A new voice injects some action into the democratic party persona

Apparently this ad came out in September, but I was just served it on Instagram a couple of days ago, and it’s just plain fun.

Most political ads are easy to ignore, but not this one. It plays like a trailer for an action movie, and only at the end do we discover that Valerie Plame is a democrat running for Congress. It piques the viewers interest first, eschewing the common tendencies of both tuning out political ads and of ignoring messages from outside one’s political cohort.

Why it’s hot:

1. Democrats have a huge messaging problem. They’ve long been criticized for being kind of lame and generally unable to inspire voter turnout, which is the main thing they need to do in order to win elections. Valerie Plame is bringing a new edginess to the party.

2. Congressional races have entered the national stage. As Democrats are looking to turn Congress more blue to combat a nearly inevitable Trump win, democratic candidates are hoping to appeal not just to their future constituents, but to the country as a whole, to fund their campaigns. To do so, this ad focuses on key national political issues (“national security, health care, and women’s rights”) and takes direct aim at Trump.

Tech-forward restaurant designs open-source take-out “airlock” to protect workers

The San Fransisco tech-forward restaurant Creator has made their new airlock system (for providing take-out orders during the coronavirus crisis) open source for any other businesses that need to protect their workers from the many possibly infected people coming to their locations.

Makezine:

The chamber is pressurized by a Sanyo Denki 24-volt 65CFM blower regulated by simple LM317 voltage regulator circuit. The conveyor belt feeds itself through a 5 gallon bucket of quaternary sanitizing solution. Customers can order through an intercom, and their takeaway bags are heat-sealed and labeled with a tamperproof sticker just to be extra super sanitary.

Fast Company:

“Retail workers are on the front lines, exposed to hundreds of strangers every day in enclosed spaces,” says Creator founder Alex Vardakostas. “If retail workers fall ill, they are in turn at risk of infecting delivery workers and customers. We can’t restart the economy until retail and restaurant workers are protected. They’re some of the most important people to keep virus-free.”

This falls directly in Creator’s wheelhouse, as they are known for being the first to automate the making of a fully prepared burger with the beautiful machine above. Fast-moving innovations like the airlock promote the restaurant brand as a function of doing good for their workers, which is of such concern with service workers right now, and gives customers more piece of mind as they look for safe places to procure food and have a sense of normalcy in these difficult times.

Fast Company:

The restaurant’s team has unusual engineering skills—when Creator opened in 2018, it became the first in the world to make fully prepared burgers with a robot that handles everything from slicing the bun and cooking the patty to chopping up onions and tomatoes. For customers in the current pandemic, there’s some added comfort in the fact that the process minimizes human contact; the machine even packages each burger itself. But the storefront still needs staff to get the food to customers waiting to pick it up, and last week, engineers and fabricators set to work on the new airlock-like window.

Why it’s hot:

1. The world needs fast-moving innovation right now, and there’s nothing like giving your innovation away for free to garner media recognition and positive public sentiment. The earned media from their design and their gesture will pique the interest of many, who will discover even cooler offerings coming out of the brand’s innovative approach — like a $6 gourmet burger in San Fransisco.

2. Making this design open-source may help other restaurants move quickly to implement solutions that work for them — but it mostly promotes the brand as being next-level, and getting it hyped in publications like Fast Company.

What IP do brands have that could function in a similar way, helping the public in a way that shows off their unique offerings or abilities (instead of donating money), while garnering positive sentiment and media attention?

Source: Fast Company, Makezine

Indie performing artists embracing Twitch amidst widespread tour cancellations

Due to COVID-19, Twitch, the streaming site popular with gamers is beginning to have a new constituency: Musicians. “50% of millennial males in America use Twitch. If you want to reach millennial males (which odds are, you do) Twitch is a good place to do it.” But now that musicians are using the platform more, Twitch may draw in more than just the male/18-34 demo.

From The Verge:

Mark Rebillet is part of a fast-growing community of musicians who are migrating to digital platforms to perform “quaranstreams” during the pandemic. Many larger artists, like Charli XCX, John Legend, and Diplo are choosing Instagram, but indie artists are overwhelmingly flocking to Twitch.

There’s one likely reason: while Instagram is an easy option to reach lots of people en masse, Twitch offers an abundance of ways to make money. “It’s more financially focused,” says musician and longtime Twitch streamer Ducky. “It supports different tiers of subscriptions and donations. People can subscribe to a channel for free with their Amazon Prime account. Fans can tip in micro amounts with things like Cheers. Other platforms usually just pay out on ad revenue or number of plays.”

Will the interactivity of live-streamed performances be enough to draw a crowd comparable to what an artist might draw on tour? It might not matter, because musicians have multiple revenue streams that are compatible with the Twitch platform. The vibe of a live show will never be captured via Twitch, but live-streaming shows may be a bigger part of the future of music due to covid.

Why it’s hot:

Artists might end up making more money

1) Because they can now reach a worldwide audience all at once, and eschew the high costs of touring, including the cuts venues and ticket vendors take on ticket sales.

2) Because of the ease of “tipping” on Twitch, audiences may end up paying their favorite artists more than they would for a ticket to a concert.

Musicians streaming on Twitch may offer brands a new way-in to the platform.

Aside from going the gamer route, brands may want to get in front of viewers watching a concert in real time. What kind of interesting interactive activation could brands do that would not undermine the musicians credibility?

