Mayor to review 1,000 Amazon products in bid for company’s new HQ

It’s been about a month since Amazon announced it was accepting bids from US cities to host its second major headquarters. A city that comes away with a new Amazon campus could potentially see a significant economy boost, so competition will certainly be fierce. And with the deadline for cities to submit their proposals exactly one week away, Kansas City, Missouri has emerged as perhaps the city with the most creative strategy. As noted by VentureBeatKansas City mayor Sly James purchased 1,000 products from Amazon for charity and is reviewing every single one — and the reviews very quickly pivot into why his city would be a great place for the company’s new HQ.

James explained his plan with a few videos on Twitter and also set up a URL that lets interested parties (like Amazon) see everything he’s reviewed. Products run the gamut from 22-inch wind chimes priced at only $14.99 (“I live in beautiful Kansas City where the average home price is just $122K, so I know luxe living doesn’t have to cost a ton”) to the classic kids story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (“Alexander had a really bad day, but here in KC, we’re ranked as one of the 20 happiest cities to work in right now…”). You get the idea.

Video here

Site here

James just kicked the program off earlier this week, but he already has posted dozens of reviews — though a read through his entertaining Twitter feed makes it sound as if he’s not actually doing all the posting himself. But there’s little doubt this goofy but heartfelt venture is driving some positive buzz for Kansas City. Whether or not that’ll make a difference in the bidding process remains to be seen, but the city does meet enough of Amazon’s criteria that it should be in the running.

Source: Engadget

Why it’s Hot:

Going all out for your city’s economic growth means more than formal pitches, apparently. Taking to social to find humorous and creative ways to stand out is a solid idea — let’s see how it pans out for KC’s chances!

 

Google Express Just Upped Their Game

A few years ago, the idea that Target and Walmart would publicly chat about having the same strategy would have seemed odd—the retail titans are notoriously tight-lipped about their tactics, particularly when it comes to giving the other intel on what they’re doing.

But as Amazon’s dominance continues to grow, stealing shoppers away from brands’ ecommerce sites, an intriguing partnership today with Google offers a look at how retailers could be more willing to put their differences aside and work together to fend off Amazon’s encroaching competition. While Google said that it will keep the two partnerships separate from a data-sharing perspective, the deals show how major retailers are willing to back the same initiatives for the sake of shaking off Amazon.

“These partnerships aren’t about voice—they’re really more symbolic of the fact that major retailers are willing to partner with Google in the fight against Amazon,” said Cooper Smith, director of Amazon research at L2. “Brands and retailers need to scale their audiences in order to compete against Amazon online, and Google can offer them that. We’re in the beginning stages of what eventually could be a legitimate alternative to Amazon.”

Today Target announced that it’s making its inventory available on Google Express, the shopping service that also counts Costco, Kohl’s and Walgreens as clients. Consumers will also be able to ask Google Assistant, which is plugged into its Google Home devices, to order products.

By next year, shoppers that use Target’s credit card to purchase items will save 5 percent on orders from Google Express. The retailer also plans to build out a capability that allows consumers to link their Target.com accounts to Google to receive personalized product recommendations.

In August, Walmart announced a similar voice deal with Google that allows consumers to purchase “hundreds of thousands of items” by linking a website account to Google Assistant. Over time, Google’s technology can remember which products, sizes and flavors someone regularly buys to make check out a bit faster.

Now, Walmart and Target will somewhat compete on terms—or keywords—that consumers order from Google. For example, if someone asks Google Home to order detergent and they shop from Target more frequently than Walmart, Google will surface product recommendations from Target.

“This is clearly a chain reaction to the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods,” said Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM. “Google’s expertise founded around search gives them a profound understanding of consumer intent—they probably know more about what people are specifically searching for than any other company. Finding ways to bridge that with what Walmart or Target understands around satisfying demand seems like a potentially powerful partnership.”

Source: AdWeek

Why It’s Hot
I guess it truly is Amazon against the world… Who would have thought that two major competitors would ever join forces, let alone allow their products to be sold on the same platform. Target joins Walmart as one of the major retailers on Google’s e-Commerce store, Google Express, that allows shoppers to access a variety of products all in one place, ala-Amazon. Both retail giants will have their products on the website, where shoppers can shop right from their Google Home devices. This is sure to be an interesting battle going forward, as Google has more access to an unlimited amount of data surrounding keywords and how users shop than any other company.

Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes for VR Tour of Puerto Rico

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin—who leads the social network’s virtual reality work—livestreamed a 360-degree video from the top of a building on Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., campus to show the damage in Puerto Rico from the recent hurricanes.

The two called the video a “magical tour” and used the company’s five-month-old Facebook Spaces VR app that turns users into cartoon characters. As Zuckerberg and Franklin talked, footage of the devastated area captured by NPR ran in the background.

