Does advertising really work? How is that measured?

“Does advertising work? How is it defined?” asks Richard Seymour in Brechin, Ont.   “How can we tell if it works? Is there a way to measure if advertising is effective?” Susan Krashinsky, The Globe’s advertising and marketing reporter, says: “Yes, advertising works. No, advertising does not work. Both of these statements can be true.” She explains:

When you’ve been cringing at pricey airfares for your sister’s destination wedding and you see an ad for a seat sale that kicks your credit card into gear, advertising works. When a story connects with you on an emotional level, or aligns with values that you hold dear, advertising works. When a brand builds an image of trust and value, advertising works.

When you are just trying to read an article and an annoying ad pops up on the screen, or includes too much animation that interrupts the experience, advertising doesn’t work. When advertisers lie, and consumers find out about it, advertising doesn’t work – last year, 65 per cent of Canadians surveyed by the Gandalf Group on behalf of Advertising Standards Canada said they had stopped purchasing a product or service because the ads were unacceptable to them. When advertisers try to target their ads to people who are more likely to be receptive, but cross the line when it comes to privacy, consumers are creeped out and advertising doesn’t work.

It is possible to build a successful brand without advertising. When Milton Hershey launched a candy company in 1894, he was skeptical of the whizzbangery of advertising and focused the bulk of his investments on making good chocolate. He did, ahem, pretty well.

But while Hershey found success with little advertising, the company’s more recent stewards have reconsidered the approach: between 2006 and 2013, Hershey more than quintupled its marketing spending, and saw sales rise. Chief Growth and Marketing Officer Mike Wege told Advertising Age that “it became increasingly clear to us that great advertising well executed can have a greater growth impact in the category than perhaps the company has historically understood.”

So we know ads can work. Your other question – how can we measure advertising’s success – is the more important one.

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How accurate are political polls? And who chooses the participants?

“I see a lot of articles that quote Ipsos Reid polls or a poll in regards to who will win the next election,” writes Shera Kelly in Vancouver, B.C. “How do they decide who will participate? And how accurate are polls, really?”  The Globe’s online Politics editor Chris Hannay has your answer:

Let’s back up for a second: Why do we report on polls in the first place?

Polls have been a fixture of political reporting for years, especially in elections. They give a glimpse of how some Canadians are feeling at a certain point in time, which helps us understand how popular our democratically-elected governments are and whether their agendas have public support. And in elections, those polls also suggest to us whether those leaders will survive the next vote.

On the other hand, critics of polls say they can be misleading or be self-fulfilling: for instance, some suggest that polls in Alberta in 2012 that had the Wildrose in the lead caused some voters to change their minds when confronted with the idea of that party actually getting into power. (Note that the polls showed the NDP — also an insurgent opposition party — with runaway support in 2015, and the New Democrats did indeed end up winning.)

Darrell Bricker, the global CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, says that not reporting on polls just isn’t an option. “If you don’t have these public polls, the only people who will have access to them are the rich and powerful or the parties themselves,” he said.

Poll participants are selected in a couple of different ways, depending on the methodology used.

“There’s no one way to get a hold of people these days. In the old days, it used to be really easy,” Mr. Bricker said. Pollsters could just call landlines,  which everyone had, and the response rates were high.

Now, there are traditional surveys that collect random samples of opinions, such as when pollsters call random cell or landline phones. And there are non-random samples, like asking questions of panels of Canadians online, which firms recruit through phone calls or website ads.

How accurate are the polls? Results can vary widely from firm to firm and methodology to methodology. For instance, in polls that rely on randomly calling up participants, there is a standard statistical margin of error around whether the random pool you have is truly representative of the larger population.

Another source of error is just plain people changing their minds. “One of the big challenges for the research community is what I’ll call last-minute political shoppers,” said Nik Nanos, chair of Nanos Research. A respondent might tell a pollster one thing on the phone, and then do something else when they get into the voting booth.