Source: The Verge

Brand agency plays “social safety net” for SXSW service industry workers whose incomes were canceled by COVID-19

From Fast Company: “A branding agency in Austin, Texas, has launched a GoFundMe page to tip the local service workers impacted by the cancellation of this month’s South by Southwest festival. “Thousands of Austin service workers and musicians will be hit significantly from canceled events, lost wages and tips. We’ll take the funds to Austin music venues, restaurants, bars and hotels and distribute them to individuals from March 13-22,” write the fund’s creators, from the agency T3.

Nearly half a million festival-goers were expected to arrive in Austin beginning this week. The giant culture festival that mingles artists, musicians, and startups was canceled on Friday by the city of Austin over COVID-19 concerns, following the pullout of companies such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as an online petition with over 55,000 signees calling for a cancellation. Festival organizers said they are “devastated,” and local hotels and venues that depend on attendees’ spending say they may be put out of business.”

Amid talks of a $15 minimum wage and Medicare For All in the US, the coronavirus is making it even more painfully clear how many people are living just on the edge of ruin.

Why it’s hot:

Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on the economy, and since no one wants to gather in the places where these people work, service workers are going to be hit particularly hard. A hyper-aware public seems receptive to brands that “protect their people”, so it’ll be interesting to see how brands attempt to spin that in their favor.

“We’re not doing this for publicity, but to help our city.” They say they aren’t doing it for publicity, but they sure are getting a lot of publicity for it. This is a do-gooder publicity stunt that everyone can get behind, coming not from a consumer brand, but from an agency. Unfortunately, they’re unable to innovate on actually helping service workers, and this stunt continues to perpetuate the system that keeps service workers in such a vulnerable position.

It’s a nice story that brands can do good in the world, but everyone should remember that sometimes brands just can’t solve certain social problems.

Source: Fast Company

Hefty makes a brawny claim about reducing waste

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to recycling and reducing waste is in educating people on what it is, why it matters, and how to do it, all while not boring people to death about it, or coming off as preachy. Hefty takes on that messaging hurdle with a little humor and smartly keeps the details vague.

Another issue with marketing a brand’s waste reduction is in equating it to something people can understand. How do you wrap your head around the fact that globally we produced 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2010! You can’t. People need a frame of reference to understand these abstract numbers, and this campaign does that with the help of a somewhat goofy strongman pulling a passenger jet, which represents the weight of the plastics that Hefty has managed to reclaim.

Once interest is piqued, people are taken to a micro-site that explains in more detail Hefty’s sustainability efforts: Hefty Sustainability.com

And what they’re doing is actually pretty cool and innovative. They have created a special bag in which to put hard-to-recycle plastics (those that are not accepted by most residential recycling programs) such as plastic food packaging, straws, candy wrappers, etc., which would otherwise most certainly end up in a landfill, in a tree, or choking the windpipe of a seabird.

Why it’s hot:

1. It doesn’t require you to identify as “green” in order to get it: A lot of “sustainable” brands lean into the lifestyle of the eco-conscious in their messaging, but that can turn off a lot of people who don’t identify that way. For a nationwide brand like Hefty, it makes more sense to stay away from identity and focus on their product and accomplishments.

2. It’s not much of an accomplishment actually, but it’s a start, and it’s backed up by action: Given the fact that more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year, a well-informed consumer might scoff at Hefty’s accomplishment of converting one measly airliner’s worth of hard-to-recycle plastic into new materials. But they have a model that helps collect plastics that you can’t normally recycle, and uses their product in a way people are already using it to do so.

3. Mining trash is actually a way to generate revenue: This is a mostly untapped market for raw materials, which is essentially TerraCycle’s business model, of gathering material others can’t (or won’t) and reselling it, which had it earning $20+ million in revenue in 2018.

Source: Marketing Dive

Panera coffee subscription is the new free-wifi, but it costs $9+/month

Panera has launched a coffee subscription as a part of its loyalty program. For $8.99/month, you get unlimited drip coffee — 1 cup every two hours for as long as you can handle it. They may be burning through beans, but what this really means is they’ll be selling a lot more sandwiches.

From Fast Company: “Though Panera is pitching the subscription as a way for you to save money on coffee, Panera’s 150 test locations over the last three months saw subscribers visit three times more frequently and purchase 70% more in add-on items than the average customer. In other words, watch your wallet. These metrics, in addition to a surge of new customers, are inspiring Panera’s quick nationwide rollout.”

Because most Panera locations are suburban, customers tend to drive to the location. When they’ve made the commitment to drive, people are more likely to “bundle” their shopping by also eating at Panera once they’ve picked up their subscriber coffee.

Bonus points: being mostly suburban, Panera also avoids the on-foot, in-and-out commuter coffee buyers who are not likely to purchase any additional goods.

For consumers, it’s a novel way to think about coffee purchase.

For Panera, it seems like a smart way to lure people into their stores, in order to sell them higher-margin products like sandwiches and soups.

Why it’s hot:

1. Data: Registered subscribers will give Panera a huge amount of consumer data that they could use to understand menu preferences by a variety of demographics, as well as better identify core customers and understand their habits.

2. Earn brand loyalty by exploiting commitment bias: If you get someone to buy into the subscription, they are far more likely to continue to go to you for their coffee fix even if they ultimately cancel their subscription as brains subconsciously associate their body’s physiological coffee high with your store, and those neural pathways are difficult (and cognitively costly) to change.