Immediate criticism on social media called Zuckerberg’s clip tone-deaf and accused him of “exploiting disaster” by promoting Facebook’s VR initiatives.

Zuckerberg later apologized, saying that his intentions for using VR were not clear initially.

“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy,” he commented on the video. “My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.”

Why it’s not hot:

  • Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s use of VR to show the devestation in Puerto Rico came off as tone-deaf and self-serving.
  • Although they were announcing a partnership with Red Cross, using it to plug their new VR capabilities made the partnership seem less empathetic and authentic.
  • When natural disasters occur, brands need to be aware of the sensitivity of the situation and take into account the emotional reality those effected are facing.

Source

 

Tamagotchis are back!

[insert siren emoji here] Big news: Bandai just released a new line of Tamagotchis to celebrate the iconic toy’s 20th anniversary! These little buddies are very similar to their original predecessors, 256-pixel screen and all – the only real difference is that they’re about 20% smaller than the classic version. There are six shell designs to choose from, and the digital pets are just as needy and adorable as you remember them being. Have fun!

Why it’s hot: The trend of reviving 90s-era tech & toys continues! Nokia re-released its classic 3310 mobile phone earlier this year, and Nintendo released a NES Classic Edition last year. Is Game Boy next??!!

Read more: Gizmodo | Engadget

Spotify for Artists

Spotify For Artists is an app launching this week that gives musicians and their managers mobile access to super-detailed analytics about their music and the people listening to it.

The Spotify For Artists app takes some of the most useful insights about an artist’s music—which songs are most popular, how many streams they’re getting over all, where those listeners live, and which playlists are helping win over new fans—and boils them down into digestible graphical charts. It’s a bit like Google Analytics for rappers, electronic DJs, and pop stars.

This isn’t the first time Spotify has made this kind of data available. Spotify For Artists is a product that first launched on the web in April, after a private beta period. First, Spotify opened it up to all artists (the first big, on-demand streaming app of its kind to do so). Now it’s letting them access it on their phones.

The app also gives artists some control over their presence on Spotify, allowing them to do things like update their bios, post playlists, and select the “artist’s pick” track that Spotify lets them display on their profiles.

Spotify For Artists is part of a broader effort to build more artist-facing tools and ’empower’ them. The company also started a program called Fans First, which uses data to detect the most obsessive listeners of a given artist and target them with special offers like pre-sale concert tickets or exclusive merchandise. The company has also been working harder to strengthen its relationships within the music industry and among artists, in part by hiring former Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter.

Why it’s hot: This is yet another way in which Spotify is leveraging their data in an interesting and unexpected way. It is great to see them making it readily available for artists who can benefit from knowing more about their core users. Additionally, making it available on a mobile app vs. just desktop (as they launched in April) makes this an even more accessible and useful tool to the music industry.

Source: FastCo

Upgrade Your Flight with VR

Flying isn’t what it used to be, so more people opt for budget airlines. They will (usually) get where you need to go, but you also know not to expect a pleasant experience. Will your luggage be small enough for the cabin, or will you have to pay an exorbitant rate to check it?

And forget food. If you get that, you got lucky.

With this in mind, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, part of the Air France-KLM family, launched the KLM Flight Upgrader, a virtual reality experience that (almost) enables you to escape your budget flight … without paying the brand-name airline cost.

Distributed at no cost to people waiting to board budget flights for JFK New York, the KLM Flight Upgrader makes a compelling promise: From your paper-thin seat, spend hours holding the app to your face and enjoying everything a KLM flight would have offered you—entertainment, newspapers and the enjoyment of watching a “caring crew” issue a proper meal you can only hope to taste. (Toss a peanut into your mouth. Salt is salt, right?)

“Just pop this thing on your head and you can use virtual reality to escape the real reality of your flight,” a narrator brightly tells us.

Passengers can spend as much time aboard the virtual flight as they wish, and can watch either the full episode of a show, or 10 minutes of a blockbuster movie. Better yet, peer down to scope the leg room. Don’t kick, though.

This last illustrates the masochism of the concept, which in some ways eclipses its cleverness. KLM never addresses why people take budget flights in the first place: Flights are expensive, even as the perks begin to vanish; a budget airline at least assures you get somewhere without having to skip a mortgage payment. On a recent trip, I took a budget international flight that cost around $500. KLM’s sister brand Air France proposed upwards of $3,000.

Faced with this dissonance, it’s too easy to pretend people opt to suffer through budget flights because they simply don’t know how much better an established brand experience will be. Distribution of the Flight Upgrader was relatively small, so user impact is probably the least relevant part of this story, but we’re not convinced it did much more than rub salt in the wound.

Not that that matters. KLM isn’t stupid; this is a promotional play, and it’s hedging bets in the budget arena. Air France recently shared news of its own budget offering: Joon, targeted to younger users and blessed with the improbable tagline, “Also an airline.”

