Do You Speak Data?

Data literacy is fast becoming as important as writing or math. It has been compared to gold, oil and other precious resources of the world. Today, data skills are essential not only for engineers and researchers, but also business workers, entrepreneurs and, increasingly, creative professionals. However, working with data can be challenging even for technical specialists, let alone for people from other backgrounds. So where does that leave us?
Before you jump to the conclusion that data is not for you, perhaps you can draw some inspiration from my experience of learning and later teaching this important skill set.

Speaking the Language of Data
I immersed myself in the early Web when dial-up Internet was introduced. Among other interests, the Internet sparked my passion for learning new languages and connecting with people around the world. Subsequently, working in different countries further spurred my determination to pick up local languages and use them to share the amazing world of technology with my friends.

Fast forward to several years ago, I joined the tech industry. As it happens, the years I spent in the industry were characterised by the emergence of Big Data. One day, a colleague who worked in analytics introduced me to SQL. I recall staring at a barrage of symbols and commands, and imagining not ever producing anything similar.

Then, I started dabbling with this mysterious “Sequel”, and an unlikely analogy crystallised. Like every language I learnt – be it English, Spanish or German, each has its distinct grammar and vocabulary. And as long as these two pillars are mastered, the road to fluency becomes open. Similarly, I realised that SQL commands are in fact a tongue in its own right with its unique grammar and vocabulary.

Sharing about Learning the Data Language
This realisation turned a previously technical subject into something close to every human being – speaking languages. It helped me to learn SQL as well as relate to people who struggle to grasp it. So now, whenever someone asks me to explain SQL, I would approach it as if we were learning to converse in a new language – ask a question, get a reply, make a statement and so on.

And when people struggling with this technical subject can finally “have a chat” about it, I would feel really proud. It also heartens me to know that a training course which I created and deployed using this approach for my organisation stays relevant even after several years.

Hence from my experience, it shows that even the most technical subjects share parallels with concepts naturally intuitive to people – such as languages. Simply by applying such analogies, learning data skills can become a lot more accessible for everyone.

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

Apps of Disruption: A new era for small businesses

These days, the annual release of increasingly powerful computer upgrades hardly surprises us anymore. The recent wave of technological disruptions however is more than just a bump up in specifications. Instead, it gives everyone access to business tools that were available to only a small number of wealthy corporations just a few years back. It is almost as if an invisible force has opened a jar with lots of bottled-up creativity that is bursting with all kinds of enterprises, startups, and freelance outfits. Now, with the lid off, the magical effect of technology is bringing down barriers of entry in almost every important business function – distribution, marketing and operations.

DISTRIBUTION OF WARES DIRECTLY AND GLOBALLY MADE EASY
Remember the early days when merely creating a decent webpage required advanced knowledge of HTML? Otherwise, the alternative of hiring someone to build it would mean a significant upfront investment. Today, you can simply build and launch a site for your latest business idea using WordPress and other similar visual website builders, all within a day. Or, easier still, set up a business profile on one of the major social media platforms. Crafting a compelling online storefront for prospective customers is now entirely accessible to anyone with the abundance of free or open-source solutions.

Regardless of whether you are looking to reach local, international or specific trade buyers, choices are many. For goods, merchants can reach local and international buyers through e-commerce platforms such as Carousell, Amazon and Shopify. Similarly, musicians can skip big labels and reach fans directly on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Even traditional industries like dining are seeing the rise of online-only restaurants that operate exclusively through UberEats, GrabFood and other delivery services. Be it establishing an online presence or making business transactions, technology has put the tools within easy reach.

MARKETING YOUR BRAND WORLDWIDE AT AFFORDABLE COST
Those who still own a TV may have noticed that advertisements running during commercial breaks come mostly from large, well-known brands. This is because airtime on television remains incredibly expensive. Other traditional forms of marketing like buying print ads or classified announcements in magazines or newspapers are also beyond what most small businesses can typically afford. However, platforms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others have changed the game entirely. Not only do they allow anyone to promote their work for literally a few dollars, businesses can also choose to target people most likely to be interested in what they have to offer – linking them directly to prospective customers.