3. It’s a smart lure: A big challenge for suburban food and beverage shops is getting people in the door. This encourages that, and a lot of people who go into a shop to buy coffee end up buying a muffin, or a sandwich, which is where these companies really make their money. If you stay (or return) to Panera to take advantage of the every-two-hour refill, you’re likely to buy even more.

Source: Fast Company

Google AI no longer sees gender

Google has decided it wants to avoid potential gender bias in its AI system for identifying images, so it’s choosing to simply use the designator “person” instead.

From The Verge:

The company emailed developers today about the change to its widely used Cloud Vision API tool, which uses AI to analyze images and identify faces, landmarks, explicit content, and other recognizable features. Instead of using “man” or “woman” to identify images, Google will tag such images with labels like “person,” as part of its larger effort to avoid instilling AI algorithms with human bias.

“In the email to developers announcing the change, Google cited its own AI guidelines, Business Insider reports. “Given that a person’s gender cannot be inferred by appearance, we have decided to remove these labels in order to align with the Artificial Intelligence Principles at Google, specifically Principle #2: Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias.”

Why it’s hot:

It’s interesting to see AI companies grapple with the reality of human social life, and navigate the shifting waters of public mores.

Avoiding bias is a major issue in society, and it’s very important that the companies building AI don’t build their human bias into it. But with any new technology, there can be unintended and unpredictable consequences down the line, from even seemingly innocuous or universally accepted ideas.

Source: The Verge

ThredUp launches Fashion Footprint Calculator

Behavior change is very hard and the second-hand ecommerce fashion retailer ThredUp relies on it as a key component of their business model. To aid their efforts to convert new-clothing buyers into used-clothing buyers, they just launched their fashion footprint calculator.

We’ve all heard about the carbon footprint of our cars and our eating habits, but we mostly ignore our closets’ role in ruining the planet. However, the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, thanks in large part to the the fast-fashion trend.

Fun Fact: “Fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste per year globally, representing 4% of the 2.12 billion tons of waste we dump globally each year. That is more than toxic e-waste, and more than twice as much as supermarkets toss in food waste.” –EcoCult. This is bad because clothing is organic material, meaning it releases methane in landfills, a greenhouse gas that is dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide.

ThredUp is framing itself as the solution to this sustainability problem at the heart of fashion, by scaling second-hand clothing to the level of its new clothing counterparts. And it turns out that buying used clothing can have a pretty big impact.

“Lifecycle analyses of garments have found that buying used garments instead of new reduces your carbon footprint by between 60% and 70%.” -Fast Company

Why it’s hot:

1. Much like the global average temperature, awareness of our impact on the environment is ramping up exponentially. It’s interesting where different brands fall on the sustainability spectrum and how they use that position to promote themselves.

2. Our impact on the climate threat is a vague concept removed from our direct experience of short-sighted pleasure seeking and impulsive desire fulfillment. Personalizing the impact of one’s habits makes clear the need for personal change, and importantly, offers a simple way to make a difference, without sacrificing one of life’s chief pleasures.

3. ThredUp’s business model is based on the second-hand clothing market. Beyond the price savings, ThredUp needs to develop RTBs that will inspire loyal customers. If people are more aware of the impact their fashion-purchase habits have, they may be willing to consider the second-hand clothing platform, giving ThredUp a chance to turn them into loyal customers and advocates of reuse to their friends.

Source: Fast Company

Burger King jumps on Bronx-steps Joker meme

Thanks to the success of the Joker movie, the now famous Bronx steps have become an Instagram-able tourist destination, to the chagrin of many locals just trying to get to work.

Riding on the coat tales of this meme-fueled furor, Burger King took the opportunity to create some local goodwill (while taking a jab at its main clown-mascotted rival) by offering Bronx residents a free Whopper, delivered by UberEats, as a consolation for having to deal with the rapid influx of Joker-stair tourists AKA clowns (burn).

Why it’s hot:

Brands are desperate to be a part of pop culture, and this campaign finds a low-risk, nonpolitical way to catch the viral wave, with little investment.

Rides on the pop-culture success of Joker, but comes at it from a snarky, unpredictable angle.

Source: Fast Company

Red Bull’s solar-powered billboard lights-up nighttime sports

Lighting for nighttime sports is scarce in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, making it hard for people to enjoy outdoor activities, like football and skateboarding, at night. The desire to play sports at night is especially strong in Vietnam because of the intense daytime heat and humidity. Red Bull, being all about energy and action, used this as an opportunity to create a social benefit while aligning the brand with a different kind of energy than caffeine: solar.

To do this, they painted a grid of used Red Bull cans black, in order to soak up the sun’s energy during the day, then stored that energy in batteries, which were used to power flood lights, making nighttime games and sports possible.

Why it’s hot:

Instead of just throwing up some standard billboards in outdoor recreation areas, Red Bull decided to be user-centered, looking to solve a real problem first, and found a clever way for the brand to participate in a more meaningful way within the culture it wants to attract.

1. Alignment: Red Bull sells an image of passion — a desire to go “all out” for one’s dreams, and this project fits perfectly with that image.

