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Breadman's Daughter| Views: 291

I started my career in advertising working for a small direct marketing company in Toronto. For historical context, this was back in the early eighties. We hawked affordable, short-format-introductory-adult-education courses that were equal parts entertainment and education. I use both these terms loosely here. We fondly referred to the company as the MacDonald’s of education. It was the fast food of higher learning. That pretty much says it all. The instructors, however, were professionals in their respective fields and highly skilled at teaching more in less time. Some were even quasi celebrities in Toronto.

Mostly, the courses ran weeknights for four weeks and weekends so that in as little as two hours a week, working people could attend and learn something new. Like Thai cooking, shiatsu massage, folk guitar, demystifying computers, financial planning, squash or golf, etiquette for the eighties, becoming a radio star, and my personal favorite, quick wit and repartee (the name of an actual course). Plus, sundry other fascinating subjects of that ilk. Nothing too heady or intellectual. Nothing that taxed tired brains. Except the course in tax planning. If you could dream it up, we’d create a course to fulfill your dream.

The belief was that students came to these courses mentally fatigued after spending their day slumped over a desk or something equally slump-able. And we were the quick-fix panacea.

These Mickey Dee’s type courses were designed to be fun and informative. To give you a wee taste of the subject matter. A bite-sized nugget of wisdom. Not a deep dive. The idea was to get out of the house or apartment for an evening, socialize and meet interesting people in your demographic, and bonus, learn something new and possibly even life enhancing, to boot. The experience provided adults an alternative to going to the pub, nightclub club, bar or bar mitzvah. At least that’s what we told ourselves. At the time it was a good promotional hook. And it worked. We were wildly successful.

I wore a few different hats on that job. And high heels, cute pant suits, and rather short skirts. But I digress in dress. Back to the eighties. The point is, I hired the instructors, was the in-house copywriter, the production manager and I laughed out-loud (a lot), sang sad songs, and whistled while I worked. I also organized monthly networking evenings that were held at a downtown restaurant or wine bar, typically in Yorkville, where students and instructors could meet, mix and mingle over cocktails, chat about how much fun they had in class that week, exchange business cards, and maybe even meet someone special. The irony isn’t lost here. A direct mail company sells adults an alternative to meeting people in bars holds events in bars so they can meet people. It was the eighties. There was disco. Nothing made sense.

The vehicle we used to promote these courses was something we referred to as magalogue. It wasn’t quite a magazine, but it was more than a catalogue. We produced one every two months. It had a few articles that appealed to our demographic, profiles on teachers, course descriptions, event promos (mainly just the networking evenings) and featured photography often of our students or teachers on the glossy front cover. We did split-market testing on the covers to determine if real people were more effective than models; if women drew more customers, aka students, than men; and if red type was more persuasive than black. I don’t recall how the type performed but pretty women (aka models) were our most successful covers. Like fashion magazines, people were drawn to the aspirational (according to our research back then). The desire for something more, something better, something else.

And like our students, I had my own aspirations. After five years of peddling pedagogy, I landed my first real gig as a real copywriter at a real advertising agency. It was real. So real.

And the rest is a history lesson.