Amtrak axes dining cars

Why it’s hot: Amtrak claims that switching to packaged food and allowing passengers to pre-select and pre-order meals will save it $2 million a year.

So is this really about cost savings or lack of consumer demand for hot food and tablecloth dining services?

I think it’s about cost savings over anything else. Millennials have killed many things, but I doubt they’re responsible for the death of the Amtrak dining car.


Adults acting like children

The Greta Thunberg helpline: for adults angry at a child. A smart way to comment on the madness.

Why it’s hot: Social impact work doesn’t need to be earnest. Comedic elements can work if they honor the intent of the organization and message.

Like this satirical video game from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Players are U.S. representatives trying to avoid pressure from the gun lobby. If they make it to the Capital to sign gun legislation, they receive a message: “Congratulations! You did your job. Now send this game to a member of Congress and tell them to do theirs.”

Taking aim at elected officials who placed part of the blame on the “glorification of violence” (like video games) in society following recent mass shootings, the game proposes that if violent video games can cause gun violence, then a video game can also end gun violence.

Sources: Mashable, AdAge

Kill ’em with kindness

Last week, the University of California opened the world’s first institute to study kindness. The idea would be to pool the knowledge gleaned from researchers and house all of their insight about kindness in one place.

A few topics the institute is looking to dive deeper into include:

  • Why does a person give up his or her seat on the train?
  • Why does somebody volunteer his or her time to help someone in need?
  • How does kindness spread, and does being kind impact our brains?

Researchers even agreed on an academic definition for kindness: an act that enhances the welfare of others as an end in itself.

But it’s not all philosophical. Data from UCLA scientists has already shown mindfulness and kindness alter the behavior of genes, turning down those that promote inflammation, which can lead to heart disease or certain cancers and turning up the activity of genes that protect against infections.

Why it’s hot
As student enrollment continues to decline and people opt for nontraditional career paths, public and private higher education institutions are adding programs and offerings with seemingly little strategy behind them. Since 2012, 41,446 degrees or certificate programs have been added across the country.

UConn offers a BFA, an MA, and an MFA in Puppet Arts. One can get a degree in bagpiping from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Even Notre Dame offers an interdisciplinary academic field called Peace Studies.

Will these new offerings drive action and shift the “is college worth it” narrative that continues to be omnipresent? The verdict is still out.

Sources: National Center for Education Studies; NPR

helsinki, now available for demo…

Helsinki, Finland has just relaunched as the world’s first “city as a service”.

Ok, not really, but it’s how the city is pitching itself in order to woo tech talent to move there.

Per TrendWatching – “Finnish capital Helsinki launched a lighthearted campaign called City as a Service in an attempt to attract new tech talent. A platform and video pitches the CaaS to viewers, explaining that Helsinki has ‘over 640,000 daily active users’ and boasts an ‘API’ that supports excellent healthcare and public transport. Meanwhile, the city’s Mayor – billed as the CEO – explains that the winter darkness and flat skyline are not technical bugs but ‘carefully considered features’. Visitors to the platform are encouraged to apply for a ‘free demo trip’; 15 people will be chosen for a free trip to Helsinki in November.”

Apply for your free demo here.

And if you’re interested in the Freemium model, it boasts features like:

> Surprisingly ok beaches
> Drink the famous Finnish tap water
> Dip in a hole in ice
> Santa Claus lives only a 14h drive away
> Highest density of heavy metal bands in the world

Why It’s Hot:

Unexpected delivery is one of the best ways to catch attention. Marry that with the ability to demonstrate an understanding of the language and world of your target, and you can make magic that creates compelling connections. Whether or not it works, it shows Helsinki cares about the people it’s talking to, and respects them enough to go beyond the rational RTBs (although it has those too) to drive an extremely emotional decision of where to live.

Get paid to drink Pepsi (and eat Fritos)…

Pepsi is launching a PepCoin loyalty program that rewards you for buying both a single-serve beverage and a Frito-Lay snack by sending money to PayPal and Venmo accounts. If you scan enough codes on bottles and bags, you’ll receive a little bit of cash. You’ll have to earn $2 before it goes to your account, but this is real spending money.

How it works:

  • Buy a PepsiCo beverage and Frito-Lay snack.
  • Scan the codes on the bag and under the bottle cap with your phone.
  • Link the program to your PayPal or Venmo.
  • Once you accumulate $2, the money automatically transfers to your account with Venmo or PayPal.

It’s not a dollar for dollar point system, each transaction earns a person about 37 cents. So, like, 5.4 purchases.

Why it’s hot: Companies with multiple brands are increasingly using loyalty programs as a vehicle to sell across their portfolio and drive awareness of the many different products within it. With the exception of credit and debit cards, that apply cash back as a credit to your account, cash back incentives in the form of actual cash have yet to be tested (as far as I could tell). Truly successful loyalty programs thrive on creating engaging experiences and emotional connections with their consumers — it’ll be interesting to see whether Pepcoin will be able to establish a true connection with customers, past the initial shock and enroll stage and whether it’ll change how loyalty and rewards programs provide benefits to consumers in the future.