In any event, users looking to escape some future airborne reality (or simply watch a free TV show) can download the KLM Flight Upgrader app from Google Play and the App Store, then use their own VR headset to make the magic happen. A limited quantity of KLM cardboard headsets—not so subtly labeled “Do not disturb—pretending to fly KLM”—are still available and can be requested free of charge on the website.

Why it’s hot:

  • VR continues to grow in popularity, but it still is not the norm for advertising especially in the transportation space. KLM does a great job at targeting their competitors and showing exactly how they are a better choice for travelers.

One Brand’s Trash is Another’s Treasure

To align with Columbus Day, Astral Tequila presented “Columbus Day: A Reenactment,” an ad starring Jonathan Goldsmith, the Artist Formerly Known as the Most Interesting Man in the World.

 

At the end of the video, Goldsmith breaks the fourth wall to address us, the viewing audience, directly: “That is pretty much how it happened.” Cue a close-up of a bottle of Astral Tequila and, on-screen, “Happy Columbus Day.”

To say that Columbus’ legacy is complicated is a vast understatement.

When you touch upon this realm, there’s sure to be backlash, but they’re not taking sides, they’re making light of what we know as the facts: An explorer set out for India and landed in a new world, one already inhabited albeit, although he claimed to have found it.

“Our spot is simply lampooning Christopher Columbus’ journey,” says Astral VP-Marketing Joen Choe in a statement provided by Erich and Kallman, the agency of record for the Davos Brands tequila. Choe added that Columbus “set out for India, but bumped into America instead. We are certainly not making light of any historical events.”

Why Its Hot:

I’m steering clear of the controversial nature of “Columbus Day” theme and going for what I like most about this spot: re-purposing of a commercial celebrity. It reminds me of the ‘can you hear me now’ guy’s resurrection by Sprint. One brand’s trash is another’s treasure!

Spanish Internet Crackdown Pre-Referendum

An interesting breakdown of how to stifle dissent on the Internet from the recent Catalonia referendum from the EFF:

  • Seize top level domains: the Spanish Civil Police seized refendum.cat, as well as a host of associated websites. Associated domains were seized if they were on the .cat TLD, and blocked if they were not.
  • Spain didnt stop with existing websites, but also blocked “any future sites with content related to the referendum, publicized on any social network by a member of the Catalonian Government. This order accelerated the blocking of further websites without any further court order. These apparently included the censorship of non-partisan citizen collectives (e.g. empaperem.cat) and other non-profit organizations (assemblea.catwebdelsi.catalerta.cat), and campaign websites by legal political parties (prenpartit.cat).”
  • Spain obtained a court order blocking a voting app on the Google Play store, as well as any other apps made by the same developer. This order included penalties for mirrors, proxies, or other copies made to circumvent the other.

Why it’s hot: 

This demonstrates the level of government control that exists on the Internet these days. We’re used to thinking of the wild west, and enabling democratic revolutions, but it’s increasingly clear that governments have become much more sophisticated in blocking information sources online. What does this mean for the future of free communication?

Inflatable Robot

Why It’s Hot: This technology allows people to access hard to get and potentially dangerous to areas more safely and efficiently. The fact that this technology can be applied to both micro and macro situations opens many possibilities.

Spare Change for Cryptocurrencies

Dust, a new app, aims to change you save your spare change.

By connecting to your bank account, Dust can see your transactions and round up each of those to the nearest dollar. Like Acorn, it collects spare change. Once you have reached about $10 dollar worth, the amount is used to buy bitcoin, litecoin, or ethereum, in proportions set by the user. The cryptocurrencies are acquired through Coinbase, one of the biggest firms in the business. Additionally, the bank does not have access to the crypto funds.

Image result for cryptocurrency

Source: https://qz.com/1095292/dust-lets-you-buy-bitcoin-with-spare-change-with-monzo/

Why It’s Hot: 

  • The concept is powerful because it removes the need to think—or worry—about the right time to pull the trigger on an investment. It’s especially useful for volatile cryptocurrencies, where prices can swing 100% in a week.

 

Ticket please. But I’m the ticket

Swedish train operator SJ Railways is equipping passengers with chips as an alternative to paper tickets. The system comprises a NFC (near-field communication) microchip and a smartphone app.

Each passenger is given a membership number, which is stored in his or her chip and monitored via the app. Once implanted, conductors can simply use their device to scan people’s hands and validate their journey.

The company started by trialling the tech with 100 of its loyalty programme members and reports that 3,000 travellers are now using the microchip system.

The innovation follows the news that Swedish co-working space company Epicenter gives members the option to use a chip implant rather than a plastic card to access its premises. ‘Some of SJ’s business passengers at Epicenter contacted us and asked about the possibility of using the microchip for the train journey.

