Opinion: Valentine’s Day is a celebration of capitalism

Corporate greed, gendered marketing fuel billion-dollar Valentine's market

Opinion: Valentine’s Day is a celebration of capitalism

If you watch enough Hallmark movies, then you’ll come to associate chocolate, a candlelit dinner, and a couple exchanging gifts with the quintessential Valentine’s Day. If you watch the markets and the stores raising prices, however, you’ll see it for what it truly is: a celebration of capitalism.

In the US, spending on Valentine’s Day is expected to exceed $20 billion USD this year, according to the National Retail Federation. It is also the fourth most lucrative event on the retail calendar.

The average American consumer will spend approximately $162 USD on Valentine’s Day. That is about two full days of minimum wage work.

The worst part is that corporations make people in relationships feel obligated to spend more than they can afford on gifts and fancy dinners.

Compared to their southern neighbours, Canadians generally don’t spend that much, but what does seem consistent in Canada as the US is that more people want to receive Valentine’s gifts than people who are willing to spend on gifts.

According to Google Trends, one of the most popular related search queries for “valentine’s day” in Canada is “single on valentines day meme.”

That must mean something. Honestly, who doesn’t want to feel loved and appreciated?

Marketing teams know this and prey on it. In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s, advertising usually becomes more gendered and prices go up.

Take Bath & Body Works for example. Its website features a huge banner ad with the words, “She’ll love love love you forever.” The focus on women for Valentine’s Day isn’t new, especially for brands with a predominantly female consumer base.

This aligns with the belief of 81 per cent of Statista survey respondents in Canada who “believe women tend to be more spoiled on Valentine’s Day.”

Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been a marketing ploy to suck money out of your pocket. Like many holidays, Valentine’s originates from a pagan festival, Lupercalia.

The ancient Roman festival took place in mid-February to celebrate the coming of spring. A ritual called for priests, known as Luperci, to sacrifice goats and a dog, then wipe blood off their foreheads with milk-soaked wool and laugh. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but the festival was supposed to make women fertile.

In later years, Pope Gelasius I replaced it with St. Valentine’s Day in honour of Saint Valentine, a priest who was martyred for marrying couples despite Emperor Claudius II’s orders. The truth of this story is unknown and there are many different variations, but, either way, for a holiday about love, its beginning is heavily rooted in death.

The act of giving valentines began in the fifteenth century with cards decorated with Cupid to stay within the Roman theme. Later this expanded to include candy and flowers, things we now typically associate with the holiday. Now the traditional rituals associated with Valentine’s drift from greetings cards to experiences and evenings out.

Valentine’s may not have begun as a capitalist construct, but corporate greed has turned it — like many other days — into a financial burden for many. While celebrating Valentine’s Day is a choice, businesses have already instilled a consumerist expectation on the day.

If you add it all up, think about how much money you could save being single.

 

Examining multi-level marketing

A look into MLM companies’ business techniques, legality

Examining multi-level marketing

After a night of scrolling through my Instagram feed, I noticed several posts from friends who had started working for multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. It came as no surprise when I subsequently started receiving messages from salespeople along the lines of, ‘Hey, you have quite a following on social media. Do you want to make $500+ right from your phone?’

MLM has been criticized for its parallels with pyramid schemes. In the age of online influencers, sponsorships, and public relations campaigns, MLM companies have transformed their strategies from the days of door-to-door sales and mailed catalogues to promoting over social media. With a quick click or tap, users can easily sign up to work for an MLM company and may start earning commission in a matter of weeks.

It is no coincidence that these companies target millennials, including new graduates, stay-at-home parents, and desperate college students, who are more susceptible to exploitation. With all of this in mind, are MLM companies doing more harm than good?

What is an MLM company?

You may have had a family friend make a small profit selling cosmetics or an old high school classmate try to recruit you for a company they work for. That’s exactly what MLM tries to do.

MLM is a business structure that bases its income on direct sales commission from a network of distributors and subsequent recruits. MLM companies range from selling beauty and skincare products to clothing and home decor. Distributors not only earn commission for the products they sell but also on the products that their recruits sell.

According to David Soberman, Canadian National Chair of Strategic Marketing and Professor at the Rotman School of Management, MLM involves recruiting others to sell something tangible while earning commission on sales. “These people can recruit others. So you may have more than 2 levels between the company and the consumer,” Soberman wrote to The Varsity.

Some MLM companies may charge new distributors a starter fee in exchange for a distribution kit and other necessities to sell the product, while others may provide training and business tools to increase success when generating profit or hiring new recruits.

How is MLM different from a pyramid scheme?

Though they parallel features of pyramid schemes, MLM companies are not illegal in Ontario.

“Pyramid schemes entail recruiting members who pay a fee. A new member only obtains repayment and profits for enrolling others into the scheme, rather than supplying investments or from the selling of something tangible,” Soberman wrote. “As recruiting multiplies, recruiting may become impossible, and most members are unable to profit (and lose what they paid to join). As [a] result, pyramid schemes are usually illegal as the main flow of money is from recruiting people not from selling things.”

According to the Direct Sellers Association of Canada, MLM companies generated $2.55 billion in sales in 2015. A majority of those sales come from women. MLM companies, including Arbonne, Stella&Dot, ItWorks!, and Market America, have a strong presence in the Canadian market. In the US, Market America, which sells several lifestyle and beauty brands, received a federal lawsuit in 2017 for operating an illegal pyramid scheme targeting Chinese immigrants.