Sources: Engadget, Thrillist,, Pepcoin, Pepsi press release

Meet Mattel’s New Gender-Neutral Dolls

Mattel released the new Creatable World doll this week, the world’s first gender-neutral dolls designed to “keep labels out and everyone in.” The dolls are designed for children who identify as transgender, gender-fluid or nonbinary.

Mattel is hoping to redefine who gets to play with a toy traditionally deemed taboo for half the world’s kids. The dolls are designed to look like kids with makeup-free faces and can be a boy, a girl, neither or both. There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders. Each doll in the Creatable World series looks like a 7-year-old with short hair, and comes with optional wigs and a gender-neutral wardrobe.

The company is betting on where it thinks the country is going, even if it means alienating a substantial portion of the population. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2017 showed that while 76% of the public supports parents’ steering girls to toys and activities traditionally associated with boys, only 64% endorse steering boys toward toys and activities associated with girls.

Mattel tested the doll with 250 families across seven states, including 15 children who identify as trans, gender-nonbinary or gender-fluid and rarely see themselves reflected in the media, let alone their playthings. Mattel sees an even broader potential for Creatable World beyond gender-creative kids. In testing, children chafed at labels and mandates no matter their gender identity: They didn’t want to be told whom a toy was designed for or how to play with it. They were delighted with a doll that had no name and could transform and adapt according to their whims.

Scientists have debunked the idea that boys are simply born wanting to play with trucks and girls wanting to nurture dolls. And yet creating a doll to appeal to all kids, regardless of gender, remains risky. But Mattel has taken risks in this area before. In 2016, it added three new body types to the Barbie; tall, petite and purvey.

“This is a rallying cry of this generation,” says Jess Weiner, a cultural consultant for large companies looking to tap into modern-day markets and navigate issues of gender. “Companies in this day and age have to evolve or else they die, they go away … And part of that evolving is trying to understand things they didn’t prior.”

Why it’s hot: This launch is an exciting advancement in the more traditional industry of children’s toys that have been late to adapt with the times. I’m curious to see how sales will be for these dolls because although millennial parents have advocated for less gender-specific children’s toys for years, not all parents agree or are comfortable with the idea of their sons “playing with dolls.”


Get tackled

Mastercard: sponsor of Rugby World Cup

As the official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, Mastercard set up a environment where fans experienced a “contactless tackle”. Rugby fans are brought closer to the game by experiencing the sensation of a professional tackle. This is possible with a special suit made by Teslasuit.  You see a rugby player storming towards you and you have to choose between dodging or taking the hit. If you’re too late, you feel the impact via pressure made within the suit. The goal of the experience is to bring the fans closer to the action, and to encourage and inspire people  to get involved with rugby ahead of the world cup in Japan.
The experience leverages VR and haptic suit by Teslasuit.

Why it’s hot
If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be tackled by a professional rugby player, this is as real as its going to get!. Plus it’s a nice way to own the conversation around contactless payment.


Tinder Created a Show to Give Its Users Something to Hook Up About

For all of their success, swipe-y dating apps like Tinder or Bumble face a problem once their users have matched: It’s hard to find things to discuss with total strangers. What exactly are you supposed to say in response to “”?

In an effort to solve this, Tinder has created a scripted choose-your-own adventure series that it hopes will supply its young users with raw material for conversations on its platform. The goal is to counteract that chronic dating-app issue: conversations that die almost as soon as they begin.

The project, called SwipeNight, consists of four episodes. One will air each week on the Tinder app. In each episode, users who participate will be ushered through an apocalyptic scenario and prompted to make a series of choices, from the seemingly unimportant (how to best D.J. a party) to the critical (whose life to save). The show features a cast of young diverse actors and, like a video game, gives the user a first-person perspective on the action.

Participants will then show up in each other’s lists of potential matches. Some of the choices they made during the show will be visible on their profiles. That is when, the company hopes, a number of those people will swipe right on each other and talk about what they experienced.

Last year Tinder set up a team to survey hundreds of young people. This research helped the company see members of Generation Z as fundamentally different from older generations: Gen Z’s immense comfort on social platforms and immense discomfort with defining relationships, or even using words like “dating” and “flirting.”

SwipeNight also looks to take advantage of their facility with the raw material of pop culture.

“They speak in gifs, they react in emojis, they talk in stories,” said Elie Seidman, the chief executive of Tinder, of 18-to-25-year-olds, who already make up more than 50 percent of the app’s user base.

Tinder allows users little space to provide information about themselves on their profiles. That can lead to a particular shortage of subjects to discuss. On Tinder, Mr. Seidman said, approaching strangers is much easier than it is offline. “But you get to the next thing, and there’s no context,” he said. “What’s the context? ‘Oh, you’re also on Tinder.’ ‘Like, yeah, obviously.’”

Tinder has traditionally been viewed as a predate experience. SwipeNight looks to collapse some elements of a first date — the mutual experience of some diversion — into its platform.

Episodes of SwipeNight will be available on Tinder on Sundays in October from 6 p.m. to midnight in a user’s time zone. For now, the show will be available only to Americans.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

Unexpected time and place for what essentially is content marketing to drive stickiness with a platform. I do wonder if it’s too “cheesy” for Gen Z daters though?

