Stories: From Snapchat Teens to LinkedIn Execs

LinkedIn has announced that it will roll out its own version of Stories to all users after completing a trial period in Brazil, Netherlands, UAE, Australia, and France.

Stories–the popular and short lived photo narratives–were first rolled out by Snapchat in 2013. High engagement soon attracted the attention of Facebook, which copied communication tool and rolled it out on its own platforms (FB, IG).

Search Mobile Gif

Why it’s hot: 

In the last century, the U.S. has gone from a society where suits were necessary for office work to people wearing T-shirts on Zoom calls with pets in the background. Beyond creating a new medium for digital advertising, LinkedIn stories may signal the continued movement toward a more informal and personal work and recruitment culture.

Chess Streaming Wins the Pandemic

The New York times reports: “since the pandemic began, viewership of live chess games has soared. From March through August, people watched 41.2 million hours of chess on Twitch, four times as many hours as in the previous six months, according to the analytics website SullyGnome.”

Especially popular is Hiraku Nakamura, a top chess grandmaster known for his game-time banter and fan engagement. Nakamura, who gained nearly all of his half million Twitch followers since the pandemic began, is one of the first chess players to make an additional 6 figure income by joining a professional e-sports team.

A screen shot of Mr. Nakamura’s Twitch stream.

Why it’s hot: Somehow gamer interest has been re-directed from the hottest new games to one of the world’s oldest. This could create surprising new opportunities for brands as sponsors of a game that has the advantage of being very well known and strongly associated with intelligence.

Fornite Channels User Base to Take on Apple and Google

As part of a public fight against Apple and Google, who monopolize phone app sales, Fornite–the super popular battle-royale-style mutli-player game–has created a tournament called the #FreeFortnite Cup. The tournament includes prizes and a new character ‘tart tycoon’, all designed to put pressure on Apple by to change it App store policies.

Apple's Fortnite feud and Microsoft xCloud ban have put the future of  iPhone gaming in jeopardy - The Verge

Why it’s hot: 

Increasing recognition that tech giants have monopolistic power over those who use their platform is not new. But these battles usually play out in court. Epic is making use of a new strategy–leveraging the considerable enthusiasm of its users through marketing and in-game experience to influence the actions of another corporation.

Boom Time For Death Planning

The New York Times reports that since COVID-19 struck there has been significant growth in the market for products and services that help people manage their own end of days–especially for digital startups targeting millennials.

Companies like Cake and Lantern have found increased online traffic as they help young people plan for death (e.g. write obituaries, wills) and grieve online for those who have passed.

Why it’s hot: 

These apps may provide a window into the role that technology will play in the funeral and estate planning industries of the future.

Pandora and the Democratization of Data Analytics

Pandora announced that it will release its new Podcast Analytics feature today, providing podcast hosts with audience information including: where they live, how long they listen, and how they engage with content.

In doing so Pandora is joining competitors Apple and Spotify in providing analytics dashboards to its content producers in a bid to keep them using the platform and help keep listeners engaged.

Why it’s hot: 

Until recently only professional content producers had data into how their content was being purchased, used, and by who–e.g they needed a marketing team to do research. This could impact creative decisions as they chased trends and customers. Now, customer data can continually impact the creative process for non-professional creators. By providing clear KPIs, these tools could shift the type of content that is made.

Watching TV Together From Afar

Hulu is releasing the test version of a new feature that let’s viewers connect while watching shows together online.

It is called Watch Party. It is the first release by a major streaming video provider of a technology that other companies are also working on in response to COVID19.

Why it’s Hot: 

Though its development was propelled by the pandemic, this is a technology that may continue to find an audience after COVID is over, subtly changing the landscape of our social interactions.

COVID Production Problems Drag Deepfakes into Ads

An Allstate ad that aired with “The Last Dance”, a documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, featured a 90s-era clip of SportsCenter newscaster Kenny Mayne making startlingly accurate predictions about our current world.

Though it looks real, the ad is doctored. Old footage was combined with the mouth and voice of the current Kenny Mayne to create a realistic portrayal.

While this is not the first time the ad industry has used deepfake technology to create ads, this may be part of a larger trend as advertisers explore ways to create content as they face limited production possibilities during the COVID-19 lock-down, the New York Times reports.

A young Kenny Mayne, left, merged with an older Kenny Mayne, right, in a recent State Farm commercial.

https://twitter.com/NBA/status/1251556094960234496?s=20

Why it’s hot: 

Like many COVID trends, deepfake ads may outlast the pandemic if they prove successful because they can be produced quickly and inexpensively.

