All posts by June Cotte

I am a Professor of Marketing at Ivey Business School, Western University, in London, ON, Canada.

Consuming Fiction

My husband and I both read a couple of novels over the recent holidays. Turns out, the fact that we both read some novels, and routinely do, makes us unusual. Well, it makes him, especially, unusual. I just finished reading John Irving’s “Avenue of Mysteries.” The main character, a novelist, talks about women being the main readers of novels, something I hadn’t really thought about before. So I did a little digging, and found that this isn’t really a new insight, but something I just hadn’t come across, or at least recalled hearing about, in the past.

In 2005, Ian McEwan wrote: “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” A 2010 Harris Poll reported a gender gap in fiction reading too, with 84% of US women who read books (at least one in the past year) reporting reading a fiction book, versus 73% of the US men who read books. You can read about that survey here. But why do women consume more fiction than men do?

In 2000, Steven J. Tepper reported that some of the gap between male and female reading incidence, of any material, can be explained by parental encouragement (with females more likely than males to be encouraged to read as children). Pertaining to fiction reading only, he found that the gender gap disappears once childhood socialization into the arts more generally was accounted for. I found some other findings fascinating here too; for example, Tepper reports that reading skill actually inflates the gender differences in reading at higher levels of reading proficiency. And finally, he reports that the gap isn’t just due to more free time (less full-time work), because when work status is kept constant, the gender gap for fiction are drops just a little bit. He concludes the story is a socialization and gender stereotype one: men who crossed gender boundaries in other aspects of leisure, and were encouraged to do so by parents, were more likely to become readers of fiction later. The gap hasn’t really shrunk much: a 2014 study found that 69% of U.S. men reported reading at least one book in the last 12 months, versus 82% of U.S. women. Fiction reading, as an activity, seems to be gendered. Hhhmmm.

Which brings me to the consumption of fiction and marketing to those consumers. (I won’t discuss the extensive coverage of the quality of fiction, and the role of author gender in literary awards; that is a huge ongoing debate). Although dated now, this NYTimes article is characteristic of the coverage of the fiction market, with its conclusion that fiction must appeal to women readers to sell well, and publishers and literary agents are quite aware of this. These commentators argue that not only do the novel’s themes need to appeal to female fiction readers, and that female authors have a large advantage, but also that successful novels must have strong female characters in order to be marketable. But this seems curious to me, as all the data I’ve found so far seems to indicate that the gender readership gap in fiction, with women reading far more fiction than men, has been around for more than a century, or more. And 100 years ago, women fiction readers could not have only been reading female authors and books with strong female characters, because there were fewer of those then.

I am certainly not against strong female characters, and my favorite authors include men and women, but I enjoy good stories, well-written, regardless of the sex of the characters. I think the data point to a much larger cultural shift at play in fiction marketing, which seems at odds with cultural shifts in other domains. As we so rightly “de-gender” toy departments and McDonald’s Happy Meals (a friend recently asked for the “boy toy” only to be told there are no such things in Happy Meals anymore) we seem to be deliberately gendering fiction, to boost sales. What’s going on?

Inaugural Consumption Blog

This is an inaugural missive of what I hope will become a regular commentary on consumption and marketing issues. (Some of you know I’ve been using this domain for family travel blogs for the last year or so. Those are still here, just filed away).

For this first entry, I’d like to reflect on being a professor of marketing, while simultaneously being a person who believes strongly we should consume less. It’s a conundrum, for certain. This conundrum will flavor this blog.

Sometimes I introduce myself as “the anti-marketing marketing professor.” But that’s a joke. I honestly believe that teaching and learning the art and science of marketing is a worthy endeavor, and that organizations that get marketing right are much better off than those who do not. That marketing helps companies, but also helps our economic system to flourish, and that marketing, done well, should inform and help consumers too.

While perhaps not as obviously, I think we would all be better off learning to be better consumers. What does better mean in this context? I don’t just mean smarter deal shoppers, although that is part of it. I don’t just mean being more aware of contextual influences on our purchasing behavior, although that is part of it. I don’t just mean being reflexive consumers, stopping to wonder whether we truly have a need, although that is part of it too. And I don’t just mean being cognizant of the social and cultural system at play that influences our consumption in direct and indirect ways, although that is part of it too. I mean all of it. At once. And the difficulties inherent in trying to do that. All the time.

