Ela Veresiu and her family had just arrived in Canada from Bucharest in the 1990s, only a few years after the Wall fell, and even though she was a little girl, it didn’t take long for her to realize her life had changed forever.
“I remember looking around the airport and seeing all the shops, and all the ads,” she recalls, smiling at the memory. “Even as we were driving home I kept seeing ads everywhere. It was a completely different world.”
That exposure to Western capitalism has not only stayed with her, but led the 29-year-old Veresiu, assistant professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, to pursue a personal mission of empowering consumers. This includes trying to change the way brands market to women — going beyond “pinkwashing,” for instance — while looking at how institutions can promote more responsible consumption and alleviate poverty, global warming and other ills.
“There needs to be a shakedown and a disruption to the way marketing is done,” she says, “and that includes looking more closely at the ads consumers choose to watch.”
Veresiu’s work includes the development of a MBA program, Marketing Gendernomics, which will encourage the next generation of marketing leaders to create campaigns that boost the confidence of not only women, but the LGBT community and others. Along with Markus Geisler, Schulich’s marketing area chair, she has co-founded the Big Design Lab and another course, Customer Experience Design, which has a waitlist of more than 100 students.
Geisler says he remembers Veresiu on her first day in his class — which is usually not one of the moments where anyone particularly stands out. “I remember asking her afterwards — and this is something I’ve never done before — whether she had thought about getting her PhD,” he says. “I truly believe Ela is Canada’s Sheryl Sandberg right now. She’s a total risk-taker. Where most people say, “I don’ think it’s such a good idea to contact this or that person,’ Ela does.”
That doesn’t mean it’s always been easy for her. “Ageism exists,” she says flatly when asked whether being one of the youngest business professors in North America — and a female one at that — has created any barriers. “When I taught my first Master’s class, I was really jumping into the deep end. I think the reaction would have been different if I were a man.”
Veresiu says the work she does with Geisler requires not only studying examples of advertising and marketing, but direct interviews with brands and agencies. “For us, data collection is not three months — it’s year-long or years-long,” she laughs. That comprehensiveness has allowed her to discover not only all the bad examples of how some companies try and appeal to women, but some good ones as well.
“If you look at a company like Tesla, for example, they’re not only on a mission to be a transportation leader, but to empower women in the automobile category,” she says. This includes putting showrooms next to high-end fashion outlets where women might shop in a mall, for instance, having female as well as male staff to answer questions and offering related Tesla merchandise like sunglasses or purses that go beyond male car buyers.
Veresiu’s work has taken her far beyond the confines of Schulich’s campus. This includes appearances to present the research she’s done in collaboration with Geisler at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.
Veresiu says she recognizes organizations won’t change the way they market products and services overnight. Her hope is that in the long term, more marketing executives will avoid short-term and myopic thinking — looking outside what’s going on in their own company and seeing the same bright future she does.
“It does take a leader with a certain vision,” she admits, though she’s optimistic the research will prove her point. “If it helps the bottom line, it will become a priority.”
There are insights and anecdotes aplenty in our 30 Under 30 editorial package. To get the scoop on our finalists visit 30U30.ca and read full profiles of Canada’s next set of marketing leaders.