Tag Archives: marketing

Dragging Theory

As she gets ready to celebrate the launch of her new book, Viva MˑAˑC author Andrea Benoit talks Judith Butler, the art of drag – and looks back to that notorious VIVA GLAM ad featuring RuPaul. During the month of June, proceeds from sales of Viva M·A·C will go to Casey House, a stand-alone hospital where people with HIV/AIDS can receive compassionate care without judgment.


Written by guest blogger Andrea Benoit.

Image courtesy of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

In season 9 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” drag queen Sasha Velour considered performing as philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler for the infamous Snatch Game challenge, which showcases the queens’ best celebrity impersonations in a game show setting. Aside from wondering what that would look like (and we’ll really never know as Sasha decided to perform as Marlene Dietrich instead, I was struck – yet again – at the prevalence of drag and how it’s now considered in wider and more popular contexts since the 1990s, when I talk about the art of drag in my new book, Viva MˑAˑC: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

Viva MˑAˑC  is the first cultural history of the originally Canadian cosmetics brand, and uncovers the origins of the company’s corporate philanthropy around HIV/AIDS awareness and fundraising. When MˑAˑC first started raising money through sales of its signature VIVA GLAM lipstick to support local AIDS organizations in 1994, AIDS was still largely a verboten subject for corporations. While many myths about AIDS were beginning to be dispelled, such as how HIV was transmitted, there was still great fear and rampant homophobia surrounding this medical condition.

MˑAˑC chose the relatively unknown drag queen RuPaul to be its first spokesperson for VIVA GLAM and Chairperson of its new charity, the MˑAˑC AIDS Fund. In 1995, RuPaul appeared in the company’s first advertisement, a provocative image that portrayed him spelling out the letters of VIVA GLAM, including the notorious letter “M” that gloriously depicted his legs splayed wide-open. Twenty-five years later, the Fund has raised almost $500 million for AIDS organizations globally. RuPaul’s mantra of “loving yourself,” combined with his entertaining, over-the-top glamour, brought international attention to the MˑAˑC AIDS Fund, and made addressing the AIDS epidemic a bit more palatable to a mass audience. Much has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, when Viva MˑAˑC’s narrative takes place. Folks live with HIV for decades now, as it’s no longer an immediate death sentence, thanks to antiretroviral medications.

And RuPaul is now famous. Back in early 2009, as I was beginning to outline the contours of what would eventually become my book, an intriguing new show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race” appeared on Logo TV, a niche American LGBTQ television channel. Debuting at the height of the reality television phenomenon (itself a subject of scholarly inquiry within my own field of Media Studies), RuPaul offered a completely different take, which promised to reveal “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” riffing on the then-popular “America’s Next Top Model” show to great, if unexpected, success.

Now, Sasha Velour considering performing as Judith Butler on season 9 harkens back to Butler’s own theorizing of drag twenty-five years earlier in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity  (1990) and later in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), when Viva MˑAˑCs narrative takes place. Traditionally, a drag performance is a very self-conscious presentation of gender norms, often being a hyper-stylized representation of femininity. Depending on the context, however, such performances offer potential sites for challenge, critique, and action, especially regarding the AIDS epidemic. While Butler did not really consider commercial or media contexts when she described the ways and spaces in which gender performances could be subversive in the 1990s, I argue in Viva MˑAˑC that MˑAˑC’s notorious VIVA GLAM ad featuring RuPaul should also be considered subversive: the very fact of featuring a drag queen “performing” in a beauty ad to promote awareness and fundraising for HIV/AIDS organizations was unheard-of for that time.

We’ve now come full circle: Sasha Velour can invoke Butler, confident that many in the audience would understand the reference. Butler herself responded to Sasha (much to her delight), admiring how “radical and fierce” Sasha was but also pointing out they were both connected in a mutual project that addressed the “struggle for freedom, for self-expression, for political rights, for the ability to walk down the street without being harassed, to be able to move across borders and express one’s political desires and have a form of life in which one can live and breathe and move as one pleases.”

Drag as an art form has evolved in amazingly creative and increasingly diverse and inclusive ways, and it’s now also mainstream entertainment, drag’s underground vernacular and traditions, even its theoretical underpinnings, becoming common parlance, thanks largely to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It’s worth remembering, though, and not just during Pride, that drag’s political and activist commitments run deep, wherever they show up: in the bar, on television, or in a lipstick ad. Viva MˑAˑC tells a little of that story.