So, expect this blog to be more about consumption and consumers than anything else. I hope to fashion a mix of research insight, commentary on current marketing and consumption trends and happenings, and maybe even some consumption-related advice. We’ll see as it evolves. Feel free to comment, to vent, to argue, and of course, to share!

The End of the Journey

For those of you reading these blog posts for the last 11 months: thanks! All good things must end, though.

I suspect this will be the last travel-related blog from us. Starting in about September, I’ll refresh the look and feel of the site and turn it towards marketing and academic content. So, just to warn you: the cute pictures and kid blogs will end (although I will find a way to keep all the trip content tucked away somewhere on the site).

Speaking of cute pictures…

Even after 2 solid months of family time, they still cuddle!
Even after 2 solid months of family time, they still cuddle!

We ended our crazy, wonderful year with a few days in Bruges. If you’ve seen the movie “In Bruges” you know that some people may find it a little boring. We did not. We had a great stay there, just wandering the canal streets and cute alleys. We also went to a very interesting style of history museum, Historium, complete with a virtual reality trip back to the medieval times. Oh, and I did I mention that Belgium has great beer?

So many beer choices...
So many beer choices…

Bruges is a place I would love to return to: for the food, the atmosphere, the beer, the cycling opportunities, the beer…

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I’ve been delaying writing this final blog for several reasons. First, it’s hard to figure out how to sum up our year (more on that below). Second, the Semester at Sea students have done such an incredible job posting short videos of their experiences that a combination of old school words and still pictures just doesn’t seem sufficient. And finally, because I’ve been reading some of the travel blogs from some of the excellent writers that were on the ship with us, and again, I feel completely inadequate! But alas, I will try to describe the past year. I will try and avoid words such as “best,” “worst,” and “favourite,” as those words don’t do justice to any of the experiences. Here goes:

Our year can best be imagined as a series of waves that sometimes overlapped, and sometimes crashed into one another. When two positive waves, such as those created by new friends and fantastically interesting experiences, collided, it created almost pure joy. One example would be my very vivid memory of driving in the rain in Vietnam, having experienced Hanoi and Halong Bay, and watching Joe play a new “game” with his friend Summer Genovese. The game was who could do the best work in long division problems! As I said: pure joy.

When two negative waves, such as those created by extreme uncertainty and high stress, collided, it created misery. Mid-December, as we were temporarily homeless, terrified by the seeming indifference of the Indian visa authorities as they told us our visas wouldn’t be ready in time (they were), and leaving a bunch of my “trip clothes” behind in my sister’s (sold and about to be packed up) house, was a very bad time. But our friends and families came to the rescue; perhaps they don’t even realize how much. So thank you Nick and Lauren Teevan, Matt Thomson and Allison Johnson, and Doug and Joan Cotte. Your assistance last year got us through a very bad time.

The year itself came in three chunks, of course: Sedona Arizona, Semester at Sea, and Europe. For two thirds of those chunks, the kids were alone with Dan and I. That was a challenge for them, so we were thrilled that they connected with a great group of “ship kids” as we sailed around the world. In addition, Joe’s “big sisters” Ashleigh and Panache, and Jack’s “big brother” Jared, were an awesome addition to the family. And Jazmine, who we all adored. For all of us, I think Semester at Sea was the “main course” of the year, for many reasons. Europe presented challenges (constant movement, lots of planning, trying to find family rooms and food kids would eat) but also cultural touchstone moments, for all of us.

Travel is intimidating, humbling, and fantastic. I know the boys have imprinted experiences (good and bad) that won’t leave them, for better or worse, ever. Eleven months, 19 countries, many more cities. Planes, trains, buses, cars, ships, and some boats… When can we do it again?