Animal Crossing: Trouble in Paradise

It has been said that the release of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing game, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”, was perfectly timed.

With the world outside uncertain and scary, the soothing music and free game play of Animal Crossing–a franchise where players design and build their own digital islands and then invite friends to visit–is said to be the perfect soothing and social antidote.

Sales appear to back this up, with millions of units sold in its first days of release, putting it on track to sell more than any other game in the popular franchise. Further, there have been heartwarming stories of people putting real life events into the game, like the couple that had their wedding ceremony on the platform. (See pic below)

There is one problem. Unless customers are willing to buy separate Nintendo systems or games, they must share the virtual world–and its limited resources for building their islands–with other players. This has led to family fights, and relationship management, like one couple who decided to separate their island with a river in order to insure that each has control of their own portion.

Why it’s hot: 

Increase in at-home entertainment like video games is to be expected as the world hunkers down to face the coronavirus pandemic. What is less expected are the new problems these changing behaviors create.

 

The Corona Running Boom?

It is clear that the Corona pandemic will radically change people’s behavior for the foreseeable future. What is less clear is precisely how behaviors will change and whether new habits will stick around after the pandemic is over (fingers crossed).

The New York Times reports that a running boom is happening–which makes sense given the number of people who can no longer exercise at gyms or indoors. But with potentially millions of people taking up running, how many of them will discover that they enjoy the habit and continue even when their gym membership is available again? The impact could be huge for years to come.

Running along the Hudson River.

Why it’s hot: What other activities are taking off? What activities are being displaced? What long-term impact could new habits have after the pandemic ends?

Your subway stop are now announced by…a brand?

On the 7 train into work this morning, I was greeted by the voice over the intercom, which I assumed was the train conductor, announced the next stop. Then, to my surprise the voice added “this is a local train so we are making all the stops, baby!!!” I thought an conductor was having fun. I was delighted.

Before long, it became clear that the voice was a recording of Awkwafina as part of an advertising campaign for Nora from Queens–a new television show. 

Awkwafina attends the IFP's 29th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on December 02, 2019 in New York City.

Like me, some of the approximately 820,000 daily 7-train riders thought a live conductor was cracking jokes.

Other people recognized a new form of advertising and were annoyed.

For it’s part the MTA is interested in opening up more announcements to sponsors.

“We are exploring new and different ways to generate much needed revenue, while also surprising and delighting customers,” said NYC Transit chief customer officer Sarah Meyer.

Why it’s hot: 

As the era of voice technology arises, expectations about what spaces should be free from audio ads may shift. Is this a new opportunity, a new form of sound pollution, or both?

Does Cooperation Beat Competition in Getting Brands Attention Online?

Brands on social media are often seen as competitors. Users on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram will only see a limited number of branded posts per visit, so social media managers battle to be one of them, paying or using owned channels to grab as much attention as possible.

On Dec 5, Netflix proved that cooperation can beat competition. Speaking directly to brand account managers on Twitter, it encouraged brands to push the boundaries of social acceptability by asking what can be said during sex and for a brand on Twitter.

The post generated over 100,000 retweets and nearly half a million likes.

Brands of all kinds jumped on board, even competitors. (e.g. Direct TV, not shown here.)

Why it’s hot:

In NYC, merchants realized that they could make more money by surrounding themselves with their direct competitors in districts that attracted more customers overall (e.g. the garment district, flower district, diamond district). Perhaps we are entering an era where brands will increasingly band together on social media to generate the type of attention they could not garner alone.

WeChat and the future of CX

The story of the internet has mostly run west to east, San Francisco to Shanghai. WeChat has proven an exception. In China, it has become the dominant platform for everything from social media, bill pay, and messaging.

In the last 2 years, it has added digital storefronts to it’s roster. Businesses like HeyTea are primarily using it–instead of their own app or website– to reduce wait times through mobile ordering.

Image result for heytea whatsapp

Why it’s hot: 

With Facebook looking to integrate Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp with each other and with business payments, it’s worth asking whether a unified online experience with one app for all purchases, messages, and media is the customer experience that we will ultimately demand, or whether a series of apps and websites–each with their own usernames, passwords, and interfaces has benefits that will stand the test of time.

 

Cars are fundamentally changing. Do we want them to?

The Ford Mustang sold so well after its 1964 release that it is credited with creating the ‘pony car’–an affordable coupe with a long hood and muscular motor that was widely imitated.