2. Social benefit: This hits on all cylinders for Red Bull. It positions the brand as essential to the sports it’s supporting, while repurposing resources, reducing energy use, and showing off its innovation chops. Helping people in this small way with things they are passionate about extends good will toward the brand far beyond the initial investment.

Source: Contagious

Norwegian fashion retailer makes AR T-shirts to promote sustainability

“Scandinavian clothing brand Carlings has created an augmented reality T-shirt designed to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.

People can buy the T-shirt – which is white aside from a graphical logo at the top – from Carlings’ website for €39.90 ($44). The T-shirt is then mailed directly to the customer.

Upon delivery of the item, customers can visit Carlings’ dedicated Instagram account, select the filter icon and choose from a variety of designs, before pointing a phone camera at the T-shirt’s graphical logo. This will digitally superimpose the selected design onto the T-shirt.

The designs are emblazoned with environmentally conscious messages such as ‘Stop Denying Our Planet is Dying’ and ‘I’m Sure The Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time Too.’” (Contagious)

Why it’s hot

1. Designs that can be changed to match new causes extends the shirts timescale of relevance, combating fast-fashion disposability.

2. The shirt comes to life where it can have the most impact: on social media. Also gets folks going to the brand’s IG and creating lots of UGC.

3. Interesting how the 4th digital dimension is being employed to push social issues, in a cool, shareable, and potentially viral way.

4. Also, profits from the line go to a water charity, so seems like another fashion brand hoping their good works will turn into net profits.

Source: Contagious

Tik Tok tries to combat bullying, suppresses bullied groups from platform

Hey Social Media …

TikTok pulled a very Scumbag-Steve move recently, admitting that in an effort to curb bullying on its platform, it had asked moderators to flag accounts from people who “looked like the type of person others might want to bully” and then suppressed those accounts. #victimshaming

Via Slate: “TikTok, a social network video app with more than 1 billion downloads globally, admitted Tuesday to a set of policies that had suppressed the reach of content created by users assumed to be “vulnerable to cyberbullying.” As examples of users “susceptible to bullying or harassment,” the policy listed people with facial disfigurement, autism, Down syndrome, and “Disabled people or people with some facial problems such as birthmark, slight squint and etc.”

The admission came after the German site Netzpolitik reported that TikTok asked moderators to watch 15-second videos and decide if the creator looked like the type of person others might want to bully. If so, moderators were instructed to add flags to the accounts of these “vulnerable” users. These flags would stop their videos from being shown to audiences outside their home countries and, in some cases, would even prevent their videos from appearing in other users’ feeds. A list of flagged users obtained by Netzpolitik included people with and without disabilities, whose bios included hashtags like #fatwoman and #disabled or had rainbow flags and other LGBTQ identifiers.”

Why it’s hot:

Loss of trust: Social media plays a roll in both exacerbating and alleviating many social problems, including the bullying epidemic, but when those at the helm display their ignorance coupled with a reluctance to curb abusive users, trust is diminished.

Lack of control (or willingness): One more chapter in social media’s terrible track record of encouraging the worst parts of humanity and then exposing just how inept they are at controlling malicious activity on their platforms.

Source: Slate

American Eagle uses fashion staples to encourage charitable giving

In a clever move melding consumerism and charitable giving, American Eagle Outfitters (AE) has achieved WokeAF status by developing a clothing line with a multicultural council of GenZ activists, which both donates 100% of its sales to the clothing charity Delivering Good, and contains a conversation-starting QR code that allows others to donate as well by scanning said clothes.

This line was developed by the AExMeCouncil, a gaggle of GenZ movers and shakers, including Delaney Tarr, cofounder of March For Our Lives, who are being given some say in how AE operates. “We are treating these council members like board members,” says Chad Kessler, global brand president of American Eagle.

Other council members include Gabby Frost, who founded the Buddy Project to promote mental health and prevent suicide, and Joseph Touma, who created Bridge the Divide, which wants to create bridges across political lines.

Why it’s hot:

1. GenZ folks are cause-oriented shoppers, so this gimmick makes perfect sense from a brand and PR perspective (they were featured in Fast Company after all) and costs AE basically nothing.

2. Smart use of highly personal products to instigate conversations about social causes and create a real-time pathway to digital donations.

3. It’s probably a good thing when business interests and social good align, and it seems like that’s the case here. Better than when fast-fashion brands laughably try to align themselves with sustainability.

 

Source: Fast Company

Mozilla’s holiday shopping guide rates creepiness of connected products with animated emoji

Be Smart. Shop Safe.” That’s the tag line for Mozilla’s initiative to spread awareness about the privacy status and risks of new connected products — and promote their brand as a privacy leader.

The privacy of physical connected products is new for many people, so getting people to consider privacy before impulsively slamming the BUY button is a big deal for an organization focused on privacy. Mozilla needed to make their report interesting to grab people’s attention.

Smart but simple UX and strong copy makes this happen.

A privacy focused shopping guide allows you to see which products meet Mozilla’s minimum privacy standards.

An animated emoji shows how “creepy” users have said various products are, regardless of their privacy rating.

Why it’s hot:

Is this the beginning of, if not a backlash, at least a recalibration of the excitement about smart IoT products?

Mozilla frames itself as the authority on the growing concern of privacy and getting into the product-rating game drives a new kind of awareness regarding physical products which many people have heretofore not had to consider.

Gathering data on creepiness sentiment is an interesting (and fun) approach to consumer metrics. Users can vote on the creepiness scale, but you have to give your email to see the results.