This dramatic cost reduction is just one aspect of the democratisation of marketing that technology has brought. What’s perhaps more important is that these new platforms provide intuitive self-service interfaces that give everyone the ability to design, create and analyse their ads without a steep learning curve. Anyone can be Don Draper with a personal advertising agency right on their smartphones.

OPERATING YOUR BUSINESS EFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY WITH TECH
Then there’s the nitty-gritty of running the business. On one hand, office operations such as accounting, invoicing and inventory management may sound trivial; on the other – how many potential entrepreneurs were turned off by the prospect of having to deal with these labour-intensive, expensive and tedious tasks?

Technology comes to the rescue again, compressing an entire back office into a few phone apps such as QuickBooks, On Shelf and Wave. These software don’t just help to keep costs low and free up more time for creative work, but also facilitate new viable business models, including one- person enterprises. What better use of technology can there be than helping people do what they do best?

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH ARE EVERYWHERE
As more incredible tools are delivered into our hands, there is every reason to look forward to even more opportunities in the future. As it is, we are seeing startups in Singapore offering 3D printing services today. Combined with increasingly lower prices and availability of intuitive modeling software, it is almost a certainty that on-demand manufacturing will bring back the maker in all of us – only now with the ability to earn a living.

Then there’s also Artificial Intelligence (AI), which many people still associate with sci-fi movies. In reality, powerful machine learning services from Google, Amazon and IBM are already readily accessible through the cloud – even on the cheapest laptop. And as with all things tech, access to AI will only become more affordable and more user-friendly for creators in the not so far future.

Yet, while we are truly at the very start of democratisation of tech and every industry – we should explore these new possibilities with a caveat. Even though some processes have been made simpler, certain elements like expertise and hard work stay unchanged and crucial. The fact remains that anyone can use the technology, but not everyone will be able to use it well. However, for those who have great ideas and skills to support it, the world is their market.

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

The Marina

Just a few years ago, the place on this photo was nothing but a barren desert. Today, this sprawling network of canals, winding walkways and residential communities is one of the largest marina areas in the world.

The Dubai Marina is in fact entirety man-made. After the developers excavated 3km of waterways from the sand, the water was carried all the way from the Persian Gulf to fill them. Top design consultancies from all over the world helped to leverage virtually every innovation in foundational technology and shield tunneling known today, for construction works. This mega-engineering marvel is adorned with several supertall structures that embrace a wide range of architectural influences.

Connected to the greater Dubai with a metro line and bus services, the area has become a favorite spot for both the locals as well as visitors. Despite many commercial centers and private residencies, the Marina is very walkable. There are over 8km of pedestrian promenades, dotted with cozy cafes, bars and restaurants that make for a pleasant leisurely stroll. On a hot day though, some might prefer a more refreshing commute by water and enjoy the spectacular views from the comfort of a boat.

Produced by Two Footsteps | Written by Vladyslav Koshelyev

Singapore Is Home

I arrived in Singapore in what seems like ages ago, imagining myself to be an adventurer exploring far lands of the east. The chatter of strange languages, intense smells of food markets and bright lights from towering skyscrapers were all incredibly exotic for a teenager from a quaint part of old Europe. Fast-forward to several years later, among family and close friends in Singapore, there is no place like home than this tiny red dot.

Tracing back, my first encounter with Singapore was a short break I took to escape from freezing winter winds. When my holiday in Singapore ended, I never really left. Enchanted by the Lion City, I wanted to come back and managed to secure a transfer to Singapore with my employer shortly after.

A WELCOMING HOME FOR BUSINESSES
Singapore works hard on attracting high-quality enterprises, and many have decided to set up their regional headquarters, data centres and engineering hubs here. The presence of these multinational companies coupled with a bustling local startup scene, which continues to get more innovative by the year, provide a firm foundation for a vibrant tech industry.
One of the key reasons why Singapore is a magnet for startups despite its small size is its incredible diversity. The multicultural society gives the market a depth that many larger cities simply don’t have. Win Singapore, and you would have created a base and built expertise required to expand across the entire region – or even globally.