Come Fly with Me, Lets Fly, Lets Fly to JFK

You have a flight coming up? You need to get to JFK? Forget about giving yourself time, just take Ubercopter which launched today for all Uber users. (Soft launch was in the summer for Premium members).

You can only take it to one place in Lower Manhattan near the Staten island ferry. Order a seat for $200-225. And you have to watch a safety video before takeoff. Using the helicopters operated from HeliFlite Shares a licensed company.

Also, the copter only shows up if you’re in the geofenced lower Manhattan area.

They say its price is comparative to other companies doing the same thing. But Uber does offer on ground transportation after your flight.

It’s hot not because its helicopters that don’t actually solve a problem, it only solves procrastination but so would hiring an assistant for a day at 200-225.It IS hot because this is a stepping stone for UberAir their all electric ride sharing network launching in 2023. But they have to really burn through a little more fossil fuel before they can go electric.

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.

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


KitKat Kranes

In an effort to cut down on plastic waste, KitKat has changed the packaging of its chocolate bars in Japan.

Rather than using plastic, the Nestlé brand is wrapping its chocolate treats in high strength paper that is both rain and snow resistant. The packaging is fully recyclable and has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

KitKat is also encouraging its customers to use the wrappers for other purposes like writing messages or creating origami shapes and figures. The packaging includes instructions on how to make origami paper cranes.

The initiative is predicted to save around 380 tons of plastic packaging annually, according to the brand.

Why it’s Hot:

Actions speak louder than words. With conversations around sustainability and environmental protection continuing to grow, taking the steps to better your products goes a lot further than a big flashy spot about “going green.” Plus, adding the origami tutorial to the packaging brings added value to the product.


Night Feeding Just Got an Oz. Better

Launched in the UK recently, the Night Feed app is part of a great wave of innovations that are geared at providing real empathy for the female experience. It provides moms entertainment, useful content and a community of other mothers to connect during the lonely midnight feeding hours.


It’s been positioned as a “virtual sancuaty for the sleep deprived” and includes interviews with pediatricians and midwives, guides for breast feeding clothes, book clubs, and other interest-based groups.

 “IT’S HARD TO PUT YOURSELF IN THE POSITION OF SOMEONE WHO IS THAT SLEEP DEPRIVED – With both kids, I’ve felt so lonely during the nights. No one else is up and you feel knackered and resentful… THE APP STEMS FROM WHEN I WAS IN THAT HEADSPACE”

Why It’s Hot: The app goes beyond regular baby feeding apps that only monitor feeding times and amounts, it shows real understanding and emapthy for the real female experience.

Don’t go unnoticed, meet Follower.

Follower is a service that grants you a real life Follower for a day. A no-hassle unseen companion. Someone that watches, someone that sees you, someone who cares.

In order to be followed, you answer two questions:

Why do you want to be followed?
Why should someone follow you?

If you are selected, you are given an app to download, and you wait. You don’t know when it will happen. The following lasts one day. At the end, you are left with one photo of you, taken by your Follower. The Follower stays just out of sight, but within your consciousness.

What is the relationship between attention and surveillance? There are sites you can go to to buy online followers, $10 can get you 1000 followers. We have this intense desire to be seen, to feel connected. But is that desire really fulfilled by watching your follower count tick upward? Could a real life follower provide something more meaningful or satisfying?




Why it’s hot: 
There is little doubt we live in a surveillance state. And yet we continue to engage with faceless followers to assuage an intense desire to be seen. How do we reconcile these competing concepts? Follower flips the interface of app and user to renegotiate these relationships and find optimism in what cultural pundits have deemed a doomsday scenario.

WeWork….more like WeWTF

WeWork To Adjust Corporate Governance, Valuation Ahead Of IPO

We’s plans for a $20 billion public offering have been hampered by questions about its corporate governance and the ultimate value of a company that private investors, through multiple rounds of funding, once thought was worth nearly $50 billion.

But under the scrutinizing spotlight of the IPO process, investors have been publicly and privately balking at that sky-high valuation and the company’s questionable governance practices under chief executive officer and co-founder, Adam Neumann, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news that The We Company would put its offering on hold

Over the past few weeks, The We Company — which has expanded to include a boutique hotel operation, members-only financial services and a charter yacht service (!) — has made several moves to allay investors’ concerns. The company unwound some particularly egregious transactions with Neumann and added new directors. It also moved to limit Neumann’s power at the company.


Classic example of fake tech/digital company that was overvalued by a few investors in the private market. Other “tech” unicorns will be going public and will see what they are really worth in the public market.

Co-Working is not going anywhere if you believe the future of work is freelance and flexible office space for enterprise companies becomes a trend to control expenses and long term leases. The problem is you cant put a software and tech multiple on a business that is in real-estate. See plant based meat IPOs, etc.


During AFOL’s Lego Ideas first live stream EVER, they announced that a 123 Sesame Street Lego set is in development.

Lego Ideas is where AFOL can have their (and your) dreams come true.