Source: Mozilla

Firefox founder launches privacy-first browser that rewards users for allowing brands access to them

The beta version has been out for a while, but “Today marks the official launch of Brave 1.0, a free open-source browser. The beta version has already drawn 8 million monthly users, but now, the full stable release is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Brave promises to prioritize security by blocking third-party ads, trackers, and autoplay videos automatically. So you don’t need to go into your settings to ensure greater privacy, though you can adjust those settings if you want to.” (The Verge)

Internet heavy hitter Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript/co-founder of Firefox/Mozilla) just launched the stable version of new privacy-focused Brave browser, employing the idea of a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which allows users to be paid in crypto-currency tokens for allowing brands access to their eyeballs. Eich calls it “a new system for properly valuing user attention.”

He explains it best:

Why it’s hot:

1. As tech giants increasingly impinge on privacy and gobble up every imaginable byte of data about everyone in exchange for “a better user experience,” Brave is claiming to have found a non-zero-sum game that everyone (users, advertisers, and publishers) can benefit from:

  • Users get lots more control over the ads they see and get rewarded with tokens for allowing ads.
  • Advertisers get more precise and engaged audiences, so in theory, better ROAS.
  • Content creators get more control over their publishing and their income. And users can tip content creators on a subscription-style basis not unlike Patreon.

That’s the idea, at least.

2. Its look and feel is very similar to Chrome, so migrating to Brave may be smooth enough to encourage more people to abandon the surveillance-state-as-a-service (SSaaS) that Google is verging on.

Source: The Verge

Adobe debuts latest effort in the misinformation arms race

Adobe has previewed an AI tool that analyzes the pixels of a image to determine the probability that it’s been manipulated and the areas in which it thinks the manipulation has taken place, shown as a heat map.

It’s fitting that the company that made sophisticated photo manipulation possible would also create a tool to help combat its nefarious use. While it’s not live in Adobe applications yet, it could be integrated into them, such that users can quickly know whether what their looking at is “real” or not.

Up next: The inevitable headline of someone creating a tool that can trick the Adobe AI tool into thinking photo is real.

Why it’s hot:

Fake news is a big problem, and this might help us get to the truth of some matters of consequence.

But … not everything can be solved with AI. This might help people convince others that something they saw is in fact fake, but it doesn’t overcome the deeper problem of people’s basic gullibility, lack of critical thinking, and strong desire to justify their already entrenched beliefs.

Source: The Verge

Miller frames beer as the original social media

With this entertaining noir-esque advert, three friends escape hoards of nameless, unthinking look-alike “followers” to find refuge with each other in a side-street bar.

Miller’s research found that 50% of 21-to-27 year olds only meet up with their close friends a few times a month.

The ad suggests social media is to blame and that Miller is the needed champion of authentic, in-person experiences versus the ubiquitous sameness of social media image-curation.

In a clever play on words, the ad ends with a toast to the “original social media”. (beer)

Fast Company: “The new campaign ad, “Followers,” by agency DDB Chicago, is using the age-old idea of Miller Time and positioning it as an antidote to our collective social feed fatigue. The brand is complementing this notion with a promotion that will reward drinkers who unfollow Miller Lite on Facebook and Instagram with free beer. Miller Lite is also taking two weeks off from any social media of its own.”

They’re no doubt banking on the press coverage to make up for it.

Like any good rebel, Miller is bucking the trend … of social media accumulation, but its execution of this reward could maybe be better. In order to get a free beer, you have to take a screenshot of your unfollow, text it to a coded address, receive a link, follow the link and upload a photo of your receipt, to then receive a reimbursement on Paypal.

They also did a pretty badass can redesign to go along with the campaign.

Why it’s hot:

Americans love a rebel, and as digital continues to devour our lives, Miller is exploiting the growing disdain for social media to frame itself as a conduit of authentic connection. Miller Time is back from the good ol’ days before social media, to remind us that friends are people you see in person.

People will still use social media, obviously, but maybe next time they gripe about how it’s eroding our ability to form meaningful real human connections, they’ll remember the brand that agrees with them, and reach for a Miller Lite.

Why it’s not as good as it could be: Rewarding unfollows is clunky UX, requiring multiple steps on one’s phone, which undermines the clarity of the “offline” message.

MeetUp tests new revenue model, faces immediate backlash

Users who have a stake in MeetUp are privy to the fact that it’s owned by the currently discredited and struggling WeWork, so when the platform started testing a new revenue model in which it charged users $2 to RSVP to certain events (even free ones), people assumed it was a shortsighted way to pad the pockets of its cash-strapped parent company, and they weren’t happy about it.

1. Users made their plans to abandon the site clear on Twitter.

2. Open-source projects took the opportunity to court spurned MeetUp users to their own coming-soon event-scheduling platforms:

“To be 100% clear: the freeCodeCamp.org community is still hard at work on an open source alternative to Meetup, and we are making steady progress.”


For now, I’m calling it “MeetingPlace”, and have put up a super simple landing page up here: http://meetingplace.io 

Enter your email there to get updates, and to share the features you’d need to switch your group away from meetup.

MeetUp responded quickly to say they were only testing this model on a small number of events, but tech and business news outlets picked up the story, and it’s not a good look for the brand.