AN INCLUSIVE HOME FOR TECH PROFESSIONALS
Prominent global companies, disruptive startups and rich cultural diversity have put Singapore in the same family of global hubs such as San Francisco, New York and London. For tech professionals like me, this presents a wealth of opportunities for career growth as well as exciting challenges to work on. But Singapore’s appeal to tech professionals from around the world is not all work. While career opportunities matter, it is the hard to quantify the charm that wins hearts and minds of many professionals in data, artificial intelligence and health over other tech hubs.
Despite being at the centre of the most complex continent in the world, the city is able to welcome and absorb every culture. My personal experience is one good example. Even though I came from a very different part of the world, I have found great friends, wise mentors and my life partner among the locals. My personal ties have made this city more than just a place to stay for me.

Truly, what can be better than being able to live, work and play in a place where some of the most exciting actions are unfolding?

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

Stones and Memories

The high gothic Albert memorial was built to commemorate the British prince by his wife, queen Victoria. The monument is designed with incredible detail and is one of the favorite places in London for tourists and as well as locals. The marble figures at its four corners represent Europe, Asia, Africa and America. While the structure is now covered in gold leaf, it remained covered in black paint for almost 80 years. Some believe, the sculpture was blackened on purpose to hide it from bombardments during world wars.

Right behind the memorial stands the Royal Albert Hall. For many years, it has remained an iconic venue where some of the most notable cultural events took place. Music concerts, award ceremonies, exhibitions and sport events never fail to attract large crowds. The architectural style of the building was inspired by Roman amphitheatres, and its enormous dome had to be built in facilities 200km outside of London and then transported to the city. Its size not only ensures that the hall can accommodate over 5000 people but also gives it a unique sounds that musicians love so much. Eric Clapton for instance, performed here over 200 times and said it now almost feels like playing in his backyard.

The Red Dot

People were drawn to Mars since ancient times. The red dot stood out among the pale stars in the dark sky and evoked images of fiery deities, vengeful gods and passionate heroes.

Since we’ve discovered that Mars was our neighbouring planet, we’ve never stopped wondering if there was life there or if we, perhaps, one day could make it our second home in the Solar System.

Mars became an important part of the popular culture, filling the imagination of songwriters, novelists and movie makers. “Is there life on Mars?” asks David Bowie. “Most definitely yes, and we are getting it terraformed”, answer the citizen of MCR in The Expanse.

In fact, some people not only dream about the red planed but take practical steps to making it their backyard. One of the most iconic companies of our times, SpaceX, is built around the mission of eventually colonizing Mars. Its founder, Elon Musk, is planning to retire there. Knowing Elon, we doubt the “retire” part but not the “colonize” one.

From the ancient myths to space exploration, Mars has been at the center of human aspirations. After so many years, our story with the closest neighbor in space is just starting to get written. I can’t wait to step on the Martian dust and see its reddish glow with my own eyes.

 

The post originally appreared on 2footsteps.world, part of The Koshelyev Company

Education vs Automation

Technology and learning go hand in hand throughout history. Better tools enable individuals to challenge large enterprises and level the playing field for small nations; on the other, quality education provides the backbone for technological innovations and empowers the harnessing of possibilities that technology brings. My recent reunion with two old friends, whom I haven’t seen in ages, may very well lend some answers to this question.

My friends and I had studied together. After graduation, we moved to different corners of the planet but kept in touch. The recent career moves these two gentlemen made, say a lot about the promises and perils of automation at work.

Different Jobs, Same Work
One of my friends recently left his job at an established company where he led a small team to join a tech startup where he works alone. To my surprise, he mentioned that the nature of his work hasn’t changed much. He explained that the same tasks he used to ask his subordinates to help with are now handled by a suite of tools that his more technologically enabled startup has developed.

My other friend has just opened a small retail business that sells quality culinary supplies. Unlike his parents who employed several people, my friend does his business alone. I asked him how he manages to juggle the operations, to which he replied – his bookkeeping app keeps his books for him, his email and customer relationship management (CRM) tool push sales, and all marketing activities are supported by user-friendly digital platforms. According to him, his small operation generates more revenue than his parents could ever imagine.

Education > Automation
In both examples, emerging technologies have enabled them to do more and better work faster. However, even as automation enables them to express their ideas in new ways, education appears to be the common factor that drives future success.