But mostly the track record is pretty good. In the most recent Alberta election, all eight firms that were in the field correctly called the winner and were only, at most, a few points off from the final results, according to a review by Éric Grenier, who writes on polls for

And in the 2011 federal election, all the polls in the final days had the Conservatives winning and the NDP jumping into second place.

Follow Chris Hannay on Twitter, read our ongoing 2015 Federal Election coverage and learn more about Canadian political polls here



Should I move my car after an accident if it’s blocking traffic?

“Is it okay to move your car after an accident or should you leave it in place until the police arrive — even if it’s blocking traffic?” asks Shelley Rowland on Twitter. Globe Drive’s Jason Tchir has the answer:

If nobody’s hurt and your car is drivable, move it out of the way, police say.

“There’s no law here that says you have to move it,” says Const. Clint Stibbe, with Toronto Police traffic services. “But we do have signage up mainly on the expressways that asks drivers involved in a minor collision to move their vehicles off the roadway.”

Police don’t usually show up at minor accidents — they only come if there’s an injury serious enough to send someone to the hospital or if there’s a criminal charge like impaired driving. If any of those apply, wait for police and don’t move your vehicle.

But, in a minor accident, it’s up to you to move your car out of the path of traffic — or off the road entirely.

“If your collision happens on a major highway, instead of moving to the shoulder, the OPP would like the drivers to exit off the highway and find a parking lot or side street to avoid any visual distractions,” says OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt. “This is the safest thing to do if you need to exchange info with any other drivers or call your insurance company.”

Read the full answer here and follow Globe Drive on Twitter 

The boat people from Libya have to pay the smugglers. Where do they get the necessary cash?

Globe reader Rob Iveson in Toronto asks, “The boat people from Libya have to pay the smugglers.  Where do they get the necessary cash?”  Doug Saunders, The Globe’s international affairs columnist has interviewed people getting on human-smuggling boats in Libya in 2004 and 2011, and in Tunisia and Egypt in more recent years.  He has this to say about the funds, and where they come from:

Generally the cost charged by the boat pilots is between $1,500 and $3,000 per person. That’s to get on one of those overcrowded, unsafe fishing boats which have a high chance of capsizing and causing death.

The people who do this have generally saved for a long time—especially since they’ll generally need more money if they’re going to make a start in the underground economies of Europe, or attempt an asylum application if they’re fleeing conflict.

A number of them are middle-class, by African and Middle Eastern standards- this means they have probably saved for months.  But some are working people who have worked at jobs for a long time to save up – some come to Tripoli or Tunis or Alexandria and work on construction sites for a year or more to get enough money to take the chance.  Really poor people, such as farmers or peasants or people in real poverty, are not part of the Mediterranean boat population.

As I wrote recently, this isn’t people fleeing absolute poverty, but reasonably well-established people seeking specific work opportunities abroad.

In his weekend column, Saunders wrote:

The Mediterranean boat people have been coming for more than a decade, paying small fortunes to enter the continent aboard disturbingly overpacked vessels. They began arriving after Europe’s legal migration routes shut down in the 1990s, but never have their numbers been so large – or the death toll so high. When an estimated 850 people died in a single capsizing incident last weekend, driving this year’s toll to over 1,600 – 30 times higher than the toll for the same period last year – their fate became a continent-wide crisis, provoking an emergency European Union meeting on Thursday and an outraged response from across the political spectrum.

But “How do we stop this from happening?” is not such a simple question. To answer it, you first need to answer another question: “Why are these people taking such risks?” And it’s worth asking a third, often ignored question, as well: Why has illegal-boat migration to Europe peaked during certain years, then virtually vanished for long periods, only to reappear again? What has made it stop before, and what will make it stop again?…

An unstoppable flood of desperate poor people fleeing Africa to a new life in Europe – that is the phrase uttered, in one form or another, by headline writers and politicians to summarize the crisis.

Yet, every word of that sentence is wrong. And much of the current catastrophe, most of the drowning horrors, have been caused by the failure of policy-makers to understand how wrong those words are.