Why its hot?
From screen to skin. So, let the bio-hacking begin:
According to World Economic Forum, implantable mobile phones will on the market by 2023. These devices will potentially be able to accurately track a person’s health, while also allowing them to communicate thoughts through signals. While this might seem far-fetched, SJ Railways’ chip system is an example of how brands could tap into the emerging human augmentation market in a way that is more acceptable to the public.

Source: Contagious

Experiential marketing… you’ve probably never heard of it.

Brands are stepping up their marketing efforts and turning advertisements into experiences.

“Two or three years ago, clients saw it as an incremental spend. Now they’re moving dollars previously slated for media or broadcast into experiential.”
-Denise Wong, president of George P. Johnson Experiential Marketing
Experiential marketing is like party planning for brands. People aren’t tweeting or sharing pictures on social about billboards, they’re sharing experiences. Having consumers share their experience about your brand is free marketing (minus the event costs obvi).
Here are some super cool examples of what some brands have done.

At Comic-Con in San Diego, the Blade Runner 2049 Experience presented by Johnnie Walker had fans chasing VR replicants.

55,000 people livestreamed the Dodge Demon’s fiery debut at the New York Auto Show

 

Salesforce built a tech village for its Dreamforce 2016 mega-event in San Francisco

Agencies Everywhere See Experiential Marketing as the Next Big Thing, and Brands Want In

Why its hot?

  • This is like UX on steroids .. i think.
  • How will this change a creatives role in an agency? Will there be experiential designers now?
  • Making an event that resonates with your audience need could be the best party of all time, and who doesn’t want a VIP ticket to a super cool event?

Google is working on a Snapchat Discover competitor

“According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, Google is working on its answer to Snapchat. It’s called Stamp — a portmanteau of “stories” and “AMP,” the acronym for Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google’s quick-loading web articles…” according to an article in NYMag from early August.

Refinery29 on Snapchat Discover

The latest update, according to an article in Variety, is that Google has started paying publishers to create content for the platform and could be pushing content live as early as this month.

From what we know, Stamp is essentially a slideshow format, likely heavy on images and short videos, and similar to Snapchat Discover or Instagram Stories.

Stamp stories would appear within mobile search results, but could also get integrated directly into publisher websites. Apparently, Google has no plans to sell its own ads against this content at launch, but instead is letting publishers keep 100% of their ad revenue.

 

Robots Feel Too

SynTouch has developed a robot that can “feel” textures. It’s all done with a texture testing machine that allows the robot to understand a variety of the materialistic components from coarseness to coolness. The robotic fingertip rubs against the material and analyzes it in 15 different dimensions. The fingertip itself is equipped with 19 super sensitive electrodes in which a silicon skin encloses the structure. But that’s not all, saline is injected in between the space allowing the electrodes to measure the change in resistance when the finger is pressed against a surface.

Before integrating touch sensation:

After integrating touch:

The finger measures in vibrations; different materials would result in different vibration patterns. “SynTouch’s finger measures not just a material’s temperature, but its perceived temperature, by precisely measuring this rate of heat transfer.”

How it works:

Why it’s hot:
It would be an incredible step for prosthetics, amputees may be able to have robotic replacements that would allow them to ‘feel’ again. It could also revolutionize online shopping, people may never have to leave home again as consumer reviews would be able to qualify the actual feel of a fabric before purchase.

Quite the touching invention, don’t you think?

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/syntouch-robot-finger/

Headphones that translate 40 languages

Designed to work with the Google Pixel 2 smartphones, the Pixel Buds wireless earphones can work as a universal translator and have conversations across 40 languages.

Speak one language into the earphones, the smartphone will translate it and speak the other language out loud on the phone using Google Translate app.

 

Source

Why it’s hot: language might no longer be a barrier to moving around the world. When will technology help us transcribe different languages? Maybe also animal languages?

Related image

How SeaWorld Made the Most-Liked Ad

SeaWorld’s image sank a few years back in the wake of the controversial Blackfish documentary. That film probed the death of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, killed by an orca at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, and condemned keeping such creatures in captivity.

Today, however, the marine life park is turning the tide, on the marketing front at least. It just topped Ace Metrix’s quarterly survey of “Top Breakthrough Ads” with the 90-second spot below, created by Charleston, S.C., agency Push Digital. Ace defines its Top Breakthrough Ads as the ones with the highest combination of “Attention” and “Likeability” scores in its methodology.

Whoa, that pouty porpoise and sweet-faced seal are so gosh-darned adorbs, SeaWorld must be the greatest place on earth. Right?

While there’s nothing revolutionary about the ad or its creative approach, those cuddly rescued animals and feel-good vibes did really resonate with viewers.

In fact, according to Ace Metrix, the SeaWorld spot “ranks as the single highest-rated travel ad” in the research group’s database, which dates back to 2010. “Viewers were moved by the powerful message, which was reinforced by beautiful visuals,” Ace says in a post published with the rankings. “After dealing with a tarnished reputation in recent years, SeaWorld successfully demonstrated to most viewers that they are committed to making a positive impact on this planet.”