In fact, my first friend told me that he would gladly hire and train his former team when his company grows bigger. Similarly, my other friend doesn’t think he will work alone forever. As the business grows, he envisions that he will require people with deep domain expertise in technology, sales, and marketing. My entrepreneurial friends are optimistic about the future of work. And it is apparent that they are basing their positive outlook on training programmes they are building, in anticipation of their business growth.

Education First and Last, but Not Least
Actually, these same circumstances are also playing out at a macro level. Education has been one of the driving forces which establishes Singapore as a hub for entrepreneurship and deep tech disciplines such as artificial intelligence, smart urban infrastructure and healthtech.

Building on the momentum, Singapore has recently enlisted SCS’ help – with the launch of the Digital Proficiency Programme (DigiPro) – to enhance its national effort of upskilling digital competencies. The programme, which features cybersecurity, data analytics, digital content creation and personal branding courses, will equip professionals with the skills to leverage digital tools to grow their careers.

And the conversation with my old friends has definitely put the interplay of technology and education in perspective. Their stories are not only inspiring, but also evidence new opportunities technology creates and the role of education in transforming technology into a powerful creative force.

Travel Safe in the Digital Age

The growth of affordable airlines and global businesses in recent years has made jet-setting lifestyle a thing of the now. Traveling with several digital devices is also commonplace. At the same time, situations on the road can sometimes get unpredictable, and it’s always worth adopting healthy paranoia to ensure that both the gadgets as well as the traveler can return home safe and sound.

For me, I make sure to observe a few simple rules every time I travel.

Use Discreet Bags
Instead of choosing bags for aesthetic reasons, opt for a plain model to avoid unwanted attention. Also, make sure the material is sturdy enough to weather the journey and any attempts to pry it open. In my case, while my ultra-strong composite fabric carrier never wins any compliments from hipsters, it is not just water and cut proof, but also very functional. Similarly, I keep my mobile gadgets in old and beaten cases to make them look like they are way overdue for an upgrade, as new devices are highly targeted for their resale value.

Encrypt Your Devices and Avoid Open WiFi
It is estimated that less than half of the phones, and even fewer laptops, are encrypted globally. But there is really no excuse for not doing it since most modern operating systems have intuitive one-click encryption options, which doesn’t take a tech geek to turn on. That said, it’s possible to get hacked even with a strong encryption. WiFi Pineapple is one such platform. Cheap, easy to set up and allow anyone to execute a “man in the middle” attack to collect information passing through, WiFi Pineapple is like a regular hotspot that has been modified to execute network attacks. Therefore, get a local sim card the next time you travel. Most countries today have decent 3G or 4G networks.

Exercise Caution when Making Card Payments
The “man in the middle” attacks are also prevalent in credit card transactions. Although wireless payments are very convenient, they also allow thieves to perform undetected Near-field communication (NFC) micro-charges. It is also not uncommon for hackers to attach fake microchips on top of real ones to fake terminal transactions.

Actually, attacks are not always too technically sophisticated. I recall a time when I made a payment to a shop attendant in one of the less secured airports. He claimed that the closest terminal was in another store and disappeared with my card for a good 10 minutes. I only realised much later that he had charged extra expenses to my account. Luckily, the loss was not too high and could be written down as a “life experience lesson”.

Long story short – use cash or services like Uber, which can automatically charge to your preferred payment method.

Watch out when Entering Passwords
Surprisingly, even the most adept tech professional may be susceptible to simple tricks such as video recordings of one typing passwords on phones and laptops. All it takes is a password to a service such as email, and a door will be created for hackers to access other resources. Hence, if you have to work on the go, find a private corner and always use protective screens. Password aggregators can also make logins more convenient and secure.

Feel free to try out some of these rules the next time you hit the road. Combine them with some common sense, and your journey might become safer as well as more pleasant and productive.

Spotlight with the Singapore Computer Society

This conversation took place between the Singapore Computer Society and me in the winter of 2017. I’ve been volunteering with SCS for some time and love what this organization does to promote technological literacy and empower people with tech. It was very fun to talk about AI and how it is transforming many industries, including the most creative ones, such as marketing.