On its website, the US Federal Trade Commission writes, “If the money you make is based on your sales to the public, it may be a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s probably not. It could be a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money.”

MLM at U of T

U of T is no stranger to MLM controversies. Students have reported companies utilizing a clipboard scheme during lectures and companies recruiting students on campus. It is also no surprise that students turn to MLM companies to try to make a quick profit.

Rosemary Norheim, a former U of T student, currently works as a distributor at ItWorks! In response to controversies regarding MLM, Norheim wrote to The Varsity, “Every MLM and how it works is different, so I think some tend more towards being illegal than others.”

“It’s completely normal to have no one you know buy from you or join your team. I didn’t have either happen for months! Almost everything I do is with people I don’t already know. I may ask people I know for support, but it isn’t where the vast majority of sales or recruitments come in. If that’s the part that is being criticized — using friends and family — then what I do totally does not apply because that is not what my business is based on.”

After a few months with the company, Norheim claims to have earned roughly $2,700 and has recruited 18 women to her sales team.

How can you get out of one?

“The most important thing is to advise students not to pay anything or commit to pay anything when they join an MLM. Trouble occurs when a student signs a paper that says you accept 200 boxes of a product which you can sell at whatever price you want,” Soberman wrote. “If they are unable to sell, they are stuck with boxes of stuff they cannot sell and are also legally obliged to pay for it.”

Deleting the first message from a potential seller is the first step to avoiding them. Though enticing, the money advertised in a sales pitch may not always be accurate. Profit depends on how much product one sells, although users report losing more money than gaining.

While joining an MLM company may be a risky choice, for people like Norheim, the appeal can be too great to pass up.

Sports industry tycoons to converge at U of T

UTSB to host fifth annual Sports Industry Conference

Sports industry tycoons to converge at U of T

It is safe to say that Toronto is well on its way to becoming a sports city. The Pan Am games, the NBA All-Star game, and the unprecedented success of the Blue Jays and Toronto FC in the past year have gone a long way towards cementing the city’s reputation. The University of Toronto Sports and Business Association (UTSB) are capitalizing on the success of the city’s blossoming athletic scene. On March fourth the UTSB will host their fifth annual sports industry conference — one of the largest of its kind in Canada.

Revolutionary thinkers like NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and the NBA’s director of basketball analytics Jason Rosenfeld are two of many industry tycoons scheduled to attend the conference as keynote speakers, delivering talks on recent trends and disruptions in sport.

The conference, which will be held at Rotman Commerce’s Desautels Hall, is one of the most anticipated events of the year for U of T students and Toronto sports fans alike — and it’s run entirely by students.

“The marketing team has been working hard on curating promotional content and advertising the event across different platforms, mediums, and organizations,” said Arco Recto, the UTSB’s marketing director regarding the lead-up to the conference this year. In preperation for the event, the UTSB’s events and corporate teams have been working non-stop in order to curate a seamless and exciting experience.

This year, the theme of the conference is “Behind the Game: Building the Playbook.” The theme is centered around a team’s playbook and strategy and examines how the playbook is developed to aid players and help deliver a winning team.

“[The theme] was developed from this notion that the esteemed roster of speakers speaking at our conference undertake a myriad of duties and responsibilities that the public are not necessarily aware of,” explained Recto, adding that behind every award winning team there exists an entire organization of individuals who work together to develop the playbook strategy. 

“By looking at statistics from something like a basketball game, fans and sports professionals are able to identify another dimension to the sports they’ve loved,” explained Dan Oh, a fourth-year Rotman Commerce student and the current president of the UTSB.

For professionals working in the industry or students looking to get their foot in the door, the conference seeks to provide opportunities to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of major league sports teams. “In the past couple years, the UTSB and U of T have collectively seen a huge student drive to work in the industry. The UTSB serves those needs and provides a platform for both students and professionals to connect, and discuss new ideas,” comments Oh.

Recently, an increasing number of professionals have become enthusiastic about attending the conference as well. Mathieu Bilodeau, a second year student who works in the UTSB’s corporate relations department notes that there has been a significant increase in acceptances to speak and attend the conference by sports organizations, media, and professionals. “I only see the potential of the quality of speakers and the knowledge they impart increase as we keep hosting [the conference],” he said.

As an organization, the UTSB also provides an opportunity for students to engage in the business, marketing, events, and corporate aspects of the sports industry — processes that may not be understood or appear transparent to those looking at a successful league from the outside.

“In my first and second year as a student, I faced the same ordeal that many students faced and still face today: not knowing what to do with their life,” says Recto, who adds that due in part to his involvement with the UTSB, he has landed jobs with the Raptors and Maple Leafs in their community relations departments, as well as the Blue Jays’ marketing department. “There is no greater feeling to work in an industry and organization where you share the same interests, values, and passion,” says Recto.

The conference will kick off with a talk by keynote speaker Jack Armstrong, the Toronto Raptors’ broadcaster, as he interviews Canada Basketball’s president, Michele O’Keefe on the issue of the growth of basketball throughout the country.

The conference will tackle sports data and analytics with the NBA’s Jason Rosenfeld on how the league keeps track of its stats, which it values most, and what the optimal player in each position looks like. Former gold medalist Johann Olav Koss and Toronto FC General Manager, Tim Bezbatchenko will discuss sports strategy as well.

To cap off the event Bill Daly the NHL’s deputy commissioner will give a talk about the expansion of hockey and the ramifications this international growth has for the sport.