Whether this actually hurts MeetUp in the long run remains to be seen, but it seems to have made them vulnerable.

Why it’s hot: Between offering ad-supported, fremium, and subscription services, platform-based tech companies must navigate a tenuous relationship with users when extracting money from them.

This negotiation with the public happens within a consumer culture that increasingly requires business transparency and imposes a collectively agreed-upon level of “fairness”.

Companies that violate this perceived fairness, or don’t offer a (perceived) commensurate level of value in return are liable to find themselves on thin ice.

 

 

Louis Vuitton invests in Madhappy because mental health is the new luxury?

Fast Company: Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), the conglomerate that owns many of the world’s best-known luxury brands, has just invested in a startup called Madhappy.

Madhappy Cofounder Peiman Raf says that the brand is on a mission to make the world a more optimistic place by creating conversations around mental health.

Madhappy is not the first “optimistic lifestyle brand” promoting mental health awareness, (Life Is Good has done very well promoting optimism) so why is LVMH investing in Madhappy, and why now?

Life Is Good is genuine, but not cool. Madhappy is cool, and embedded in a sense of coolness is a sense of exclusivity, regardless of how much Madhappy’s cofounder talks about wanting the brand to be inclusive: “Growing up, we found that many streetwear labels seemed to be very exclusive, and we wanted to create a brand that was the opposite of that,” he says.

On trend colors and aloof models helps the coolness. Celebrity endorsements also can’t hurt: Gigi Hadid, Steph Curry, Katy Perry, and Cardi B have all been seen wearing Madhappy.

Irony alert: Coolness is about being in the in-crowd, but to have an in-crowd requires there to be outsiders. The coolness of Madhappy plays right into the social anxieties at the foundation of the mental health problems it claims to want to solve.

Why it’s hot?

1. This trend of brands aligning themselves with social issues speaks to our ongoing negotiation on the role we want brands to play in our lives. (See this week’s Lululemon post) If talking about mental health is cool, will more people get the help they need?

2. It seems the mental-health meme has reached a critical-enough mass in pop culture to be deemed profitable as a brand identity for a streetwear company. How much money from its $70 t-shirt sales Madhappy might dedicate to mental health initiatives remains to be seen.

3. How much of its target market’s mental health problems are a result of the culture that creates the conditions on which a Madhappy can thrive?

Silent Drive-Thru: An Introvert’s Dream Come True?

Multinational fast-food chains conforming their menus to cultural tastes is as old as Pulp Fiction’s Royal Cheese. Agency Superson helped Burger King Finland take this to another level, playing off the stereotype of shy Finns. Understanding it as an experience product, Burger King applied this concept to the drive thru, nodding to the common Finnish sensibility of reticence.

The brief was to increase app use, so they reconfigured the ol’ stand-by of the drive thru, to show how fast and easy it was to order via their app.

The spot is playful and funny, placing fast-food ordering into the realm of a clandestine caper.

And it turns out, it’s not just the Finns who resent talking to the muffled voice of the drive-thru.

Why it’s hot: Nodding to local culture inherently endears customers to the brand. The sense of collective understanding, and feeling known is a powerful bonding agent.

The drive-thru model didn’t align with the value proposition of the app, wherein you could order ahead and pick-up, so rethinking the model required a relatable story to encourage users to do the same.

Source: Contagious

 

Peloton, but for cooking

Ask questions and interact live with your favorite celebrity chef, such as Guy Fieri or Martha Stewart, right in your kitchen. Linked to your Amazon Prime account. Need a peeler and some limes for this recipe? Amazon will send them over.

From The Verge: “Food Network says it’s specifically modeling its classes after Peloton’s live-streaming model. Food Network is banking on the power of its personalities, and the $7 streaming fee starts to make sense when it’s viewed as an exclusive membership, giving fans the chance to interact with their favorite stars.

Netflix may get Seinfeld in 2021, and Apple TV Plus may have all of, like, 10 shows — but only Food Network Kitchen will give its users the chance to interact with Guy Fieri and ask him cooking questions live. I’m imagining it to be the equivalent of your favorite Food Network personality doing an Instagram Live, but with way better streaming quality (have you ever sat through an Instagram Live you didn’t immediately want to exit?). And maybe that alone is worth paying for.”

Why it’s hot:

Since it’s on Amazon, it’s integrated with Amazon Fresh, so you can choose a recipe you want to learn and have the ingredients delivered to your door before the class begins. Agoraphobics rejoice!

It’s live streaming, but with food celebrities. But it could be any celebrities you otherwise wouldn’t have such intimate access to, doing anything. In a world where most content is given for free, it reinforces one notion of celebrity, in that you have to pay to have access them.

The Office: An In-Depth Analysis of Workplace User Behavior

The New York Times came out with another interactive long-form piece, this time about workplace culture.

Replete with button sound effects and office ASMR.

Lot’s of fun buttons to push to reveal quotes of office confessions from NYTimes readers.

 

Engages their community.

Overall, great UX.

Mid-century-modern design style points.

Elevator doors open onto 7 different floor with links to articles constellated around the theme.

Why it’s hot:

It’s great to see the way journalism outlets are pushing the envelope in online media. This kind of cool, interactive reading experience keeps people on the site and makes this content very sharable.

 

 

Starface flips the script on acne care

What was once a source of embarrassment can perhaps now be a form of style points. D2C startup Starface is offering a new way to think about mild acne: Instead of hiding in shame, embrace your “uniqueness” by “owning” your acne, while helping it heal.