Fans can submit ideas and any submission that gets back by 10,000 supporters goes to the board for review.

This is how the Women of NASA Leggos are among many successful products to have originated on Lego Ideas.

123 Sesame street was 1 of 10 fan pitches that the Leggo Ideas team announced to be in development.

Among them :

-Playable Leggo Piano

-The Office NBC Leggo Set

-Machu Piccu

being developed along side our beloved sesame street.

The 123 Sesame Street wont be for the usual preschool target will require more skills and be a bigger kid (or millennial).

10,000 Votes for Leggo On Sesame Street

There is a community that has built on Lego Ideas where you talk about your love for Legos. Along with Contests and Activities to keep you engaged.

Currently if you want to vote,

Nestlé launches luxury KitKat bars in the UK

KitKat is one of the most successful brands of chocolate in the world with more than 3 million made and sold every single day. They were actually first made in the UK in 1935 and now sold in more than 70 countries around the world.

KitKats have cult status in Japan and Nestle has developed over 300 flavors for the Japanese market over the past 20+ years with varying price points depending on where they are sold.

“The Kit Kat in Japan has range. It’s found in department stores and luxurious Kit Kat-devoted boutiques that resemble high-end shoe stores, a single ingot to a silky peel-away sheath, stacked in slim boxes and tucked inside ultrasmooth-opening drawers, which a well-dressed, multilingual sales clerk slides open for you as you browse.” – NYTimes

As of today, Nestle will begin selling “luxury” handcrafted versions of KitKat bars at John Lewis stores in the UK. These will be available from now until Christmas Eve and will cost £14 (US $17).

People will be able to mix and match flavors, and also will be able to opt for British classics like Eton Mess, Cherry Bakewell, and Earl Grey. Whisky & Ginger bars are also available — as is a flavor the company doesn’t describe but calls “Jewels of the East.”

Each bar is hand-crafted.

Why it’s hot: Can Nestle replicate it’s Japanese business in other markets by marketing more expensive flavors to not just elevate the brand to a more premium space but also capture greater market share within the chocolate category?

300,000 People Are Reading Books on Instagram

In August 2018, Instagram followers of the New York Public Library were tapping through their Insta Stories when something unexpected showed up: the full text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, designed for a small screen, with small animations that brought the story to life as you flipped.

The project, known as Insta Novels, is part of the NYPL’s goal to reach beyond its walls and convince more people to read books. In pursuit of this mission, the institution has turned to one of the largest social media platforms in the world, bringing classic literature to Instagram’s 400 million daily active users.

Designed by the design agency Mother New York, Insta Novels is the winner of Fast Company‘s 2019 Innovation by Design Awards in the Apps & Games category. Since launching in August 2018, more than 300,000 people have read the NYPL’s Insta Novels, and the NYPL’s Instagram account has gained 130,000 followers. While gaining more followers was definitely part of the project’s aim, the NYPL is more excited—and surprised—that people actually read the books that it published on Instagram.

Instagram is an unlikely platform for reading full novels. As Mother partner and chief creative officer Corinna Falusi puts it: “Instagram is a platform built to share visuals, and we are sharing words.”

So Falusi and her team focused on ensuring that each story was highly legible in terms of text size (not too small, but not so big that each story would take too many screens to complete), background color (a warmer cream to make reading easier on the eyes), and font (the team picked Georgia). They also took advantage of the unique nature of the platform by sprinkling small animations on chapter pages and throughout the books to continually pique the reader’s interest, since they likely expect sleek visuals on Instagram. Finally, they commissioned a different designer to illustrate the equivalent of a book cover that a reader first sees when they open up the Story, taking advantage of Instagram’s focus on visuals to create compelling animations that would convince people to give the story a shot.

To move between pages, the designers realized they could take advantage of Instagram’s interface, where users tap on the right side of the screen to go to the next image or video, to mimic the act of flipping pages. To help guide people, each story has a little animated icon where users are meant to rest their thumb. Then, they can tap every time they want to turn the page. For A Christmas Carol, the icon is a burning candle that slowly burns down as you tap, almost like a digital flip book.

Why its hot

This is a brilliant idea taking full advantage of Instagram’s UX and putting books in front of more people, which is never a bad thing.

Putting a price on Privacy

A new generation of apps that allows you to get paid for the data you decide to share – giving consumers new visibility and a level of control over the “exchange rate” of personal information.

When it comes to trading your data for free services like Facebook, Google Search, Gmail or Twitter, are you getting a fair deal? A growing roster of people say you should be paid for your personal information. But so far, no one has quite figured out how that could work. Two startups are working on it. is an app that lets you connect all your various online accounts. It scoops all the data they have on you and puts it in one encrypted location that you can control. And then a new company called Universal Basic Data Income, can, with your permission, pay you to share some of that data with companies or researchers.

