Discover more from Future Commerce
Episode 332
December 8, 2023

Who Participates in the Multiplayer Future?

Phillip sat down with Deana Burke for the 100th episode of the Boys Club pod. They talk the Multiplayer Brand and some of the Future Commerce thinking about what makes eCommerce special and how brand operators are trying to tune out the noise and think bigger than tactics. We're moving up out of strategy into vision and how company leaders are looking at new channels to grow digital outside of just websites. One of those channels, of course, is metaverse.

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Phillip sat down with Deana Burke for the 100th episode of the Boys Club pod. They talk the Multiplayer Brand and some of the Future Commerce thinking about what makes eCommerce special and how brand operators are trying to tune out the noise and think bigger than tactics. We're moving up out of strategy into vision and how company leaders are looking at new channels to grow digital outside of just websites. One of those channels, of course, is metaverse.

Our Work Has Range

  • {00:11:02} - “There is a percentage of people that wanna participate in building a brand, for sure, just like there's a percentage of people who want to make TikTok videos, but there's a much larger percentage of people who want to just passively consume TikTok videos, and they don't wanna actually be creators. And I think that will always be true. There are these different types of consumer behaviors and not everyone wants to participate.” - Deana
  • {00:11:59} - “Any strength overextended is a weakness. So you can be too multiplayer, for instance.” - Phillip
  • {00:28:55} - “There's probably one way that capital can accelerate and lose your soul. I think there's another way that having a long, long, long, long-term outlook on preserving the history and the future of the brand can restore a soul as well.” - Phillip
  • {00:32:27} - “Gaming as an industry eclipses any other form of media when combined. You know, you put the movie industry and newspapers and television together, and it comes nowhere close to the amount of daily active eyeballs, and time that's spent in these communal experiences.” - Phillip
  • {00:38:28} - “There's something really powerful about Costco is not actually the thing, but it's the connective tissue in between the things that are life. And the trips to the store actually make a really big impact on you and your behavior both as a consumer and as a person.” - Phillip
  • {00:42:51} - “Innovation is at the heart of being and finding the muse in our modern era. And commerce has a role to play in the way people find personal inspiration and fulfillment.” - Phillip

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Phillip: [00:00:05] Hello, and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast at the intersection of culture and commerce. I'm Phillip. One of the greatest joys that I have is that I've been able to share the Future Commerce story and some of what makes Future Commerce special with other creators recently. I sat down with Deana Burke for the 100th episode of The Boys Club podcast, and we talked about The Multiplayer Brand and some of our current thinking about what makes eCommerce special and how brand operators like you who are listening to this podcast are trying to tune out the noise and trying to think bigger than tactics. We're moving up out of strategy into vision and how company leaders are looking at new channels to grow digital outside of just websites. And so one of those channels, of course, is metaverse. It's a dirty word now, but Roblox is a big channel for activation for brands. And when I talked to Deana on their podcast just a few weeks ago, it was right before the Roblox Developer Day. And so given that the Roblox Developer Day just happened here for forecasting what they're going to be releasing in 2024. And given that at the Developer Day, they recently announced that they're going to allow direct commerce with brands on Roblox, I think that that changes and recontextualizes the conversation I had with Deana on their podcast. So in that spirit and with this news, I thought it would be perfect timing to bring you my conversation with Deana about how we're thinking about the future of commerce and what brands are already doing in channels like Roblox today. It's the kind of content that would only happen outside of the main episode and main feed of Future Commerce because we talk a lot about how we think about this business. And so in that way, I think it's really relevant for you because you may not hear that from us directly all the time. And, of course, Brian's not here today because we are in the middle of setting up for Art Basel. As you listen to this, we'll be setting up for our 3 day activation with our friends at Adobe Commerce, exploring the Muses. That's right. Muses live is taking place for 3 days during Art Basel, and we'll be recording some content while we're there: interviews, panel sessions, conversations with brand leaders and some futurists while we were there, artists, and our curators, so a lot to come on the main feed. Check that out in just a couple weeks' time. So in the meantime, let's get into today's episode without any further ado. This is my conversation with Deana Burke, the Co-Founder at Boys Club, on their 100th episode about The Multiplayer Brand, Roblox, and the future of commerce.

Deana: [00:04:07] Welcome to the show.

Phillip: [00:04:08] Thank you. Wow. This is like a huge moment for me, and my Co-Founder is going to be listening. So if I don't correct you and say "Co-Founder," he gets a little... No. I'm just kidding.

Deana: [00:04:17] Let me redo it.