Andrea Benoit is the Academic Review Officer in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is the author of Viva MˑAˑC: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

Unlocking The American Retail Value Proposition

Murray_TheAmericanRetailValueProp
Kyle Murray, author of The American Retail Value Proposition, discusses working in his father’s drugstore, researching customer behaviour, and other things that went into writing his book. 

How did you become involved in your area of research? What inspired you to write this book?

This book began when Professor Michael Pearce walked into my office at the Richard Ivey School of Business and asked me if I would be interested in taking over his highly acclaimed and very popular undergraduate and MBA courses in retail management. I was both honored and intimidated by the opportunity, but Michael made it easy for me and I was hooked. Teaching that course eventually led to my current role as a professor of marketing and the director of the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta’s School of Business – and, ultimately, to writing this book.

There are a lot of business books out there, but for retailers who want to get an overview of everything that you need to know to own or manage a retail business, there is surprisingly little available. While books exist on individual topics of branding or selling or merchandizing or customer management, no one was explaining how they fit together to create a complete and compelling value proposition.

How did you become interested in the subject?

The roots of this book go back to mopping floors and facing shelves in my father’s drug store – it was there that I fell in love with retailing. For that, and so much more, I have my family to thank.

How long did it take you to write your latest book?

About a year.

What do you find most interesting about your area of research?

The individual stories of retail businesses and, especially, the people who work in and build those businesses. I also like the rise of retail analytics and the application of a more scientific approach to running a retail business.

What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?

That it is a very rigorous scientific area of research. Studying consumers, for example, has gone from small sub-area in psychology and economics to a major field of research with thousands of scholars around the world trying to understand how we make decisions. And consumer research is only a part of retail research.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

The enormous impact of atmospherics on shopper decision making and how little we understand about it and how little it is used strategically by retailers. This is an emerging field that I am increasingly interested in and it has become a focus of my research lab. It may be the topic of my next book …

Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

I don’t have to, but I do and I think it does help inform my writing. For this book in particular I spent more time outside of my home country to focus on retailing in the United States. I was also able to incorporate observations of and conversations with retailers in other English-speaking countries that I have spent time in recently. Most notably Ireland and Australia. There are many similarities between the countries, but as the old saying goes “Retail is in the details!” and there are clearly important differences as well (which companies like Target have learned the hard way).

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Hmmm … that’s a tough question. I really enjoyed writing the book, but I think the most difficult part is balancing the time I spent on it with the many other demands on my time – from teaching to administration to basic research. I am lucky to have a supportive family that understands the lost evenings and weekends during the writing process.

What did you learn from writing your book?

As I was pulling all of my research, and the work of others, together to try and tell a clear story, I realized just how active a field retailing really is. Things change so quickly that it is difficult to capture generalizations, especially in areas like e-commerce and omnichannel shopping. My goal was to produce a framework that will stand the test of time and changes that have yet to be anticipated, based on more than a century of experience in the American marketplace.

What are your current/future projects?

Right now my focus is on basic research in atmospherics and repetitive decision making. My research team is studying how scent, sound, color and lighting affect consumer choice. We are also looking at the role of habitual decisions in retail shopper behavior.

What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

I like to read and my tastes are pretty eclectic. Right now, for pleasure, I am reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I am also reading a Chronicle of Commerce, which is a history of the business school at the University of Alberta. It is surprising how much changes and yet how much really stays the same.

What is your favourite book?

That is a tough question. A few that I have really enjoyed and consider classics are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Sun Also Rise by Ernest Hemingway and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead?

I have no idea …

The Life of a Higher Ed Sales Rep

The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation. To carry on the discussion, one of our publisher’s representatives, Kris Gies, provides some insight into the life and motivations of a higher ed sales rep.

Hello and salutations! While you read this, there is a strong possibility that either myself or one of my colleagues are currently visiting your school on behalf of the University of Toronto Press. Given the resumption of our sales travel, UTP’s ongoing series of blog posts is particularly timely, as it allows me the opportunity to share a bit about the work that I perform as a publisher’s representative, as well as some brief musings on the perks and challenges that I often encounter in my travels.

In a nutshell: As a publisher’s representative, I am tasked with marketing books published by the University of Toronto Press. Focusing on institutions of higher learning, through both email correspondence and in-person visits, I promote UTP titles with the aim of having them included as required course materials. Beyond this primary role, I also engage in acquisitions, providing information and advice for individuals who are interested in publishing books with us.