Joe’s Last Post Animals Around the World

Hi, I will be back in London in 3 days 🙂

To celebrate I will be doing a list of where I went and the animals I saw over the last 11 months:

1 Hawaii: I saw not a lot of animals but I saw a cut cat purr

2 Japan: are you kidding? We saw awesome cute ducks I told you about last January

3 China: some really cool birds

4 Vietnam: newborn puppies in a truck (to be eaten) 😦

5 Singapore: tons of birds at the Singapore Bird Park and animals at the Night Safari (remember?)

Singapore Bird Park
Singapore Bird Park

6 Myanmar: a big ox that I got to pet and feed for sure

Ox in Myanmar
Ox in Myanmar

7 India: Indian elephant (when you ride on the top of them it looks like a butt)

Indian elephant
Indian elephant

8 Mauritius: a cool fish (it had a spike-like thing)

9 South Africa: giraffe you know, the thing with a blue tongue and a long neck

South African giraffe and her baby
South African giraffe and her baby

10 Namibia: big strong seals, and also small, helpless baby seals

Namibian Seals
Namibian Seals

11 Morocco: tamed monkeys with clothes on and tamed snakes

Dancing snake, Morocco
Dancing snake, Morocco

12 London: the Canadian goose and Mallard ducks (end of the ship trip)

13 Greece: cats

14 Rome: cats

15 Siena: cats

16 Cinqe Terre: cats

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17 Venice: no cats

18 Austria: no kangaroo (get it…Austria/Australia…)

19 Germany: the tender wild beer

20 Langais, France: Oscar the rescued dog (is that a show?)

Shaun and Patrick's dog Oscar
Shaun and Patrick’s dog Oscar

21 Brittany: cool dog that had small eyes, and claws on its legs (French Shepard)

23 Normandy: 3 cats; one fat white cat, one regular white cat, and a black baby cat

Normandy cat
Normandy cat

24 Paris: a nice, pretty, lost white cat

25 Bruges: swans (that cute white thing with long wings)

One of many Bruge swans
One of many Bruge swans

26 Amsterdam well… we only saw 2 animals so, magpies. So this the last time rattling on about the adventure, because when I wrote this I was coming home to Canada (Toronto).

Good bye!

Jack’s (Last) and Most Sarcastic Blog to Date

So: the last city in Europe. I don’t count Amsterdam because we stayed close to the airport and didn’t see the city. I am currently writing this on a plane listening to Taylor Swift. So that means I’m writing what I want to write even though I promised I’d write about the stuff after Rome to fill in space for a wanting audience. Well I don’t care.

 

So here’s our two-day trip in Bruges. I think we shouldn’t have gone to Normandy so long; Bruges was far better. My aunt Judy says some people say Bruges is boring and to them I say, “Boo you.” The first day we checked in to a hotel. Wow, really Jack, I did not see that coming, you live so dangerously (sarcastic comment of the day).

The bear in our B&B's lobby
The bear in our B&B’s lobby

 

The first full day we went to a place called “Historium”. It is an interactive experience telling you a story of Bruges in the 15th century. Then after the main attraction they added a virtual reality experience. In it you sail to Bruges in a trader ship. The way you had to enter Bruges then was to stop at a large canal and hop on a bunch of small boats to deliver your goods.

 

Then we went to the market in the center square. There was a huge piece of modern art there. I usual hate modern art! I mean loath, hate, despise. I’m on a level where if I could rule the world I would outlaw modern art and any one who owned it would be sentenced to life in prison. So now that you now my view on modern art I have to say the guy that made this is awesome. It’s this massive glass thing that I don’t understand the meaning of. But the thing that makes it cool is that inside one of the glass panels is actually a one-way mirror. Joe and I went inside. So what we did is that every person that stopped to look at it got a magically knocking sound in his or her head.

 

Look at this!
Look at this!

The next day we just walked around. We stopped at this brewery that’s been working and run by the same family since 18XX. We ate lunch there. It was pretty good. Then we walked close to canals just exploring. We saw a bunch of swans and ducks. Then we took the train to Brussels to catch a train to Amsterdam. Then we got on a shuttle to the hotel. The next day we got up early to catch a flight back to Toronto. So now I’m writing my blog on a plane.  