Follow Doug Saunders on Twitter, and read his full column: The real reasons why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere

After the winter we’ve had, my car floor is covered in salt stains. Any tips?

“After the winter we’ve had, my car floor is covered in salt stains,” writes George in Mississauga, Ont. “How do you remove salt stains from a car’s floor rug?”  Globe Drive found the answer:

With some water, vinegar and care. You will need a brush, some absorbent rags and a vacuum, preferably a wet/dry shop vac. First off, vacuum the area carefully, getting as much dirt and dry salt out as possible. Do not press too hard as this will force the salt further into the carpet and perhaps damage the fibres.

Now spray a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water unto the affected areas and let stand for a few minutes. Use a brush to lightly loosen the salt. Avoid the temptation to rub the stained area heavily.

Spray and soak again, this time using an absorbent cloth to wipe the area. If you have a wet/dry vacuum use it to remove the remaining moisture. Do not use the family household vacuum – there will be expensive results from ingesting the salty water! If you do not have a wet/dry vacuum use absorbent towels or even a bunch of paper towels. Press down on the damp area with as much weight as possible.

Read the full article here, and follow Globe Drive on Twitter 

How can we prevent or delay Alzheimer’s?

“How can we push back or prevent Alzheimer’s?” asks Claudette in Quebec City. As with most health-related issues, the answer is we can do our best with diet and exercise. The Globe’s dietitian wrote a piece this week that outlined a new diet that may help stave off Alzheimer’s:

According to a study, a hybrid of these two eating plans – called the MIND diet – is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. That’s true even if you don’t follow the diet strictly.

Along with elements from the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND diet includes specific foods and nutrients found in past studies to be linked to optimal brain health. The diet’s 10 “brain-healthy food groups” include green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.

The plan also advises that five unhealthy food groups – red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese (because of its high saturated-fat content), pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food – be limited.

The findings also hinted that the longer a person follows the MIND diet, the greater the protection from Alzheimer’s disease.

While this observational study shows promise for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t prove cause and effect. The results need to be confirmed by randomized controlled trials, the gold-standard evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship.

These new findings add to a growing body of evidence that strongly suggests your overall dietary pattern matters more than single nutrients when it comes to Alzheimer’s prevention.

Eating a combination of healthful foods that deliver a wide range of protective nutrients while, at the same time, minimizing your intake of foods that may harm brain cells is what counts.

Read the entire article – including the specifics o the MIND diet – here.  In a December 2014 article, The Globe’s fitness expert Alex Hutchison wrote about U.S. research that studied 150,000 participants and showed, “regular exercise lowers the risk of dying from Alzheimer’s by as much as 40 per cent – an indication that the disease’s progression is not unchangeable.”

“Currently, doctors do not screen for Alzheimer’s disease susceptibility because of the belief that nothing can be done for those at risk,” says Dr. Paul Williams, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and the author of the study. “However, our results add to the growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that people can be proactive in lowering Alzheimer’s disease risk.”

The results also showed that running and walking are equally effective as long as you burn the same amount of energy overall. That means you need to spend about twice as much time (or cover 50 per cent more distance) walking briskly compared to running, Williams says.

That doesn’t mean that lesser amounts of exercise are useless, cautions Dr. Jordan Antflick of the Ontario Brain Institute, who co-ordinated a 2013 report on the role of exercise in Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment.

“You don’t have to run a marathon,” he says. “Even raking the leaves or going for a walk after dinner can help.”

After reviewing more than 800 studies and selecting the 45 highest-quality trials, Antflick and his colleagues concluded that more than one in seven cases of Alzheimer’s could be prevented if everyone simply met the minimum guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise per week, in doses as short as 10 minutes at a time. Given that approximately 10 per cent of Canadians over 65 have Alzheimer’s, that would save tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care costs.

Read more from The Globe’s Health & Fitness section, and follow us on Twitter

Do online programs that I use to do my taxes sell my information?