Phillip: [00:04:18] This is funny if we leave it, though. It's really funny because then it puts me and him against each other. We used to be competitors, at two different digital agencies. So I like still putting this against each other.

Deana: [00:04:28] Great. Full circle moment. Well, excited to have you, Phillip, an admirer of your work and your thinking. So excited to infuse some of that into The Boys Club world.

Phillip: [00:04:38] Thank you. And I'm an admirer of what you're building as well. You know, first of all, you said we are reporting at the intersection of culture and commerce, and I think our biggest takeaway was that commerce connects a lot of people, connects everybody together. It is a thing we all have to engage in. So I find it really fascinating, and I think that we're having an impact. We have a a lot of folks who are saying that they're realizing that commerce plays a bigger role in their life than they realized. It can be something that we all have developed taste around, ways to engage in commerce, and that's what we're bringing our own perspective to. And we are newsletter, podcast, research, and events, and we have a big event coming up at Art Basel.

Deana: [00:05:17] Great. You jumped my next question there, which is what is Future Commerce? I think similarly to how we describe Boys Club, which is that it's one part media company that produces works of cultural commentary, as you described, and I also think it's one part Community. I get the sense that there are a lot of people sort of in and around the Future Commerce orbit who are all sort of thinking about things in similar ways that like to connect with one another. Would you say that that's true?

Phillip: [00:05:44] I would say it's true. I also think that what we have right now is a lot of technologists who've become profoundly discouraged in their work. And I have realized over the last few years of building Future Commerce, with purpose because we had a podcast and sort of grew up out of a podcast when I realized that when we started talking to our community beyond just having a broadcast stream once a week, is that everybody feels the same sense of purposelessness and/or maybe even to say it a different way is there's an eventuality with the way that we use technology that it has to result in some sort of soulish transaction. So how do we bring the life back into the role of the marketer, or how do we bring the life back into, and the excitement back into the role of being artful in the way that we create brands that have an impact on the world? And why is it that the brands that we know and love have such a deep emotional resonance versus the ones that we're building, which feel like sort of taxing and extractive with a consumer? So what we're finding is we're meeting more people that are, they they feel unfulfilled in the work. They wanna find the art back in the work that they're doing, specifically working in retailers or in brands and marketplaces. But even more important is there are so many of them that are actually artists. And that was a big unlock for me is how many of them have MFAs or BFAs that are underutilized or have a degree in the humanities. They care very deeply about sociology and philosophy and psychology, but they've stopped using that in their work, and they've trusted only the Excel spreadsheets and the analytics tools. So how do we bring back the human side of it? And that's what we're trying to do.

Deana: [00:07:33] On that note, your work has range, I'd say. We have titles here called Algorithm Identity, Multiplayer Brand... We're gonna touch on a lot of them in this chat, but what would you say your central thesis is to Future Commerce that kind of weaves throughout all of these different pieces that you're publishing that really go into a lot of different categories?

Phillip: [00:07:56] It might have been different if you'd asked me a couple years ago. Today, the thesis is that the future is multiplayer. So if you look at where everything is going, not just design tools, sure, Figma, or not just GDocs. Now these are all things that I think we've all had to use sort of either in our schoolwork or professionally. All of these tools are becoming collaborative. That is how our whole economy is shaping up. There's a a media theorist, Henry Jenkins who talks about the emergence of the participatory culture. And this idea of a participatory economy is one where the barriers to entry for participation are so low that anybody and everybody can raise their hand saying, "I want to be involved." And so the big idea is that the future of everything is multiplayer. There are tools that are consumer tools as much as there are business tools that are creating and breeding this desire right now. So if the future is multiplayer and that is pervasive, and it's in everything, then what does multiplayer commerce look like? We put out this, zine called The Multiplayer Brand, and The Multiplayer Brand sort of sets up the idea that participation in eCommerce started out as being a means of critique. So we had these people that emerged that started saying, "This brand's good. That brand's bad. This packaging is great. That packaging sucks." And then that moved into, "Your eCommerce site could be better if you really tried." And eventually, that participation has turned into collaborative brand building. Of course, you I could go on. It's the Midjourney and AI of it all gives consumers tools to imagine brands to be more creative than brands are by nature. And the wisdom of the crowd may prevail there, and certainly, we've seen that in media. You saw the Balenciaga/Harry Potter mashup or Wes Anderson send ups of what, you know, Wes Anderson's take on a given piece of media might look like. So we're right at the beginning of this multiplayer future, and I think that for that to be the central driving message, that means that we have to understand how people behave in order to deliver the right technology to the right people at the right time. So if you don't understand the culture of it all, if you don't understand not just Internet culture, but Culture in particular, like who you serve, then retailers and brands are missing this huge shift in opportunity to be the thing that their customers are begging them to be.