Michael Rentiers, president of brands and advocacy at Push Digital, says that his shop—well-versed in crisis communications and political campaigns—chose to create inclusive content that emphasizes SeaWorld’s broader mission beyond its tarnished reputation as an entertainment venue.

“Our goal was to cut through the clutter and to present SeaWorld in a new light, with a larger mission that every SeaWorld guest contributes to,” he tells Adweek. “We wanted people to see that SeaWorld is a premier destination that is a force for good in the world. We absolutely feel like we are accomplishing our goal. A good political approach is about moving people to take action. We took a creative and emotional approach to a direct message: ‘Together, we can save the oceans and ocean animals, and have fun doing it.’”

Adds agency CEO Wesley Donehue: “We just need to get the truth out there and show that SeaWorld is spending a ton of money making the world a better place.”

Source: AdWeek

Why It’s Hot

It’s a little ironic that one of the most publicly-disliked brands has created the Most-Liked Ad. Although SeaWorld’s brand image and credibility may have been tarnished in recent years – this article serves as a good example as to how brands can still revitalize their reputation and hone in on their message. By showcasing all of the “good” that SeaWorld is doing in a documentary-style way, they have almost silenced their naysayers (for now). Instead of focusing on keeping marine animals in captivity, they are trying to change their brand perception and show that they are actually rehabilitating and “saving” these species.

Google’s New Pixel Earphones Translate 40 Languages

On Wednesday, Google unveiled the Pixel Buds, a $159 pair of wireless earbuds designed to work with its new Pixel 2 smartphones.

pixel buds

The coolest part of the Pixel Buds is the ability to use them as a universal translator. It’s like something out of “Star Trek” — at its November launch, you’ll be able to use the Pixel Buds to have a conversation across 40 languages. It’s actually a feature of the existing Google Translate app. To get started, just load it up on your Pixel 2 phone. From there, choose the language you understand, and the language you need to translate. An introductory message pops up on the screen once you begin: It basically explains to the other person that you’re using an app, and how it works.

google translate pixel buds pixel 2

Why its hot:

  • The Pixel Buds use Google Translate which is an already popular and trusted translation platform, and add another level of accessibility.
  • There are headphones with similar technology that already exist, however, they operate on a much smaller scale. The Pixel Buds offer a wide range of languages so it can be used across the world.

Source  

 

 

 

Data Driven Chicken Sandwiches

How do you compete in a world of extreme competition, demanding consumers and a shrinking availability of commercial real estate? Well if you’re Chick-fil-a you mix billions of data records, topped with predictive analytics and a side automation to get targeted locations that meet both the needs of consumers and the organization.

In only a few years Chik-fil-a has completely digitized their site selection and the results have been amazing. Site selection, especially for a restaurant that sees a lot of vehicular traffic is imperative to success. Chik-fil-a historically would take pieces of available data like traffic patterns, potential new development, and physical drive-bys to determine new sites.

Using new technologies, Chik-fil-a is able to import massive data sets into their system to analyze and simplify decisionmaking. Chan Lee, enterprise GIS manager for Chick-fil-A’s strategy and analytics team stated:

We’re looking at transactional levels of data.  You’re thinking about billions and billions of records. And that’s great and all, but really what we’re trying to do is trying to figure out, find the signals from the noise

Lee’s team developed a system to import all the available data sets into one centralized system. Taking into account traffic patterns, mapping data, development plans and even cell phone traffic, the GIS team can overlay relevant information on top of a map to get an informed picture of a potential new site. And so far the results speak for themselves. Chik-fil-a plans on opening 90-100 new locations this year.

 

Why It’s Hot

Data-driven decision making is a proven way of getting the complete picture, but the challenge today is less about finding and obtaining data – but turning those massive recordsets into something useful. Predictive analytic techniques use historical patterns and real-time information to deliver actionable insights. Combined with AI technologies these data lakes can now be sorted, ranked and used to make informed business decisions

 

Counting Calories?

Panasonic recently showed off a prototype for its tabletop calorie counter called CaloRieco.

How it works?

The user pops a plate of food into the device that resembles a microwave. They press a button on the lid and wait 10 seconds. Then the user gets an overall calorie read for their meal, even giving a breakdown of the meal such as carbs, fat, etc.

The machine is intended to connect via Wi-Fi to the cloud, where the user can get their nutrition profile on an app.

Learn More: http://mashable.com/2017/10/06/calorieco-panasonic-calorie-measure/?utm_cid=hp-h-1#IAI_Wja7biqz

Why It’s Hot: Current nutrition apps aren’t very reliable at getting an accurate read for your meal based on the portion size and amount of ingredients used. This device can help people keep track of their calories at home in a breeze. I personally feel like their was a demand for this product and its going to help people understand food nutrition much better in the comfort of their homes. Hopefully one day, the next product will be an app that can somehow scan the meal and project calories on the go, but who knows. Food for thought!