Reader Heather Osborne in Ottawa asks: “If I use tax software, is my data protected?  Or am I giving away my personal financial information?” Report on Business reporter Ian McGugan says, “No – at least not without your consent. You should check the details in the privacy agreement that accompanies whichever software package you use, but generally you must approve any use of your personal information.” He explains:

Intuit, maker of the popular TurboTax software, declares it “will not rent, sell, or otherwise distribute your personal information without your permission.” The main exceptions are if courts demand the information be handed over or if the information is “reasonably required” to fulfill your service or product requirements, but even then the third parties are bound to privacy requirements.

H&R Block, the maker of another popular tax software package, takes a similar line. “We do not disclose your personal information to third parties except as described in this Privacy Policy, with your consent, or as permitted or required by law.” A spokesperson says the company does not sell any personal information and the company’s privacy statement assures users that “H&R Block only retains personal information for as long as necessary or required for the purposes for which it was collected or as required by law.”

But here’s where things get tricky: Read your privacy statement and you’ll find that every tax software company will acknowledge making use of your personal information in various ways that does not involve actually selling it. You may or may not find these to be objectionable.

H&R Block, for instance, says it will use your personal information to alert you to products and tailor marketing material to your needs. You can choose not to receive these materials by calling them at a number provided or sending them an e-mail.

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How much naturally-occurring sugar (i.e. from fruit or milk) is healthy to eat?

Reader Lise Gleasure in Calgary asks, “I’ve been trying to reduce my added sugar (i.e. pop, candy) intake to improve health. How much naturally-occurring sugar (i.e. from fruit or milk) is healthy to eat?” Globe Health columnist and registered dietitian Leslie Beck has the answer:

There are no guidelines to limit natural sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables and milk because there is simply no evidence that consuming these sugars is harmful to our health.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released strict limits for added sugars – those that are added to foods during processing. WHO called for adults to cut their intake to less then 10 per cent of daily calories or, even better, less than 5 per cent. For a standard 2000-calorie diet, these limits translate to no more than 50 grams (10 per cent calories) and 25 grams (5 per cent calories).

These new guidelines are based on evidence reducing added sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of daily calories helps guards against overweight and obesity. The WHO defined added sugars as those “added during processing, at home, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”.

But unlike added sugars, there are no specific intake guidelines for natural sugars which occur in fresh fruit and vegetables (called fructose) and milk and yogurt (called lactose).

You might wonder why fruit juice, which contains naturally-occurring sugar (not added sugar) needs to be limited along with other added sugars.  While pure fruit juice does deliver vitamins and minerals, it can be high in natural sugar. One cup of orange juice has 23 grams of sugar while one medium orange has 12 grams. And fruit juice has none of the fibre whole fruit does, so it doesn’t fill you up.  The extra calories from sugar in fruit juice can, therefore, lead to unwanted weight gain if you drink it regularly to quench your thirst.

Current dietary guidelines recommend that total carbohydrates can make up 45 to 65 per cent of your total daily calories.  If you eat, say, 1800 calories per day that means you can consume 202 to 292 grams of carbohydrates each day.

The majority of your carb grams will come from naturally-occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables and starches in foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans and lentils.

The smallest contributor to your total carbohydrate intake – less than 10 per cent of your daily calories – should be added sugars.

Follow Leslie Beck on Twitter, read more from The Globe’s Health & Fitness section here, and revisit this piece from our archives: Are bananas making you fat?


The age-old question: Why do hot dog buns come in packages of 8, while wieners come in a dozen?

“Here’s one of life’s deeper mysteries,” writes John Olson in Ottawa. “Why do hot dog buns come in packs of eight while the wieners are sold by the dozen? Are the extra four dogs for wieners and beans?”

A question all-too-often asked by Globe readers on Canada Q&A, we tasked The Globe’s resident hot dog expert Gabe Pulver with an investigation:

At the centre of the case: packaging.

