friends, Scott and Daniel—both Caucasian and both from New York—to google “Egypt.” Daniel’s first page didn’t mention anything about the protests in Egypt, which was a major headline at the time, while Scott’s page did. Instead, Daniel’s results included links to travel agencies, the CIA Factbook of Egypt, and Egypt Daily News. These filters, according to Pariser, amount to a “filter bubble.” The danger, he argues, is that you don’t decide what gets in, and more importantly, you don’t see what’s left out.

While filtered content or “customized content” raises a number of privacy and information questions, the fact remains that most consumers want a product best suited for their needs and what better way to have that then by actively taking part in the production process—whether it’s your double non-fat extra foam macchiato or your new smartphone.

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