Pop music’s new producer? Streaming platforms…

Hit-making songwriters and producers are tailoring tracks to fit a musical landscape dominated by streaming.“In sessions, people have genuinely been saying, ‘Oh, we need to make something that sounds like Spotify,’” says Emily Warren, a singer-songwriter behind hits including Charli XCX’s “Boys” and the Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” According to the artists, songwriters, producers, and executives interviewed for this piece, no aspect of a song, from production to vocal performance, is unaffected by the regime change.

Streaming

Throughout the history of recorded music, formats have helped shape what we hear. For examplesur ideas about how long a single should be date back to what could fit on a 45 RPM 7″ vinyl record. But the unprecedented wealth of data that streaming services use to curate their increasingly influential playlists gives the industry real-time feedback on what’s working, leading to rigidly defined and formulaic music.

For example, in order for a stream to count toward chart tallies and, reportedly, for royalty payouts, a given song must be played for at least 30 seconds. That’s why, while how a song starts has always been important in pop, with streaming it’s more crucial than ever. Another element tying the streaming era’s music together is the way we listen to it: The phones and laptop speakers we often use can have a direct impact on the music that sounds best through them.

Read more here: Uncovering How Streaming Is Changing the Sound of Pop

Why It’s Hot
How technology advancements are shaping behaviors and expectations is always fascinating. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction!

Walmart Puts Its Eggs in a Time-Saving Basket: Grocery Pickup

In today’s installment of the the ongoing food/convenience/price/partnership saga…

Seeking an edge against Amazon, Walmart is pushing a service that delivers your order to your car. Customers never have to step inside the store.

A personal shopper is something you might expect at Bergdorf Goodman or a boutique on Madison Avenue.

Not at the Walmart on Route 42 in Turnersville, N.J.

But that’s where you will find Joann Joseph and a team of Walmart workers each day, filling up shopping carts with boxes of Honeycomb cereal, Cheez-Its and salted peanuts.

The customers select their groceries online, and then the shoppers pick the items off the store shelves and deliver them to people when they arrive in the parking lot. Customers never have to step inside the store.

“It’s about saving people time,” Ms. Joseph said as she helped load groceries into the back of a minivan one morning.

Walmart, which is one of the largest food retailers in the United States, sees grocery pickup as a way to marry its e-commerce business with its gigantic network of stores — a goal that has eluded many other retailers. The company started ramping up the service two years ago, and it is now available in about 1,000 of Walmart’s 4,699 stores across the country.

The initiative is the latest salvo in Walmart’s retail battle with Amazon, and the centerpiece of its strategy to gain the upper hand in the pursuit of consumers looking to streamline their food shopping.

Many retailers are focused on new ways to deliver groceries to people’s homes — particularly in big cities. Walmart is betting big on the millions of Americans in suburban and rural areas who drive everywhere. The company is trying to make ordering groceries online and then picking them up in your car as seamless as a fast-food drive-through.

Amid this heated competition, Walmart has been experimenting with different ways to get an edge. In a few cities, it works with Uber to deliver groceries to homes.

And last month, Walmart said it would begin testing a home-delivery service in which a worker loads the food into the refrigerator, even when no one is home. The customer can watch the process remotely from a home security camera and track when the delivery worker enters and leaves the house.

While these initiatives are limited to only a few states, the company’s grocery pickup is widespread. Walmart is betting that a big part of the country (“from Scranton to Sacramento,” one Walmart executive said) is more of a drive-through than delivery culture.

Source (and interesting longer article): NY Times

Why It’s Hot

This is business-model interesting! There is a lot going on in the grocery industry to deliver on customer demand for convenience. Walmart, as king of retail, needs to innovate while ensuring that they can maintain their fundamental model and prices. Fresh Direct, then UberEATs then Amazon + Whole Foods — create interesting pressures. Will Walmart stay ahead?

Biotech startup Taxa debuts genetically engineered fragrant moss

Taxa, a biotech startup in Silicon Valley, has debuted a new product: Orbella, a line of three fragrant mosses genetically engineered to give off aromas of patchouli, linalool (floral, clean, and fresh), and geraniol (rose-like). The project is a textbook example of synthetic biology, or synbio, which is the application of engineering techniques to the building blocks of life. (Basically, creating new life forms.)

Orbella was produced through a collaboration between Taxa and Dr. Henrik Simonsen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen whose work focuses on using photosynthesis (as opposed to conventional chemical synthesis) to biosynthesize small molecules.

The scented mosses were created by taking genes associated with a certain scent and splicing them into the moss genes. The actual process sounds like a near-future sci fi plot point: the scientists design the spliced gene online, use a gene gun (real name) to insert the genes into the moss cells, and then grow the GMO moss in liquid form.