With star-shaped medicated stickers that users place over pimples, Starface helps acne heal while making a bold fashion and beauty statement. With the power of social media to shape perceptions of “cool” and “beautiful”, this reframe of acne could turn an embarrassment into empowerment.

Starface’s branding is very … Gen Z, post-postmodern, self-conscious retro-loving remix culture with all of human history as your source material. (Their “About Me” section parodies the opening text from Star Wars). And rightly so. This isn’t your older sister’s acne care. This is a new world.

Why it’s hot:

Another example of the ongoing and unprecedented revolution in social values, fueled by social media. The meaning of luxury, wealth, success, attractiveness, etc. is being scrutinized, tweaked, torn down, and reconstructed. Brands that have relied on the old standbys would be wise to re-calibrate their message and offerings to attract consumers in this new reality.

Source: Fast Company

Amazon crowdsourcing answers to questions posed to Alexa

Crowdsourcing strikes again. Incentivized by the lure of social-capital, users can submit answers to questions posed to Alexa to receive points and status within the network of answer-ers. The public, using the up-and-down vote system will presumably let the best answer float to the top.

Though, “In some cases, human editors as well as algorithms will be involved in quality-control measures,” says Fast Company.

From Fast Company: “Starting today, Amazon is publicly launching a program called Alexa Answers, which lets anyone field questions asked by users for which Alexa doesn’t already have a response—ones such as:

  • What states surround Illinois?
  • What’s the proper amount of sleep?
  • How many instruments does Stevie Wonder play?
  • How much is in a handle of alcohol?

From then on, when people ask a question, Alexa will speak an answer generated through Alexa Answers, noting that the information is ‘according to an Amazon customer.'”

Why it’s hot:

Will value-based questions be answerable? If so, owning the answer to ‘what’s the best burger in Brooklyn?’ would be very lucrative.

Can brands leverage this tech to their advantage? Either by somehow “hacking” this system in playful way, or by replicating such an answer system with their own user base, to plug into an Alexa skill?

On a broader level:

How much do we trust the crowd? Recent history has left many questioning the validity of “the wisdom of the people”.

Civil society runs on a foundation of shared understandings about the world. If we trust answers about our reality to come from the crowd, how will bad actors use such a system to undermine our shared understanding or subtly sway public knowledge to support their agenda? Alexa, does life start at conception?

Tip your (non)local coffee-bean picker

We’re spoiled in the US. We get to drink premium coffee from the best farms in the world, and at a reasonable price. But many of the farm-workers involved in actually making that cortado a reality generally aren’t compensated equitably.

Some people would be willing to pay more for coffee if they knew that increase was going to support the workers who need and deserve it, but making that change through the traditional economy of producers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers is extremely difficult. Even direct-trade coffee partnerships are subject to the demands of the global coffee industry, which must feed a voracious worldwide caffeine habit.

Propina is trying to side-step the traditional model of farm-worker compensation by allowing people to support farm-workers by making a direct contribution to a farm-worker’s pension fund when they’re at the till of their favorite coffee shop. In-shop videos like the one above drive awareness while patrons wait in line to make their order. Additionally, similar to the Patreon model, patrons can become recurring contributors and get updates from the farm.

Why it’s hot

1. Using technology to bridge the gap from producer to consumer empowers money-havers to give to a cause they believe in.

2. Technology shrinking the world, making something global feel like more of a local connection.

3. We may see more of these “capitalism hacks” that attempt to use technology to circumvent systemic inequalities that otherwise seem insurmountable.

Why it’s not hot

1. Like the US server-tipping model, this idea could potentially drive down guaranteed wages for farm workers if employers see them gaining any amount of significant external compensation. In a sense, this idea only works well if it remains an insignificant portion of a farm workers livelihood.

2. This model relies on the generosity of the globally wealthy to “support” poor farm workers, instead of creating systems of equitable exchange that account for the needs of all stakeholders. Admittedly, the latter is a much more difficult challenge.

Source: Contagious

Drink beer + shoot virtual deer = help protect wildlife

A great deal of funding for wildlife conservation in the US comes from fishing and hunting permits, but the number of people buying them is declining. It seems fewer members of the younger generations are interested in actually packing out into the woods and sitting in a tree in silence for hours in order to bag an elk for the winter. But what Busch understood was what those younger generations are still interested in is drinking beer at bars and pretending to hunt elk on an arcade screen.

So Busch (Anheuser-Busch) teamed up with the Big Buck Hunter arcade game to sell $5 virtual hunting permits that give buyers access to a secret (branded) level within the barroom game. The funds from the permits (matched by Busch) will go to wildlife conservation. Busch has positioned itself as a beer brand for those close to, and interested in protecting nature, so this campaign is an on-brand extension of that premise.

Alongside the permit sales, Busch is selling limited edition cans through December, with QR codes that give access to a similar AR hunting game on one’s phone.

The campaign just began, so it remains to be seen if it will actually generate a noteworthy amount of conservation funding. At the very least it should raise some awareness and brand recognition for Busch with the younger set.

Why it’s hot:

Sometimes the best way to get people to act for an important cause is to tap into their habits, desires, and interests, and make it fun, rather than appealing to an abstract sense of duty, which many people can easily dismiss as: “Not my problem”.