Molly Wood, speaking with Dana Budzyn, who is a co-founder and CEO of UBDI:

Dana Budzyn: We do allow individuals to aggregate their own data across different applications and accounts, like Fitbit, Spotify, credit cards, Instagram, etc. Then we give these people a vehicle to basically share anonymized insights from that data with paying companies and researchers and nonprofits. With our application, we present individuals with different studies. Once you’ve linked your accounts, you’re able to click and view the details. It may include a question of a survey; which people are familiar with. It’ll tell you, “Spotify, listening to certain tracks,” or “We’re looking at finance” and “We’re looking at coffee trends. We want to analyze Starbucks or Peet’s coffee spending,” whatever it may be, and then you swipe to consent, and that data is anonymized on your device, aggregated in the back end and shared with researchers who obviously are paying you.

Molly Wood: You, as the consumer, are actively contributing, right? I, the consumer, am actively opting in and participating and getting paid.

Budzyn: Yeah. And that’s just one thing that we heard. There’s been, with everything that in the data space that can be scamming, we really wanted to take the approach of, “Don’t just come link your accounts and trust us.” Trust is at an all-time low. We get it. Everyone’s been lying to people, corporations, there’s no trust there. There’s no trust in government, and we really felt to build that trust, we wanted people to take a more active role and just be as transparent as possible. There are these different groups of people, whether you’re a female or a runner or a skier, different companies want to be matched with you. Because of the way that we’ve built this, we still protect your privacy and only show you studies that are relevant to you, but because of that, we can pay you more and let you take that active role and not waste your time or your effort and make it pretty quick and simple.

Wood: How do you protect that data? Obviously, you’re talking about a pretty big treasure trove here.

Budzyn: Our partner, they don’t see, touch or hold the data. They give you the only key to access this and then allow you to share that data with apps like ours when you choose. It’s actually a two-apps system, which is very nontraditional. What it allows us to do is do a lot of edge processing and analytics on the device. We’re minimizing any of the data that leaves your device. What we call tags is called private match, right? These things that I’ve mentioned, you’re a runner, you’re a skier, you’re female, right? That’s all kept on your device. Neither us at UBDI or any of our partners know who you are, and we ensure that no profiles are being built on people.

Wood: Purely mercenary side of things — how much do you expect that a consumer could make participating with UBDI?

Budzyn: For some people, it will be hundreds. I think for many people, it will be thousands. I think there will be other communities of people, maybe it’s in the future of medical data or whatever it is, some special things about you that make you unique, that thousands upon thousands of dollars, maybe five to 10,000.

Wood: Let’s be explicit about why some people would make more. Why is some data more valuable than others?

Budzyn: I think a lot of people think when I say that I fundamentally believe that rich people are going to get richer, right? And that’s the concern, right, that they’re like, “Oh, well, the CEOs are going to be the ones that people want to reach out to.” I don’t actually think that’s true because some in emerging countries around the world, in places where there is a lack of data, in communities where you don’t know where those communities are flawed or things that could help fix them, there’s a lot of spend happening, whether it be through charities or governments or whatever, to find out how to boost communities up. Instead, they could just be putting that money into people’s pockets because they know best. I do think, of course, there will be the CEOs, who someone might pay for an hour of their time and spend a lot of money. We’re not shy about that. But I also think there’s this opportunity for low-income individuals that are unique and are being, quite frankly, studied across governments, nonprofits and even companies themselves, that they do want to reach those demographics of people and haven’t had the means to. I think there’s a lot of money in it for low-income families, and I think it’s a big step forward for where we are in this country and around the world.

Wood: What industry gives you the most business right now? Who’s the hungriest for information?

Budzyn: Right now the clients that we’ve been talking to — and I wish I could say names, but not yet — but the kinds we’ve been talking to are mostly in the retail space, whether it be clothing or electronics, there’s people that are just trying to find more, not even necessarily about customers that aren’t shopping at their stores, but about customers that are, and what type of people are drawn to their stores, and what are they coming there for, and what do they like when they’re in that experience? There’s also a lot of customers that one thing we do very well is comparative analysis, where if you wanted to look at, you were requesting individuals to say, “I’d like to look at females spending on Uber versus Lyft.” And then I’d like to ask a set of questions on top of that on, “Are you picking [a] ride share because it’s safe, because it’s convenient, because its price, whatever that may be?” Pairing that data to see that maybe females find Lyft safer. That’s something that we might have started to find. There are just these unique things like that, that any company looking for some comparative analysis between them and a competitor company, that’s something we do very well.

Wood: How does UBDI make money?

Budzyn: We take 20% of what companies are paying, and 80% goes straight back to the individual. Pretty easy transaction fee there.

Wood: Sometimes when you talk about the idea of paying people for their data, you will have privacy experts who say, “OK, but you’re still buying into a flawed system. You’re still buying into a system that relies on people’s data, and wouldn’t it be better if we just didn’t do that?” Is this still allowing people to participate in a system that’s going to just want more of their information forever?

This is a step in absolute better direction than the data economy we have today … giving people choice, I think, is always the better path.

Dana Budzyn

Budzyn: It’s interesting. For one, there’s different nonprofits and other local governments that we’re opening access to and helping them. But also, part of privacy, which people somehow seem to forget is about choice. You should have ownership over your data, and you should be able to choose for yourself. So, for them, go ahead and choose what is best for you in your life, but you don’t get to make that choice for me. To those people, I want them to challenge, I want them to hold us accountable. I’ve been active in different articles where they said other people wouldn’t talk to us. And I said, “Go ahead, call us whatever you want to call us with data monetization vehicles.” But at the end of the day, one, this is a step in absolute better direction than the data economy we have today. And part two, giving people choice, I think, is always the better path.