By its very nature, my work involves considerable travel. Over the course of an academic year I will have travelled from San Francisco to St. John’s, making a multitude of stops in between. I have logged so many miles that I have become a knowledgeable, fair judge of the quality of complimentary hotel shampoos, and have a greater familiarity with car rental agencies than a person probably should. From first-hand experience, I can confirm that the anguish of having one’s in-flight entertainment system fail mid-air is surprisingly powerful. I feel perfectly capable of crafting a thoughtful, original monograph on the intricacies of hotel and airline rewards programs and their effect on business traveller identity. I have yet to figure out how I will structure my analysis. Suggestions are welcome.

Despite the long hours which come with moving from place to place, I enjoy the inherent variety that comes with visiting so many schools. Each institution has its particular charm, and I have developed an ongoing fascination with the ways in which they set themselves apart while at the same time being bound by a universal set of similarities. Few schools offer good parking. Dining options vary wildly. Students regardless of location dress remarkably similar to one another and for whatever reasons (the prospect of achy calf muscles clearly being the least of which) universities are usually built atop hills. A true to scale, well-designed campus map is worth its weight in gold.

Each day of a sales trip brings with it great possibilities. I have the opportunity to meet new people and see familiar faces, and in the process let them know about the books we have taken great pride and effort in publishing. This enthusiasm is often reciprocated through a genuine interest in the work we do, yet there is always the fear as to whether or not my presence will be well received. Sometimes an unpleasant encounter can be attributed to a faculty member’s busy schedule. I can understand that while navigating a full day of courses, committee work, and research obligations, a visit from someone like myself is not always a welcome occurrence. Aside from the demands on one’s time, as suggested in Nate Kreuter’s piece for Inside Higher Ed, wider, well-entrenched perceptions certainly play an additional role.

From expressing dismay with overly-pushy reps, to being flooded with unwanted examination copies of dubious interest, Kreuter paints a broad, unflattering brush that reflects commonly-shared opinions towards those in my line of work. As someone who encounters these negative perceptions firsthand, I feel it important to stress how the Higher Education Division of UTP operates and a bit about my own approach to promoting our titles.

Kreuter’s call for publishers to offer more efficient, less bothersome means of informing instructors of course material options is something we have long had in practice. Aside from our Adobe-based electronic examination system, UTP has had a longstanding policy of sending review copies on a request-only basis. In doing so, not only do we avoid passing higher marketing costs on to the student, it also means that we are not contributing to the problem of an instructor being inundated with unnecessary, unwanted books.

Unlike large commercial presses, we take a strongly consultative approach. That is, rather than aggressively pursue sales leads, we instead aim to foster relationships with faculty, build an understanding of their interests, give suggestions from our lists that may meet their needs, and offer further assistance going forward. From my own work as an instructor during my doctoral studies, I am familiar with the challenges one faces when selecting course materials. As we know, the factors are numerous: Will this book help students understand key concepts? Does it fit well with how I teach? Can they afford it? This experience has allowed me to not only come with an initial understanding of my clients’ concerns, but also serves as a personal motivation to help others avoid the same stresses I encountered in designing my courses. Many of my colleagues are of similar backgrounds and educations, and this in turn similarly informs their work.

When I email or visit you in person, I am doing so with a clear objective in mind, be it to let you know of a UTP title that might be of use, follow up on a book you requested, or to simply touch base. I’d rather not waste my time or yours, so I try to learn what your teaching and research interests are and let you know in advance when I will be available. If it seems like I am particularly eager to say hello, it is due to matters of logistics and geography. As someone who traverses several states and provinces, I may only have the opportunity to visit a given school once or twice an academic year, and as such it is important to make the most of my time. As in many other settings, despite its convenience, email correspondence is no substitute for face-to-face conversations.

Such interactions I have during my travels are particularly valuable, as beyond simply getting to know people, they allow me the opportunity to keep abreast of pedagogical trends and how UTP can supply effective course materials both now as well as in the future. Indeed, I consider it a perk to be continually learning from the very experts in a given field. Sometimes these meetings even result in sparking an interest in writing the very books we hope will be a useful contribution to your discipline and how it is taught.

The next time you see myself or one of my colleagues at your office door, please keep in mind that we are there with the hope that through our efforts—the tedium of airplanes and airports, the driving of long distances, and the time away from friends and loved ones—in our little way, we are making your life a bit easier. It is simply good business.

And I apologize in advance for stopping by while you’re eating lunch…

-Kris Gies, Publisher’s Representative