Deana: [00:10:12] I wanna stay in this idea of multiplayer brand for a moment. I have a few hot takes when it comes to this topic.

Phillip: [00:10:18] Please.

Deana: [00:10:18] And That maybe feels a little contrarian, especially given my role helping to build Boys Club, which is arguably a multiplayer brand. So I was in tech and marketing about 10 years ago when I don't know if you remember this movement, when, Fab Labs and Maker Studios and 3D printing was all the rage. And [00:10:42] the conversation around participation in consumerism was really taking foot with the rise of this category of Fab Labs, Maker Labs, 3D printing. And I would say that that never really materialized. And my thesis for why that never really materialized is because I think that there is a percentage of people that wanna participate in building a brand, for sure, just like there's a percentage of people who want to make TikTok videos, but there's a much larger percentage of people who want to just passively consume TikTok videos, and they don't wanna actually be creators. And I think that will always be true. There are these different types of consumer behaviors and not everyone wants to participate. And I think that Web3, in particular, we haven't talked about Web3 at all yet, but think that Web3 in particular has over indexed on this idea of participation. [00:11:31]

Phillip: [00:11:32] Oh, I agree with that. Yeah.

Deana: [00:11:33] When I think that I'm just, like, not quite sure that that's what everyone wants to do. And so over designing for that feels like maybe it's missing a caring for a certain type of person who just wants really great content or just wants really great shoes or a really great bookcase that's really well curated. So I'm curious what your response to that would be.

Phillip: [00:11:55]  [00:11:55]So I agree actually with everything you just said. I think that any strength overextended is a weakness. So you can be too multiplayer, for instance. [00:12:04] And we saw that in the early days of DAOs, for instance.

Deana: [00:12:08] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:12:08] Too many people's opinions result in inaction. I do think that the multiplayer nature and sort of the participatory economy of it all doesn't necessarily mean that everybody must participate. Because I would say even in democracy or whatever it is that we have these days in the United States, the participation rate in voting is somewhere around 32, 33%. So it's actually a small part of the voting populace that makes up the republic that we all have to live in here in the United States. So you have a small number of people that are participating in a democracy and an even smaller number as those pace layers move down the chain, so regional elections. My homeowners association, for whatever it's worth, there are five people that show up to the homeowners meeting once a month. You know, there are 1500 houses here in my community in South Florida. So we tend to look at the idea of this multiplayer future as being a really grandiose ideal where everybody's participating, but I actually think it's the vocal minority that guides the future of a brand. It is the petition that has 100,000 Signatures on it that brings back a manufacturing process that's been long dead, and Kellogg's now has cereal straws. It is the wild right-wing fascists that somehow bully, you know, Star Wars into a specific type of campaign. It is the small vocal minority that does have a larger-than-life voice and and forcing function on a brand today. What I believe we're going to see are brands that emerge that solely depend on that for their future guidance. I would even say that maybe one way to explain this even further is to say, well, you as a brand leader, are probably inspired most by what comes across algorithmic feeds, which is itself a multiplayer function. So your taste is being guided by others' behavior. So whether it's one person that sits at the head becomes a curator of really interesting things, they have to tend to their own algorithmic curation to arrive at something really interesting and unique, which is itself a function of other people's behavior. So it depends on how literal you really wanna take this. But I don't see that 100% of people have to participate to have a real impact in this multiplayer future.

Deana: [00:14:34] What are your feelings on Web3 and how it's all gone down so far and where you think we're headed next?

Phillip: [00:14:45] Oh, well, let me first say, I believe that Web3 has a bright future because I believe in open, ecosystems, and I believe that, fundamentally, protocols pave the way for products. So if you just have a product and you're trying to give somebody an end consumer experience, if there isn't an underlying protocol that's new and different, then the only thing that you really have to stand on is sort of brand. And we see this a lot i the consumer packaged goods space. So there are other analogs there in my experience that make me believe that there's something really truly different and fundamentally interesting about Web3. I think Web3 has a brand problem, and that's a whole other set of topics that I'm probably not too too versed to talk about. But I do think that there are things that can be solved. Identity management. Giving me control over my data and who gets to see it. The things we solve through these walled garden ecosystems that can be solved other ways in the Web3 ecosystem. That also makes me feel, quite, positive about the future of Web3. So for one, the way that we acquire customers today happen in these large datamart ecosystems. It's through Meta. It's through Amazon. And they have this huge amount of data around a consumer that is the product of pre GDPR era tracking policies and privacy policies that you're opting into whether you know it or not.