Why It’s Hot:

As the conversation about how to balance privacy with convenience continues to heat up, marketers, media platforms and tech companies will need to find innovative ways to make this something other than a binary decision. As things like GDPR put more restrictions on commercial use of personal data, the conversation will inevitably shift to one about value exchange.

Louis Vuitton ventures into esports

Fashion brand Louis Vuitton and video game developer/esports tournament organizer Riot Games have announced a partnership, starting with the 2019 League of Legends World Championships.

For the Championships, Louis Vuitton is creating a one-of-a-kind Trophy Travel Case for holding the world champions’ trophy, called the Summoner’s Cup. Previously, Vuitton has created similar travel cases for other sporting events including a laser-engraved titanium case for the FIFA World Cup.

The trophy case features Louis Vuitton’s iconic logo and design, with additional elements related to League of Legends. It will be unveiled publicly at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and eventually given out Nov. 10 in the same city, where League of Legends is holding its world championship this year.

But wait, there’s more. The partnership also includes the creation of a capsule collection of clothing from Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of women’s collections, as well as in-game digital assets like champion skins.

Why it’s hot:
Louis Vuitton’s new partnership continues the brand’s embrace of digital endeavors to accompany its physical products and marketing.

The pairing of a luxury non-endemic brand entering the esports scene is not one often seen. However, it creates a huge opportunity for Louis Vuitton, especially in expanding its consumer base. With millennials said to drive about 130% of luxury market growth in the next seven years, the gaming space could be a key area for expansion.

Louis Vuitton joins others including State FarmGilletteRed Bull, and Axe to embrace the esports world. A category in which 2019 revenues are forecast to rise by 27% and estimated to top $1.1 billion.

share a coke with who?

Coke’s once again using its product not only as a marketing tool, but a way to bring people together. In South Africa, where there are 11 different residual languages post-Apartheid, Coke created the “phonetic can”. Now, sharing one doesn’t just mean potentially connecting with someone new, but someone new with a name perhaps derived from another cultural enclave. As they put it, “getting a person’s name right is the first step towards getting along together.”

As part of the campaign, they created gifs for social that would help people learn different sounds required for correct pronunciation, renamed local radio stations to peoples’ hard-to-pronounce monikers, and created OOH billboards featuring names that were likely culturally unfamiliar to the residents of the neighborhoods where they ran. Beyond advertising, South African soap operas “worked the idea into plot lines”, and teachers even used the phonetic cans “as lesson tools in classrooms.”

Why it’s hot:

The ultimate marketing combination is connection and utility. Not only is this a great extension of its global marketing efforts, it’s one that has an intensely human side and altruistic goal. It’s not superficial purpose marketing, or a meaningless stunty gesture. Whether or not you actually share a Coke with someone whose name you couldn’t pronounce without help, you would still learn how to pronounce those names and at the very least be that much more culturally savvy as a result.


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.

Pulp Diction

Interactions with Amazon’s virtual personal assistant Alexa could soon become considerably more entertaining – and profane – after actor Samuel L Jackson signed up to lend his voice to the device. Jackson will be the first celebrity voice for Alexa.

For 99 cents, you can hear the Hollywood star read you the news, give you a weather report and even tell jokes. The price will increase to $4.99 post launch. To get the voice, users simply will need to say, “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson” and decide whether they would like the explicit or clean version.

The Jackson feature will allow users of Alexa-enabled devices to interact with an AI version of the actor developed using the company’s neural text-to-speech technology. Jackson is not the first celebrity to feature on Alexa, but previous celebrity voice features have relied upon pre-recorded audio.

Why its hot?
The voice of the assistant is the new ringtone or the voice store could be the new app store
If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing Samuel L. Jackson lobbing profanities at you, Amazon has worked hard to fulfill your fantasy. This is a great way to generate interest in Alexa among people who don’t want a bland sounding voice assistant. But more importantly Amazon has created a new revenue stream – we could very well be shopping for voices in everything for every occasion.

Source: Guardian, CNN, Geekwire, Twitter

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?

Arming Police with a New Weapon: Virtual Reality

A few weeks ago I wrote about how VR and AR technology is being used to help doctors and surgeons prep for procedures. We’re seeing more and more industries adopt the technology for virtual training purposes. Even corporate giants like Walmart are getting their hands on the technology. Now Axon, the tech company known for pushing the adoption of police body cameras, is the latest firm to adopt VR for the police force. Their main goal is to teach police officers empathy. 

According to a study from the Washing Post, 19% of Americans that were fatally shot by police this year had a mental illness. 992 Americans have been shot and killed by police in 2018. Axon’s “empathy development training” is meant to condition police officers to ask the right questions (in the right tone) to better assess high-pressure situations before pulling their weapons.

