On the evening of October 13th, as part of a series of Distinguished Professorial Lectures, Dr. Bill Foster presented “‘If there’s a goal that everyone remembers’: Social memory, Canada and competitive Advantage” at the Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre. The opportunity to present a Distinguished Lecture is given to those faculty members who have recently been promoted to full professor, as Dr. Foster was last July. His talk focused on his research, but has more of an impact than simply adding a line to his CV. Dr. Foster’s spoke of how Canadian companies use social memory to increase brand equity, and encouraged the audience to think about how certain products are marketed.
Foster, who has been a professor of management here at Augustana since 2006, told the audience that his presentation came out of research he was preparing for a class with physical education professor Stacy Lorenz. He was reviewing a book on hockey which got him thinking about tradition, and more specifically, how tradition can be used as a powerful tool in marketing. Foster spoke of using tradition, along with nostalgia, as assets of a theory of study called social memory, wherein memory promotes certain ideas that are socially embedded within groups and communities. These memories can then be used to create competitive advantage amongst companies that use it correctly to build brand equity and “extend the value of [an] organizations brand over and above [its] economic value.”
How Dr. Foster got to that from a book about Hockey Night in Canada demonstrates just a glimpse of his expertise and insight into both management and marketing. From there, Foster took us through a myriad of examples, starting with a scene from “Mad Men,” seguing into the traditions we’ve kept here at Augustana (like Founders’ Hall and the ringing of the convocation bell), and ending with a Scotiabank commercial that demonstrates the shared social experience of children playing hockey on the streets, emulating their favorite athletes, in order to position Scotiabank as a sponsor of the world cup of hockey, and ultimately, entice customers to buy into their brand. Another example of a company that draws on social memory is Tim Hortons, about which Foster notes “it’s hard to find a company that does social memory ads better.”
But why is this phenomenon important? Foster explains that companies use social memory all the time to create strategic advantage, that these processes are happening to us constantly and are not just inert, but instead, are methods we can criticize and reflect upon. Understanding how and when these strategies are in place allows one to engage in a way that facilitates critique, and prevents us from being passive receptors, or what management studies term “cultural dopes”.
For example, at the end of his presentation, Foster asks “What does hockey have to do with financial services?” The answer is not a whole lot, unless you’ve been enlightened by the use of social memory. When we are able to recognize the ways companies and organizations use different strategies to promote their brand, we become more adept at recognizing the mechanisms behind which we are influenced.
I spoke to Dean Allen Berger about the importance of these lectures, and who they are offered to. “Among the highest honours for a faculty member is promotion to full professor” Dean Berger explained. “The title recognizes significant contributions in all three areas of professional work (teaching, scholarship and service). Typically full professors also have a record of important leadership contributions to Augustana and often times beyond to the University of Alberta and to their disciplines. The reason for the lecture is both an opportunity for the individual to share some of his/her work while at the same time for the community to celebrate his/her accomplishments.” In the instance of Dr. Bill Foster’s lecture and contributions, the audience was lucky to be able to celebrate and share in his research, which reaches beyond the University of Alberta, even, and into the lives of all of us as members of a consumer culture.