Earliest Tech Experience: Playing games on a Pentium 386 (bought in Singapore, by the way)
Role Model: His father
Always Enjoy: A good book (mostly in audio these days); a good conversation; first person shooter, strategy and role playing games
Currently Reading: The Light of Other Days by Stephen Baxter
Current Pet Topic: AI in Marketing and Creative Industries

Q: Question
VK: Vladyslav Koshelyev

THOUGHTS ON AI
Q: What has inspired your interest in AI?
VK: As a teenager, I was an avid reader of Ray Kurzweil’s books and was deeply intrigued by his theories about the future of humankind and technology. In the book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines”, Kurzweil predicts how the intellectual capacity of AI would become comparable and eventually surpass that of humans. His belief that AI will one day enjoy a collaborative and symbiotic relationship with humans was awe-inspiring. That was when my interest in AI was first seeded. At the time, Kurzweil’s books seemed to be science fiction, however today we see that most of his predictions has come true. My smartphone today is more powerful than a mainframe computer in my childhood days. And it’s just a start.

Q: Can you share some AI developments that you are excited about?
VK: Sure. I am very excited about AI starting to help creative professionals. In a recent experiment, the advertising agency McCann Japan used its AI software to analyse a brief and successfully create a new campaign. While the project didn’t win any award, we should remember that digital technologies develop exponentially and will progress ever faster. More recently, a pop artist, Taryn Southern released a human/AI collaborative album. While the AI did the music composition, Taryn took care of the vocal melodies and lyrics. The result has all the ingredients of a good pop song – a catchy tune, a smooth progression, etc.

Both developments are very different. Yet, they not only hint at the potential of AI to do amazing work in time to come, but also showcase that it is indeed possible for AI and humans to work together hand in hand, side by side.

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Q: So are you looking forward to working alongside AI?
VK: I very much do. Although I should note, this doesn’t mean my work will become easier. It’s actually the opposite. When I first started working in the digital media industry, my job was much simpler. Every week, as part of my routine, I had to do the same three/four tasks. They were technically complex and time consuming, but repetitive. Once I figured them out, I was all set.

Today, there is an algorithm that takes care of these tasks. The good news is I don’t have to do them anymore. The not so good news is that my work has become more complex. Instead of doing these same tasks week after week, now my time is spent working with partners to understand their organisations, strategising how I can help them do better and finding solutions that provide greater value.

Work has become less predictable, more challenging – but also more interesting. I am not afraid of losing my job to an AI but I know for sure that I will have to work harder and learn faster than ever to adapt.

Q: Since AI can bring so much good, why do you think people are apprehensive about its rise?
VK: It is good to be apprehensive. Technology is always a double-edged sword. When used well, it can help us to do more and better. However, if used for the wrong intent, it can be dangerous. It is therefore important that we are aware of both good and bad possibilities – so that we can take proactive actions to prevent negative impact even as we enjoy the benefits AI brings.

It is understandable that people are concerned that AI may displace them. Although my own experience is that AI did change the focus of my work, but it did not replace me. In fact, it has given me the opportunity to dedicate my energy to more value-added work and hone my ability in aspects that truly matter. Similarly, in the example I shared earlier about Taryn Southern and her new album – she could focus on the composition and stories her songs tell while letting AI handle the more minute details.

Q: What is an area that you hope to see more AI developments in?
VK: I look forward to the use of AI in healthcare. Traditionally, we rely a lot on the expertise of individual doctors. This expertise is usually lost when the doctor leaves. By integrating AI with healthcare systems, this problem will be mitigated because the system can objectively analyse a huge library of different cases and identify best practices; it can possibly even suggest preventive measures.

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ABOUT THE MAN
Q: What do you love about working in the technology industry?
VK: History is defined by technology, influencing the rise and fall of great states. They rose because they developed advanced technology, and they fell because they were unable to keep up. As part of the industry, you get to be involved in the process and change the way people live, in the present, and for generations to come.

Q: What drew you to Singapore?
VK: I love the culture, architecture, landscapes and the climate among many other things. The weather makes me forsake my computer for the great outdoors, be it for a get-together with friends or a walk. The eclectic mix of towering skyscrapers and colourful shophouses combines with the many smart city technologies and ethnically rich population to make for a very vibrant place to live, work and play in.

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First published in the IT Society magazine by the Singapore Computer Society.