Now, after 5 decades of continuous production, Ford has developed an electric prototype, revealed at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas last Tuesday.

Though electric vehicles have no need for an elongated hood to house a gas-powered motor or a transmission to moderate combustion power, Ford’s release includes a the stylized hood and six-speed manual transmission to make it feel like a traditional Mustang.

Why it’s hot: 

Cars have been marketed as symbols of power, freedom, control, and sex. But with the underlying nature of vehicles changing–from roaring to silent, from people-driven to autonomous, from private to shared–will our societal vision of what a car is change, or will we hold on to our dated car dreams as long as automakers continue to satisfy them?

Is a $250 Onesie the way to sell a $250,000 space flight?

The New York Times reported that Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s company promising to take passengers to the edge of space on a rocket-powered plane, has released the space outfits its customers will wear on their trip.

In line with the Virgin brand, the marketing focus is on the look and style, rather than the substance of the experience itself.

“I think every single person who goes to space will be delighted with it,” Mr. Branson said in an interview. “I think the whole experience of going to space should be sexy. Our spaceships are sexy. Our mother ships are sexy. Our spaceport is sexy. And for younger people than myself, this suit is also sexy.”

Why it’s hot: 

Is selling a $250,000, once-in-a-lifetime experience on style idiotic or smart? I’m not sure whether to laugh or nod. Let’s discuss.

Your phone’s camera didn’t capture the moment. It computed it.

The way our cameras process and represent images is changing in a subtle but fundamental way, shifting cameras from ‘capturing the moment’ to creating it with algorithmic computations.

Reporting about the camera on Google’s new Pixel 4 smartphone, Brian Chen of the New York Times writes:

“When you take a digital photo, you’re not actually shooting a photo anymore.

‘Most photos you take these days are not a photo where you click the photo and get one shot,’ said Ren Ng, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. ‘These days it takes a burst of images and computes all of that data into a final photograph.’

Computational photography has been around for years. One of the earliest forms was HDR, for high dynamic range, which involved taking a burst of photos at different exposures and blending the best parts of them into one optimal image.

Over the last few years, more sophisticated computational photography has rapidly improved the photos taken on our phones.”

This technology is evident in Google’s Night Sight, which is capable of capturing low-light photos without a flash.

Why it’s hot: 

In a world where the veracity of photographs and videos is coming into question because of digital manipulation, it’s interesting that alteration is now baked in.

In Japan, the Pager Passes from Existence to Nostalgia

After 50 years, pager service in Japan officially ended at midnight, Oct. 1, when Tokyo Telemessage Inc shut down it’s remaining radio signals in Tokyo and the Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures.

The pager (or “Pocket Bell” in Japanese) was first used in Japan in 1968 for travelling sales staff. By 1996, pagers were used by 10 million people and had become “one of the defining symbols of a subculture among female high school students along with ‘loose socks’ and taking photos in puri-kura photo booths.” With the introduction of cell phones and email service, usage declined.

Why it’s hot: 

In an era where technology cycles so quickly, old technologies become sources of nostalgia and symbols of history. Fortunately, in American we still have time to give the pager a proper goodbye as they are still used in 80% of U.S. hospitals because of their ability to send signals in cellular dead zones.

Should you get paid for your data? How much?

In a New York Times opinion piece, Jaron Lanier, a computer programmer and futurist, argues that our data is being robbed from us by social media companies and used for algorithmic advertisements, in what amounts to a “crazy behavioral manipulation scheme.”

His proposed solution is that we should be paid for our data. Services like social media would no longer be free, but individuals would be compensated by commissions on any purchases their data influences.

Why it’s hot: 

As digital advertisers, we have a special window into the power (or powerlessness) of data in influencing behavior. Knowing what you know, what would do you think is worth more: $5,000 or the value of all of the data you have accumulated up to this point?

Lebron James and the Case of the Taco Tuesdays

ESPN reported that on Wednesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied Lebron James’s application to trademark the phrase “Taco Tuesday,” explaining that it is “a commonplace term.” According to James’s spokesman, the denial was the desired result of the filing. The reason? “To ensure LeBron cannot be sued for any use of ‘Taco Tuesday.'”

During the NBA off-season, James began promoting Taco Tuesdays. In a video from his Instagram feed, he shows genuine enthusiasm for the event while he and his family wear Lebron-branded Taco Tuesday shirts, which can be purchased for upwards of $20 online.