View from the top of the brewery
View from the top of the brewery
One of many Bruge swans
One of many Bruge swans
Stalking baby ducklings
Stalking baby ducklings

 

Paris

This will be one of my last travel-related blogs, as we wrap up our incredible 11 month adventure.

Loving Paris.
Loving Paris.

We’ve just spent a week in Paris, living in an apartment in the 14th arrondissement, in the Montparnasse area. Nothing fancy about the neighbourhood, and not many tourist sites. Perfect. Yet we could walk to Luxembourg Gardens and lots of restaurants, and, of course bakeries…

Baguettes as big as your head!
Baguettes as big as your head!

We had a fantastic week, although unseasonably cold weather, and some rain, continued to plague us. We took advantage of the sunny days for long walks though. Although Jack isn’t much of an “art guy,” even he enjoyed the Louvre.

I couldn't stop giggling in front of every Titian picture in the Louvre.
I couldn’t stop giggling in front of every Titian picture in the Louvre.

When we first talked about the European leg of our journey, we asked the boys what they most wanted to see. Joe was quick and clear: I want to see the Eiffel Tower, and that lady painting with the smile. Done and done!

We agree: it's a smirk
We agree: it’s a smirk

We also got to climb the Arc de Triomphe, which offers a small museum inside and great views of the city from the top. And speaking of views, the Tour Montparnasse, near our apartment, offered a great view of the Eiffel Tower, and the city, from the top.

At the top of the Tour Montparnasse
At the top of the Tour Montparnasse

We had a great week. Yes, it was crowded, and yes, it was smoky. But it is such a fantastic city. Jack says Paris is his favourite place so far, and we’ve seen a lot of places! They both loved running along the Seine, touching the Eiffel Tower, and just generally wandering the city.

Joe and Jack are really very homesick, and are counting down the days until we go home. As I write, we’ve just finished a three day visit to Bruges, Belgium and we head to Amsterdam tomorrow, Joe’s 10th birthday. As the kids say “2 more sleeps until we leave for home.”

Jack on Normandy

Now I know you are all thinking the same thing; “Jack this delayed blogging was kind of funny the first time but now you’re pushing it”. And yes I am. But to be fair I’m in Paris, so be happy I’m not talking about Paris. Normandy was nice. That’s it, blog is over…………… well there were cats too…

Just kidding here it goes. We drove from Brittany to Caument L’Evente. This beautiful little town wasn’t beautiful. I actually think my parents went out of the way to find the only town in Normandy where every one wants to get rid of tourists (especially Bretons).

There was one bed and breakfast. I’ll give you a hint that’s where we stayed. They were really nice. The lady running the place also had three cats. My favorite was this old one that had one expression. Give me food or die!!!!

One of the three cats at the cool B&B
One of the three cats at the cool B&B

Then the second last day I was on Instagram and the cat said, “you will be a pillow”. So I was a cat pillow. It also ran away from Joe; so massive plus there.

The first day we went to Juno beach. The Juno beach exhibit is completely staffed by Canadians. I had honestly forgotten how much I loved Canadians. They are so friendly, and it’s not just because I’m Canadian there were staff everywhere else no one was as friendly as the nice lady from Ontario who gave me candy to say this. After that we went to Omaha. Which is what is what you see in movies. Unless there climbing hills then it’s the rangers. This is because: ‘Merica. Omaha was much bigger with twice as many troops landing there than Juno.

The D Day Beaches in Normandy
The D Day Beaches in Normandy

They have a massive graveyard of over nine thousand troops buried there.

A portion of the American Cemetery, Normandy
A portion of the American Cemetery, Normandy

The last day we went to Bayeux. They have a massive tapestry that’s 70 meters long. It had to wrap a corner of a massive hall. It was made in medieval times right after William the Conquerer took over England. Some history buffs may say: “but Jack he was originally William the Bastard”. And I say to you, yes (it is my favorite name for him, but oh well) but this is after he took over England making, him the Conquerer. Then we went to a WWII museum that took a look at the strategy of the taking of France from Nazi Germany and the equipment. They had tanks!!!

Then we left for Paris, the city of single 13 year olds and pizza (there is no truer love).

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