A few months ago, Axon unveiled a virtual program in Chicago — using Oculus Go VR headsets — to train first responders in scenarios involving citizens with autism and schizophrenia. The company’s latest rollout is focused on preparing officers to better assist in suicide prevention. Here’s a video preview of what it looks like.

Axon’s new training program seeks to put its trainees on both sides of the coin: the officer, and the person in need. Experts believe the future of virtual reality in law enforcement holds major promise by providing immersive views of body-cam evidence, assisting in recruitment, or one day being utilized as therapy for officers experiencing PTSD.

Why it’s hot: An interesting use of VR/AR technology that could have significant results in law enforcement training and could potentially help end unnecessary police shootings.



Sleep Therapy for the Masses May Be Coming to You Soon

CVS Health wants to help millions of American workers improve their sleep. So for the first time, the big pharmacy benefits manager is offering a purely digital therapy as a possible employee benefit.

The company is encouraging employers to cover the costs for their workers to use Sleepio, an insomnia app featuring a cartoon therapist that delivers behavior modification lessons.

CVS Health’s push could help mainstream the nascent business of digital therapeutics, which markets apps to help treat conditions like schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. The company recently introduced, along with Sleepio, a way for employers to cover downloads as easily as they do prescription drugs. The company said it had already evaluated about a dozen apps.

Some industry executives and researchers say the digital services should make therapy more accessible and affordable than in-person sessions with mental health professionals.

Big Health, the start-up behind Sleepio, is one of more than a dozen companies that are digitizing well-established health treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, or devising new therapies — like video-game-based treatments for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — that can be delivered online. Since last year, a few pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis,announced partnerships with start-ups to develop digital treatments for mental health and other conditions.

So far, the use of treatment apps has been limited. But with the backing of CVS Health, which administers prescription drug plans for nearly one-third of Americans, those therapies could quickly reach tens of millions of people. A few employers have started offering Sleepio, and more are expected to sign on this fall, CVS Health said. Like in-person therapy, the insomnia app does not require a prescription.

“We are at this pivotal moment,” said Lee Ritterband, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine who has developed online health interventions for more than a decade. “For years, these have been bubbling under the surface.”

Other experts argue that online therapies may not be ready for mass adoption. In a recent study in Nature, researchers warned that most digital treatments lacked evidence of health benefits. Although first-of-their-kind medical apps that claim to treat diseases must obtain clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, health apps that make vaguer wellness claims — like better sleep — generally do not need to demonstrate effectiveness to federal regulators.

Sleepio unfolds more like a low-key, single-player video game, where the user is on a quest for better sleep, than a clinical health program. The app features an animated sleep expert with a Scottish accent, called “the Prof.” An affable but firm therapist, the bot offers people who have insomnia symptoms a series of six weekly online sessions.

“At times, you may feel like quitting or even give up, but don’t despair. This is totally normal,” the animated therapist says in the first session. “What I can tell you for sure is, if we work closely together on this, we have an excellent chance of defeating your poor sleep.”

Big Health has raised $15 million from investors including Kaiser Permanente, the California-based health system. In 2015, the start-up began selling Sleepio directly to employers, sending them aggregated data on their employees’ progress. Companies pay a fee for each employee who uses the insomnia app, but Big Health declined to disclose its pricing.

Delta Air Lines and Boston Medical Center, two of the companies that work directly with Big Health, said employees who used Sleepio reported improved sleep.


CVS Health’s rollout of Sleepio is part of its larger effort to popularize online health treatments as employee benefits. Dr. Brennan said the company planned to move forward with the apps it deemed to have solid evidence of efficacy.

“We’re doing it because we think patients are going to benefit from it,” Dr. Brennan said. “That’s an important step for physicians. That’s an important step for patients.”

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

We’ve seen “digital therapeutics” as an emerging trend — from health monitoring comes apps like Calm and text messaging with psychologists. But the mainstreaming of it and association with employer health plans (what data will be shared?) is interesting.

Echo Loop: Literally Talking to the Hand

Amazon on Wednesday unveiled the Echo Loop, a smart ring that offers access to the Alexa voice assistant by using two microphones, a tiny speaker, a piezo haptic vibrator, and a button. Press the button once to ask Alexa something, hold it for one second to ask your smartphone’s voice assistant something instead, or press the button twice to call your favorite contact. Yes, the Echo Loop can handle short phone calls where the wearer moves their finger between holding it to their ear and to their mouth to complete the conversation.

It’s a bold idea for a new wearable device, particularly as smart rings have never quite taken off despite large amounts of excitement. Kickstarter is filled with hopeful breakouts aiming to do what Pebble did for smartwatches: candidates include the Xenxo S-Ring, Aina Ring and ORII. These rings cover all manner of functionality, including music controls, card payments, and even file storage.

The Echo Loop is a simple ring with no screen and a black titanium finish. It offers a button, two microphones, a tiny balanced armature speaker and a piezo haptic vibrator. The device is powered by a Realtek RTL8763BO, a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4F processor with 4MB of flash memory. When the wearer receives a notification, a call, or when the button is pressed, the haptic vibrator will give a short pulse.