Deana: [00:16:18] Mhmm.

Phillip: [00:16:18] So all of this behavior is sort of being weaponized against you. I mean, that's probably a charged term, but your behavior is being used against you to put you into segments based on your likes or other people's behavior that might be similar to your own. But we also, in a public blockchain, have very similar mechanisms to be able to find people who have this behavior or purchasing behavior or potentially ownership around certain types of products that might look very similar to the type of customer that we're looking to attract or the type of customer we're trying to incentivize. Seyi Taylor is a long-time subscriber to the show, but doesn't say Web3, doesn't use the word token, and doesn't use the word blockchain... How do you find better customers? Well, we're trying to do that every day through forms of advertising. But what if that form of advertising wasn't just an ad auction that happens just in time that's delivered to somebody in an experience, but it's happening because we have this open ledger to be able to look for customers that are signaling to the world based on their behavior that they are a customer that might be right for my brand. Now again, I think it's so early. It's really hard to say, how retailers or direct to consumer brands might be able to use that. But it gives me a lot of hope that what is happening right now in the web has an alternative in the future because the current state of the web, as closed as it's becoming and as fragmented as it's becoming due to all of these privacy regulations, we need an alternative. And I think that there will be a group of people who actually decide that they want to experience a different type of web and shopping experience in the future. And what that looks like today, I think, will be very, very different to what it looks like in the future.

Deana: [00:18:55] I just wanna give a quick shoutout. If anyone who is listening is interested in that intersection of advertising, customer acquisition, public blockchains, open ledger, Steph Alinsug from Vessel is doing a lot of interesting work there, so you should definitely check her out. So what's your community's temperature read on Web3 or maybe crypto more broadly? Are folks over it? Is it a toxic word?

Phillip: [00:19:22] It's unfortunate. I think they're over it, but not because of the reason that you may think. Are there issues around the way the monkey JPEGs of it all? I think everybody has a hot take on that.

Deana: [00:19:32] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:19:33] I think that what is more disappointing than anything is the way that the large brands that have had Web3 road maps have treated their projects.

Deana: [00:19:44] Flash in the pan. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:19:44] Starbucks has been an unbelievably disappointing type of a project. I think, Dot Swoosh, is an unbelievably disappointing project despite all of the public comms that they tried to do on the Nike side to say this is different, despite their buying into the ecosystem and their acquisition of Artifact. I think that is actually probably the most disappointing of it all is seeing how large brands have done Web3 disservice through their thin veneer of participation and selling of NFTs. On the positive side, I do think that there are new brands that are emerging that are more community-centric and hospitality and luxury-centric that are these Web3 first communities that actually are really important pockets of consumers, that probably tend toward people that have, more curated tastes that will become more important as time goes on. They are the pool suites of the world. They are the communities, I think, like your own, that I think have tried really hard to manage their membership rosters, and they've tried really hard to create a brand that always keeps you guessing and is always excited and hungry for more as opposed to some of the cash grabs that we've seen from the larger enterprises.

Deana: [00:21:07] It's ironic in many ways because the big brands coming to Web3 were what was heralded as the thing that would save us all. They bring scale. They bring reach. They bring "adoption." But I do think you're right that there has been some irreparable damage done as a result of their sort of fleeting interest in continuing to experiment, I think, in crypto Web3. Okay. Let's move on. You wrote about this thing called soul delay. Modern brands moving too fast, leaving consumers with the form of jet lag. I'd love to hear more about that idea.

Phillip: [00:21:44] So this is actually really interesting. The thing that I say that Future Commerce would do that nobody else ever would, this is what I think makes us a little different. Soul delay. So soul delay has become sort of a colloquialism for this idea of jet lag. I'm not sure if you've experienced jet lag, before, but William Gibson had this sort of short story as a part of a collected work that said, effectively, like, your soul can't move as quickly as your luggage in an airplane. That's why you feel soul delay. I've taken that particular reference, and I'm overlaying it on this anthropomorphization of brand. So what we have done is we've said that brands or corporations and act as if they're people with agency, and we've given them souls. We talk about them like they make independent decisions for themselves. So we've anthropomorphized brand. And so I'm therefore saying, well, if we're gonna give brands personhood and we're gonna talk about them as if they're capable of making decisions for themselves even though we know that's not actually how it works, but it's how we relate to them, and that's how they talk to us, that's how they want us to have a relationship with them. Then what other sociological or psychological philosophical implications are there? One might be maybe brands can experience a form of jet lag too. By moving too quickly, they lose their soul in the process. And it takes a long time for the soul of a brand to catch up. And so I think that's one of the ways of our understanding and relating to the way that eCommerce or brands or retail exists in the world is taking these larger, more esoteric, topics, maybe like lit crit, and overlaying it over top of this idea of if you make one presupposition about a brand, then let's use that same presupposition to overlay another topic. There's this concept of expanding friend circles and this maximum number of friends in a friend group and how that breaks down over time in sociology. Dunbar's number is what it's referred to. Well, how many of those relationships can you maintain or are evolutionarily adapted to maintain in our lives? And do brands now take up some number of those? So what is Dunbar's number for relationships, and does that extend only to people? Does that now also extend to the number of brand relationships that we can have? And how many human relationships are displaced by our having subscribed to the witty, shitposting brand on Twitter? And so when I talk about soul delay, it's really a backwards way and a sort of backdoor way into having a different type of a conversation about the way that we think of the nature of commerce and the way that brands are trying to be all of our best friends and how many of those can we really withstand [00:24:31]? This really interesting data point is that Shopify, just Shopify, which is by far the most successful eCommerce platform by number of stores launched. They have 3,000,000 stores. [00:24:43]