The result of the U.S. Patent office’s denial is that anyone can profit from the phrase ‘Taco Tuesday’ without fear of copyright infringement.

Why it’s hot: 

1. MRM now has legal cover to shamelessly capitalize on “Taco Tuesdays”. Cigna Taco Tuesdays. USPS Taco Tuesdays. Honeywell Taco Tuesdays.

2. We live in an age where celebrity sway is so powerful that their passion alone can revitalize dead marketing tropes. Cardi B loves free stuff? Bring on Cardi B BOGO Day.

Don’t know what to binge? Try Google

On Sept 5, Google announced a new feature in search: personalized TV and movie recommendations.

This feature will appear for general queries (e.g. “good shows to watch”) as opposed to specific ones (e.g. “Avengers”) and the results will be customizable depending on current subscriptions (i.e. Google will list top choices for the streaming services users have access to). To build their profile, users will be asked to Tinder swipe left and right on a series of movies and shows (see image below).

Why it’s hot: 

By utilizing its superior search and AI capabilities, Google threatens to become a powerful gatekeeper to streaming services. It is also poised to finally solve that perennial mystery: what should I watch?

 

The future of voting is…Microsoft?

In the U.S., the legitimacy of elections is a culturally recognized threat for both the political right and the left. Current voting machines are both old and hackable. Enter Microsoft, which is developing ElectionGuard, an open source, plug-and-play voting machine with new encryption technology that allows for votes to be both private (you can’t tell who voted for who) and public (voters could instantly see results in real time and use a private key to insure that their vote was properly tallied).

Why it’s hot: 

Increased security is often equated with increased privacy. Microsoft has solved the problem another way. Analogous to the security provided by the blockchain, it is the public and open nature of the code and data that insures legitimacy.

 

 

Ghost Restaurants are Here and Growing

In the last year, an estimated $863 billion dollars was spent on restaurants across America. To the barrage of options, from Thai to tamales, white tablecloth to hole-in-the-wall, a new contender is establishing itself–the ghost restaurant.

Ghost restaurants do not have places for customers to sit or even pick up food. They are kitchens with online marquees available on meal delivery services like Deliveroo (Europe) and Uber Eats. They are able to cut costs on square footage, waitstaff, and location while reaching the growing number of customers who get food delivered.

Because a Ghost restaurant’s digital brand is not tied to its physical space, it is possible for one kitchen to operate several ghost restaurants simultaneously. Top Round Roast Beef (above), is a San Francisco restaurant that maintains three distinct identities on Uber Eats: ‘Ribbon Fried Chicken’, ‘TR Burger and Wings’ and ‘Ice Cream Custard.’

Why it’s Hot: 

Digital branding and strategy will play a bigger role in the restaurant industry now that the kitchen has been separated from the service experience.

Domino’s v. Disability

In 2016, Guillermo Robles, a visually impaired man, sued Domino’s Pizza because their website and app were not compatible with screen-reading software, making online delivery impossible. Robles’s lawyers argued that this violated the American Disability Act (ADA), which requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible. After the case was initially dismissed by a district court because of a lack of Justice Department guidelines, a federal appeals court ruled in Robles’s favor.

Now Domino’s is appealing the decision, asking the Supreme Court to decide that it does not have a legal obligation to follow the ADA online. The case pits a company defined by delivery against the very customers who need it most.

Illustration for article titled Domino's Could Fuck Up the Internet for People With Disabilities Because They Won't Just Fix Their Website

Why it’s hot

At stake is the future of user experience. If courts decide that the American Disability Act extends to the internet, then designers may be legally required to accommodate all users on all projects that accommodate the public.

See the full Gizmodo article here.

Finding Home Outside of the Home

IKEA recently published their annual Life at Home report for research done in 2018. The study, in its 5th year, is extensive, reaching 22,000 people across 22 countries. The goal is to better understand how people actually use and see their homes in today’s changing world.

This year IKEA found a shift. In 2016, 20% of survey respondents felt most at home somewhere besides the place where they live. In 2018 that number increased to 29% for people who live outside of cities and 35% for people who live in cities. IKEA identifies 5 needs that contribute to feeling at home: privacy, comfort, ownership, security, and belonging. The suggestion is that a growing number of people are satisfying these basic needs elsewhere.

Why it’s Hot

Increase in population, urbanization, and economic stratification mean less living space for individuals and families. When the basic needs of feeling at home are not met where people live, people will search elsewhere. Brands and governments will be asked to respond.