The device connects to the wearer’s smartphone using a Bluetooth 5.0 chip, with Alexa voice controls supported on Android 8.0 and iOS 12 and later. That means all the connections run through the user’s existing data plan, and it’s administered through the Alexa smartphone app. This also enables the use of the smartphone’s voice assistant, like Siri or Google Assistant. Holding the button for one second will invoke the smartphone assistant instead.

Battery life depends on usage. Amazon is promising “a day of intermittent usage.” It charges in a little dock, measuring 0.92 inches high by 2.17 inches wide and weighing 1.17 ounces, that brings it to full capacity in 90 minutes. The dock connects to a USB port via micro-USB, and the box comes with a one-meter cable.

It will come in four sizes: small, medium, large and extra-large. All the rings are 0.1 inches thick and vary between a width of 0.45 and 0.62 inches. Weight varies between 0.32 and 0.42 ounces. Amazon will send a fit kit before purchase to find the ideal size.

The Echo Loop is expected to cost $129.99 initially, available through invitation. After that, the ring is expected to cost $179.99.

Why It’s Hot:

The Echo Loop is a risky product for Amazon. It could be a massive flop, with the public viewing it as another example of technological advancement with no real added value. Alternatively, it could be a success and lead to the popularity of smart rings similar to how the Apple Watch did with the smartwatch industry.

Mattel’s Gender-Neutral Doll

On Wednesday, Mattel released a line of customizable, gender-inclusive Barbie-style dolls called “Creatable World.”

The dolls don’t carry traditional feminine or masculine traits. Carefully manicured features betray no obvious gender: the lips are not too full, the eyelashes not too long and fluttery, the jaw not too wide. There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders. Each doll in the Creatable World series looks like a slender 7-year-old with short hair, but each comes with a wig of long, lustrous locks and a wardrobe befitting any fashion-conscious kid: hoodies, sneakers, graphic T-shirts in soothing greens and yellows, along with tutus and camo pants.

The line alsooffers dolls with a range of skin tones. This customization means children can play with a toy that better represents how they look.

For years, millennial parents have pushed back against “pink aisles” and “blue aisles” in toy stores in favor of gender-neutral sections, often in the name of exposing girls to the building blocks and chemistry kits that foster interest in science and math but are usually categorized as boys’ toys. Major toy sellers have listened, thanks to the millennial generation’s unrivaled size, trend-setting ability and buying power. Last year, Mattel did away with “boys” and “girls” toy divisions in favor of nongendered sections: dolls or cars, for instance.

Why it’s Hot:

After decades of criticism for reinforcing female stereotypes with Barbie, Mattel has finally created something that aligns with society’s ever-evolving views on gender. While the line has already earned its fair share of criticism, there is also huge reward potential among more progressive parents (a growing group as more millennials and Gen Z-ers have children).

As marketers, we need to be aware of shifting perceptions when creating content for younger audiences. They’re growing up in a much more sensitive and inclusive environment, which means relying on old tropes and assumed gender roles really won’t fly with them.

Sources: Time, Mashable

Ikea Place App: Version 2

In 2017, Ikea launched Ikea Place: an augmented reality app that lets you preview shelving and chairs right in your living room. The next iteration of the app will use artificial intelligence to render entire coordinated collections of furnishings—which might include a chair, couch, coffee table, and lamp—right in your living space.


The updated app was developed by Ikea’s experimental Space10 lab, as part of larger efforts of digital transformation. Users will actually be training the Ikea AI to make better stylistic suggestions over time as they use it. “We’re starting out with a lineup of about 1,000 products that go together very well”, which hints that Ikea may be less analyzing interior design on the fly than dropping stock collections into your space.

THE CATCH: The app will show you a living room’s worth of furniture, but it still won’t actually link you to purchase any of these products. Ikea is choosing to keep this dynamic shopping software apart from your actual shopping cart.

The reason why is up for debate. First, the app is still experimental. And second, it may come down to the fact that Ikea isn’t structured like a typical company. Ikea Place is developed by the Interikea Group—which doesn’t actually own and operate Ikea stores. It franchises them out to different companies around the world. If Interikea were to sell furniture digitally, it would be a competitor to its own customers, the franchisees.

Why it’s hot/warm: While this is a great start at helping customers style their living spaces and positioning Ikea as more than a furniture brand – they are key missing link in users not being able to purchase pieces from the app.

Source: FastCo

Fighting World Hunger Through a Trivia Game

United Nations’ World Food Programme is trying to get kids — and adults — to see that they can help fight world hunger in just a few minutes a day. The organization recently redesigned and relaunched Freerice, its quiz game that donates the equivalent of 10 grains of rice for each right answer players give.

A player solves math problems in the World Food Programme's Freerice game

The multiple-choice question game is fairly straightforward, with varying levels of difficulty. Players can choose from categories like languages, literature, multiplication, anatomy, and geography. The changes to the game include new categories, with questions on climate change and nutrition. Some teachers are even using Freerice in the classroom.

The site makes money from display ads, which is then used in a variety of programs, including ones that provide school meals in South Sudan and Burundi.

Why It’s Hot

Entertainment, education, and fighting world hunger all-in-one is a winning combination for all involved.