Factory machines are calibrated to make hot dog wieners of varying sizes (jumbo, foot-long, etc) that can be packaged into three standard sizes.  Wieners are packaged by weight – no matter the number of hot dogs in the package, be it six, eight or ten. The package will always one of three weights – 375 grams, 450 grams, and 900 grams. It’s just easier to price, ship, and store.

The most common weight is 450 grams, or one pound. Check out this very scientific video we made, showing how six hot dogs and 12 hot dogs are equal weight:

On the other hand, The Globe’s Toronto grocery store investigation revealed that despite the number of buns in the package and the different brands, all of the packages are exactly the same physical size and shape. The reason for this has to do with production and shipping efficiencies. Ever notice how your buns seem torn apart on one or both sides? That’s because they are baked in pans that hold 3 or 4 buns in order to bake them to exact size. This size, seemingly universal across all brands, fits in uniform square shapes inside their plastic bags. Once again, this would make it easier for shipping and storage.

The question remains: why not make hot dogs that fit, say, 8 to a pound? Or bun pans that fit, say, 6 to a square? In industrial sized operations like these, any change to the production system will cost significant time, money, and effort. As you can see in this disgusting video,  some hot dog factories make millions of wieners a day. These are not small changes to make.

Simply put, they’re selling enough hot dogs and buns to not have to spend the money.  The idea that Big Meat and Big Bread are conspiring to force you to buy multiple packages of each to get your money’s worth just doesn’t cut the mustard. Sorry, Steve Martin:

That said, representatives from both declined to comment for this story.

 – With files from Josh O’Kane

Suddenly in the mood for a barbecue? Check out our BBQ basics video series, and amp up your hot dog game with this recipe.


How can Toronto streetcar service be improved?

“Why do the streetcars in Toronto break down so often?” asks Denise Ray in Toronto. She adds: “What makes them short turn? How can service be improved? Do they make their finances public for one to analyze where the money is being spent?” Oliver Moore, The Globe’s Urban Transportation reporter has this to say:

When the TTC was getting ready to roll out the first of their new streetcars last August, a senior executive called them “crimson beauties.” There was a palpable sense of excitement among transit fans in the city, but a feeling of gloom among Toronto’s many streetcar critics.

Transit can be a polarizing issue and maybe no part of the debate is more divisive than streetcars. To critics, the city has locked itself into another generation of the vehicle they blame for tying up traffic. But the importance of streetcars is laid bare every time one breaks down in the cold.

And their workhorse role is clear when one short-turns, disgorging far more passengers than could be carried on a bus.

But there’s good news afoot: The TTC has undergone testing of its King streetcar route,  as Moore reports here, as well as its Dufferin and St. Clair streetcars.

Some of the changes have included all-door boarding on the King Street streetcar and a greater focus on traffic enforcement.  The recently-published results of these tests were stunning: Short turns are way down and on-time departures have risen sharply, Moore reported:

In October and then again in January, the TTC made changes on the workhorse King streetcar route – which carries more people than the Sheppard subway – and the effect was soon clear: The number of short turns, which had ranged from about 300 to more than 600 a week, dropped to as low as 45.

The rate of on-time departures jumped from less than 50 per cent – and less than 40 per cent some weeks – to more than 70 per cent most weeks.

With these positive results, The TTC plans to make these changes across the entire streetcar system:

“It’s a system approach – it’s no one element,” chief service officer Rick Leary said. “We have to help our operators. We have to help tweak our schedules. We have to make sure the equipment is reliable. And we have to make sure there’s proper supervision out there.”

The TTC plans to study the entire surface network to establish where such changes are needed. The cost to make fixes will be identified this year and become part of the 2016 budget request.

The TTC hopes the improvements will lead to less operator frustration, fewer collisions, less overtime pay and better customer satisfaction as riders come to believe they can rely on posted schedules.

As to why streetcars break down – more often in the cold – check out this graphic. And yes – finances are made public as part of the budget process every year.

Follow Oliver Moore on Twitter, and read The Globe’s ongoing coverage of the TTC here.