Also, everybody wins:

  1. Busch probably sells more beer with the curiosity created by the can design and offer of an AR game + gets a CSR halo.
  2. Big Buck Hunter gets more players and press, framing itself as more than just a late-night afterthought.
  3. Awareness and money gets raised for wildlife conservation at a time when it’s desperately needed.

Source: Fast Company

Turning the camera on Big Brother

NYTimes is analyzing the music used by candidates at their rallies. Music is a powerful emotional signal, transmitting a message deep into the emotional brain where we feel connection. So, it is helpful to know how candidates are using this psychological messaging tool to reach voters.

Extrapolating meaning from data sets, such as song tracks used in political campaigns, can bring to light information that would otherwise not emerge. The growing trend of using big data to help us understand and manipulate the world may be coming more into the hands of the public.

Why it’s hot: Knowledge is power. Whoever has the data and the processing power, has the knowledge and can learn things about the world that no one would have discovered otherwise. Primarily this power has been with brands and governments. But what if more of that power came into the hands of the people? This article points to a possible future where open-source data mining could help us learn things about governments and companies that could level the playing field in the war over territory in our collective consciousness.

If big data was in the hands of the people, what would we do with it? How would it effect our relationship with brands and products.

Source: NYTimes

Weed Gets A Museum

Weed, ganja, grass, herb, whatever you call it, has had a multi-century smear campaign leveled against it, but its time in the golden spotlight of acceptability is nigh.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in key states across the country, cannabis is poised for its big-business debut. And those investing in weed today hope it will become as big as Budweiser. A new kind of bud! (I couldn’t help myself.)

But getting to those household-name numbers requires normalizing a substance that’s historically been presented as a tool of the devil to lure hapless souls into eternal hellfire – or at least make them lazy and braindead – or worse, jam-band groupies!

Devil's Harvest marijuana propoganda

What better way to normalize and educate than by pairing weed with one of our most distinguished institutions of learning and culture: the museum? It’s propaganda for the good guys!

Weedmaps, the Seamless/Yelp/Google Maps of cannabis, has employed the Museum Of (Interesting Thing That Doesn’t Belong In A Regular Museum trend to help establish itself as the thought leader in the cannabis space and break down misconceptions about weed in the process.

Why it’s hot

1. Weedmaps is mainstreaming marijuana by putting its product in the same arena as other very legit things found in museums, such as history, science and art. Duchamp would be proud.

2. Never are you more primed to learn than when you’re immersed in an experience.

3. Most people attending the museum are probably already advocates for weed legalization. This will give them fuel and facts to spread the word more.

Source: Fast Company

Apple and New Museum launch AR art tours

A new way for people to experience the city!

A new way for artists to engage the public!

A new way to think about experiencing space!

Brought to you by Apple! Apple’s brand and value proposition permeates this entire experience.

Why it’s hot

Apple is positioning itself as a brand that can bring a new magical realm to life. As we work out the ways in which AR will play a role in our lives, this project sells AR in a surprising and fun way, perhaps warming people up to the idea that a life lived with a layer of AR mapped over the physical world would be desirable.

Source: Dezeen

Retail wants a Minority Report for returns

In what now seems inevitable, an online fashion retailer in India owned by an e-commerce startup that’s backed by Walmart is doing research with Deep Neural Networks to predict which items a buyer will return before they buy the item.

With this knowledge, they’ll be better able to predict their returns costs, but more interestingly, they’ll be able to incentivize shoppers to NOT return as much, using both loss and gain offers related to items in one’s cart.

The nuts and bolts of it is: the AI will assign a score to you based on what it determines your risk of returning a specific item to be.This data could be from your returns history, as well as less obvious data points, such as your search/shopping patterns elsewhere online, your credit score, and predictions about your size and fit based on aggregated data on other people.

Then it will treat you differently based on that assessment. If you’re put in a high risk category, you may pay more for shipping, or you may be offered a discount in order to accept a no-returns policy tailored just for you. It’s like car insurance for those under 25, but on hyper-drive. If you fit a certain demo, you may start paying more for everything.

Preliminary tests have shown promise in reducing return rates.

So many questions:

Is this a good idea from a brand perspective? If this becomes a trend, will retailers with cheap capital that can afford high-returns volume smear this practice as a way to gain market share?

Will this drive more people to better protect their data and “hide” themselves online? We might be OK with being fed targeted ads based on our data, but what happens when your data footprint and demo makes that jacket you wanted cost more?

Will this encourage more people to shop at brick and mortar stores to sidestep retail’s big brother? Or will brick and mortar stores find a way to follow suit?

How much might this information flow back up the supply chain, to product design, even?

Why it’s hot

Returns are expensive for retailers. They’re also bad for the environment, as many returns are just sent to the landfill, not to mention the carbon emissions from sending it back.

So, many retailers are scrambling to find the balance between reducing friction in the buying process by offering easy returns, on the one hand, and reducing the amount of actual returns, on the other.

There’s been talk of Amazon using predictive models to ship you stuff without you ever “buying” it. You return what you don’t want and it eventually learns what you want to the point where you just receive a box of stuff at intervals, and money is extracted from your bank account. This also might reduce fossil fuels.

How precise can these predictive models get? And how might people be able to thwart them? Is there a non-dystopian way to reduce returns?

Source: ZDNet