Advertising: The greatest art form of the 21st century

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Simple and Complex
Advertising became so prevalent that we often barely give it any thought at all. Everyone knows what advertising is – an endless stream of images, words and sounds on our screens, walls, road signs and, when it’s really catchy, in our heads. The essence of advertising is simple – it is about attracting people’s attention to products, services, ideas and concepts. It is at the same time a very complex industry that absorbs the latest advances in media, computing and psychology. Such nascent technologies as artificial intelligence and virtual reality were almost immediately adopted by marketers, way ahead of most other industries. Because of such rapid innovation, the infrastructure behind a simple ad is often so elaborate that only few professionals really understand it.

History Lessons
Advertising is perhaps one of the oldest professions that have ever existed. We can trace its beginnings to the ancient markets of Babylon, Greece and Rome where merchants from every corner of the Earth engaged in the activity that makes the world move – commerce. People always had to advertise – to barter meat for milk with neighbours, to sell new exotic spices from overseas or to rally people to settle in new continents.

First traces of advertising were found in the ruins of ancient Babylonia. These were simple road signs promoting the nearest tavern or market. The invention of the printing press in the 1440s revolutionized publishing. The print not only enabled a much broader distribution of books, but it also became a platform for new types of media such as newspapers. Because printing wasn’t cheap, publishers sold some of the pages to sponsors. Suddenly advertising could reach homes of every newspaper and magazine reader.

First newspaper ads were printed in France and quickly spread to England, the United States and then the whole world. As money poured in, marketing became a big business. First advertising agencies started as sales houses for newspaper ad space. With time, they expanded into copywriting, design and planning services, becoming the media giants of today.

A Digital Frontier
Personal computers disrupted the media landscape as fundamentally as the printing press. Mobile connectivity combined with rapid adoption of cheap smartphones enabled anyone to access virtually any information on the Internet. Marketers who have always been on the cutting edge of technology quickly realized that they could now reach their consumers anywhere in the world.

First digital banner ads on the world wide web appeared in 1994. While visually basic, their novelty attracted users who eagerly clicked through. Soon web pages were filled with an endless stream of colorful images. Ironically, the format that made digital advertising mainstream were simple text lines in search engines. Lacking any graphics but featuring the exact products people searched for, these ads could drive sales with much higher efficiency. During the early of the web nothing else could beat their simplicity and cost.

Soon enough, however, increasing processing power and higher cellular bandwidth enabled more sophisticated graphics. Rather than annoy people with endless popups, ads started to blend with native content and target people who showed specific interests and affinities.

Smartphones present the most abundant advertising platform that has ever existed. The latest generation of mobile devices has the processing and productivity capacity comparable with desktop PCs. Today, such pocket supercomputer has enough computational capacity to support immersive cinematic experiences. Whether as simple as a line of text or as complex as interactive as a game, the mobile media can tell a story and take people on a journey wherever they are. As of today, mobile digital advertising is the field where the most exciting innovations in marketing happen.

Media Is The Message
Most of us think of advertising as a way to sell us more stuff. This, however, is just a small part of the picture. As a form of media, it has always played a significant role in shaping opinions and promoting ideas. From pharaohs of ancient Egypt to today’s presidents of the United States, politicians use advertising to extend their power and influence. In fact, many attribute Barack Obama’s as well as Donald Trump’s presidency victories in 2008 and 2016 to their skillful use of social media and the Internet.

Below: The Egyptian pharaoh and Barack Obama both use advertising to promote their leadership

Art can stir emotions and influence hearts and minds through great masterpieces. Any marketer knows that the “Creative” is the most critical part of the media. While over the years power has shifted between religious institutions, royalty, bankers and corporations, people in power have always supported artists and shaped their work. Just like the Church paid for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, today banks and corporations sponsor art exhibitions. This delicate balance between the artist’s creative expression and the needs of their patrons has culminated in Advertising – the greatest art form of our century.

We can argue that the modern advertising is so strongly associated with consumerism for the sole reason that the modern society itself is driven by it. Marketers always follow people’s attention, not the other way around. In a way, advertising is no different from a hammer; it is but a tool that works equally well for selling junk food, helping someone get elected as a president as well as making people aware of important causes such as education, healthcare and environment. People should use advertising as a mirror of what their societies pay attention to while marketers should never forget what powerful tools they work with and apply them mindfully.