If you’ve heard of Taxa before, it’s probably because of their intensely controversial Glowing Plant Kickstarter project. Back in 2013, Taxa successfully funded the Glowing Plant project with the promise of delivering a genetically modified plant that’d glow in the dark. Problem is, the biotech required to actually produce the glowing plant proved to be beyond Taxa’s reach, and their actual product hardly emitted any light.

Regardless of the success (or not) of the Glowing Plant itself, the Kickstarter project faced heavy blowback amid concerns of GMO products hitting consumer markets without any regulatory oversight. Prompted by the Glowing Plant controversy, Kickstarter banned GMO projects shortly thereafter. Taxa then pivoted to fragrant moss, which is much easier to engineer due to its simpler genome and shorter life-cycle, which allows scientists to run experiments more quickly.

Why It’s Hot: Orbella is a step forward in the consumer-facing biotech sphere. Taxa’s hope is that the product helps to positively change people’s perception of GMOs and demonstrate the varied uses of the emerging technology. Taxa is also funded primarily through crowd funding, and they’re an independent biotech company – their work is proving that GMO products don’t have to be the sole purview of massive conglomerates.

More significantly, though, the synbio field is truly the future of biotech, and represents mind-bogglingly vast possibilities for humanity – along with equally vast moral and ethical quandaries. How much modification is too much? Where’s the line between a fun, harmless GMO like scented moss and something more troubling? And who should be allowed to produce, and sell, and purchase GMO products in the first place?

Orbella Moss: Gizmodo | Business InsiderOrbella Moss
The Glowing Plant project: Kickstarter | Mother Jones | The Verge

Instagram Adds New Features to Stories

Instagram Adds Polls in Stories, New Creative Tools | Social Media Today

Instagram has added three brand new additions to Stories that will make creating engaging content easier.

Polls
A new sticker options for Instagram Stories lets users add polls easily and see the results from their followers. The votes are not anonymous. Like stories, the pull and results will disappear after 24 hours.

Color Picker
Users can duplicate the tone of any color in an image and use it in text. Tap on the eyedropper and you’ll be able to select any part of the image to duplicate its tone.

Instagram Adds Polls in Stories, New Creative Tools | Social Media Today

Alignment guide
The new alignment guide helps users avoid placing content anywhere it might get covered up when someone watches a story. When you rotate text or a sticker, the new guides will help snap the sticker back to horizontal.

Instagram Adds Polls in Stories, New Creative Tools | Social Media Today

Why its hot

These new features make it easier to create more personalized, better composed stories in Instagram. The poll feature is especially interesting since Facebook, which owns Instagram, has pushed down the reach of “live” videos that use reactions in voting. These updates will be especially useful for brands creating stand-out content in Stories.

 

Burger King is Loving “It”

Burger King and McDonald’s are fighting again.

It’s not just the usual competition between two fast-food chains, because this time, Stephen King and his favorite evil clown are involved.

It, a reboot of King’s 1986 novel about a deadly jester, has been breaking box office records around the world thanks to its certified classic status and some brilliant guerrilla marketing involving super-creepy balloons tied to grates.

Burger King Russia even filed an official complaint demanding the government pull the movie from theaters because—get this—its villain Pennywise looks too much like one Ronald McDonald.

Hamburg, Germany-based agency Grabarz & Partner saw this as an opportunity, turning an area preview of the film into “the longest advertisement Burger King ever had.”

That was quite amusing, and the viewers in Hamburg seemed to be very much in on the joke. The fact that none of them were budding 10-year-old horror fans terrified by the very mention of Pennywise probably had something to do with it.

We’re still puzzled by the idea that the film’s popularity would somehow give McDonald’s an unfair advantage over its chief rival in Russia, but there you go.

Source: AdWeek

Why it’s hot: “It” has broken multiple records as a horror movie and the fact that Burger King found a way to leverage this, while still staying relevant to their brand, is the epitome of thinking outside the box.

Artist virtually vandalizes Jeff Koons’ x Snapchat collab in protest

On Tuesday 3 October, Snapchat launched a collaboration with Jeff Koons which placed virtual, 3D versions of the artist’s best-known sculptures in international tourist hotspots via augmented reality. A day later, New York-based artist Sebastian Errazuriz virtually “vandalised” one of the sculptures, the Balloon Dog, in Central Park in order to make a statement.

The team made an identical 3D AR Balloon Dog covered in graffiti, including a graffiti tag from phenom Klops, and geo-tagged it to the exact coordinates in “a symbolic stance against imminent AR corporate invasion,” Errazuriz expressed to It’s Nice That. “It is vital to start questioning how much of our virtual public space we are willing to give to companies.”

Why It’s Hot

No matter the motive for this statement by Errazuriz, he brings to light a growing concern. An increasing amount of our social interactions are occurring virtually. As we move toward more utilitarian applications for AR, we’ll need to ensure that the space is not over crowded with “cool” brand activations. Branded content should continue to enhance social interactions, not just seek to disrupt them.

Stranger Things on iOS

The Stranger Things iOS game hits the app store one month before the show returns to Netflix!  Made by BonusXP, the media tie-in game is an action-adventure inspired by old Super Nintendo titles. Unlike a lot of media-tie in games, however, this one is getting good reviews. The game is free to play, has no in-app purchases, and if you collect all the video cassettes to unlock an exclusive trailer. And a few cute references for fans of the series (some NPCs will even say “Justice for Barb!”).

Why it’s hot:

  1. Shows what a great product and attention to detail can bring to a well-loved show.

IKEA’s Indoor Farm Is Trying To Alter How We Grow Food

IKEA has introduced an indoor farm with the hopes of giving people the ability to grow their own food at home. The prototype, or ‘Lokal’ as it’s called, was designed by SPACE10, IKEA’s lab for innovation.

Lokal is the most recent prototype to come from ‘The Farm’, a SPACE10 lab seeking to change how we view traditional farming while implementing new food production methods into our cities.

“By experimenting with hydroponics (growing of food without soil), SPACE10 says that it’s able to grow food up to three times faster and with 90% less water than traditional methods. In addition to being soilless and faster than traditional methods, Lokal is also able to grow greens without any sunlight at all. Instead, the plants survive solely off of LED lighting and mineral nutrient rich water.

SPACE10 points out that the current global food system is problematic for a few reasons. For starters, our current method of food production is contributing to the changing climate and is also wasteful of resources that we are already running low on, like fresh water. Furthermore, current methods lend themselves to wasting food. The hope is that the benefits of hydroponic farming courtesy of Lokal will go a long way in remedying some of these problems. According to its post with Medium, the food also “tastes good, is more nutritious, pesticide-free and fresh all year round”.

The lab also has hopes of “Introducing sensors and machine learning to the vertical stacks and connecting the data with Google Home — to enable people to ‘talk’ to plants, in effect, and hear how they’re doing, as well as to teach children and adults alike about sustainable food”.

Why it’s hot:

IKEA continues to step up their game in innovation. Although they are a furniture/lifestyle brand, they are taking a stand for a greater good.

Source: PSFK

Disney’s Real-Time Rotten Tomatoes

Disney is using new deep learning software to analyze movie-goers’ facial expressions and gauge how much they’re enjoying a film.

The innovation within the new system is an algorithm that Disney and Caltech call factorised variational autoencoders (FVAEs), which use deep learning technology to automatically turn facial expressions into numerical data, and is able to incorporate metadata.

Combining the FVAE algorithm with infrared cameras, Disney can analyse the facial expressions of moviegoers in a cinema as they react to what they’re being shown on screen. With enough information, the new technology can even predict how an audience member will react to upcoming scenes after just 10 minutes of observation.

Why It’s Hot

  • Technology could be used to tailor a film to an audience in real time, bringing in a new aspect of personalization to cinema
  • Data gathered and analyzed can be funneled into other developing AI systems where picking up cues from their body language to be able to better assist (e.g. robot babysitters)
  • Raises the question of how this will impact the movies we end up being exposed to with this AI now acting as the gatekeeper between us and the next Sharknado

Source

 

Rethinking the Pharmacy Experience

“Inspired by service-design overhauls at companies such as Disney and Carnival, CVS is hoping to rethink the entire pharmacy experience.” The chain recognized that it needed to do more to give its customers a reason to visit their brick and mortar locations (not a unique problem facing retail right now, but unique in that CVS deals in prescription drugs). So instead of focusing on just one problem or one solution, they’re looking at a complete overhaul of the experience, with the goal of increasing loyalty and adherence – repeat trips to the pharmacy, and repeat retail purchases.

They’ve started the journey by hiring designer Deborah Adler (she’s behind the pill bottle color coding system used by Target and later declared a “Design of the Decade”). The revised take on CVS’s bottles allows patients understand at a glance when they need to take their medication and how much.

And there’s a huge amount of data driving this design decision. “The first, most important part is a system that understands what medicines should be taken together,” explains Kevin Hourican, CVS’s EVP of retail pharmacy. This is a massive data challenge that involves being able to scan thousands of different variations of prescription—”1x every day,” “once a day,” 1x every 24 hrs”—and then slot them into four basic day parts: Morning, Midday, Evening, and Bedtime. It requires verifying that those day parts are in fact right. And then it requires making sure that there are no dangerous drug interactions and that every drug is taken at its optimal time. (For example, blood pressure medications are best taken in the morning; cholesterol medications are best taken at night.) CVS’s system for doing all those calculations, Script Path, is the first of its kind.”

Why it’s hot: This is another example of a brand taking a more holistic, end-to-end experience approach to loyalty and marketing, and using data to inform what will (hopefully for CVS) be a ground-breaking design solution. This approach could open doors to additional marketing opportunities and collaboration for our healthcare clients, too.