Deana: [00:24:44]  [00:24:44]Wow.

Phillip: [00:24:44]  [00:24:44]And by means of comparison, there are 1,000,000 physical retail stores in the United States. And many analysts say that we're physically over-retailed in the United States Per capita, more than any other developed world, in fact, we're 52% more physical retail in the United States than the next highest, which is Australia. So we have two times as many physical retail stores as we need in the United States per capita, and we have three times as many eCommerce stores by one eCommerce vendor in the world than that. And that is how pervasive this, I call it a Cambrian explosion of brand, has become. We have so many of these things vying for our attention now. [00:25:27] And it just makes sense that after some period of time, especially with infinite amount of money in a ZERP era, Zero Interest Rate Policy era, that some of them would move so fast that they would lose their soul along the way. And that's why you feel sad sometimes about this brand you used to love that's now this, you know, lifeless husk. So that's how we sort of analyze certain things, and I think it's a more artful way of having a deeper conversation about the nature of brand than, you know, what font Nordstrom Rack is using these days.

Deana: [00:25:56] What's an example of a brand you think has moved or moved too fast?

Phillip: [00:25:59] Oh, gosh. This sort of gets into the critique of it all. I would say almost every single pandemic-era brand that has raised capital and certainly maybe the ones before. I think Glossier certainly moved too fast for a little while. And maybe if I were given enough time here, I could defend myself about just critiquing girl bosses because I certainly wouldn't wanna do that. But I do think they're the ones that have been set up to become punching bags in the Twitter era. But, yeah, there are a number of them. I mean, Away as a luggage brand certainly launched into a bunch of categories that haven't really been very successful for them. They beat their own drum around, like, "The virtues of world travel and how it makes you a better person because you'll see middle America differently if you had a different perspective on the world," and that's because they can afford a New York Times full page ad, not because that is the soul of the brand. I think it it all comes back down to with the capital incentives and the capital models of these pre-pandemic era VC backed brands. They're probably the ones most guilty of it. As a contrast, look at generational brands. One that is very interesting to me is a footwear brand called Clarks. It doesn't have a lot of brand heat, doesn't get a lot of love, you've definitely seen CLARKS shoes in the world. You're probably like, "The mall brand, Clarks?" They really do some really interesting things. They're about to celebrate their 200th anniversary.

Deana: [00:27:25] Wow.

Phillip: [00:27:26] Yeah. They've been around for 200 years. I consider them to be a cultural brand in that they have, part of their story is allowing other cultures to sort of co opt and adapt the brand. And so part of their story is, like, the 1960s and 1970s Rastas in Jamaica were taking the brand and taking some of their shoes and silhouettes and styling them completely different that became very specific to that moment and that culture that was then part of a subculture that became a culture, that was very widely adopted, and you've definitely seen the look. There's these, you know, ad campaigns of barrels of Levi's being paired with these historic silhouettes of these what were workers' boots, for working people in the 1800s. To live through 200 years of a brand's history, you have to become a historian of the brand, and you have to steward the brand really well. You can't make drastic moves, but you also have to be experimental for the future to last for another 200 years. And Tara McRae, who's the Chief Marketing Officer over there, who is a key interview and feature of our new Muses journal that's coming out at Art Basel, she is also betting on the metaverse, and she thinks that dipping a toe in the future where multiplayer engagement is happening, one of which is in Roblox and having the brand experience on Roblox future proofs the brand for a new generation because that's where they are spending their time. I sort of spun that into well, [00:28:55] there's probably one way that capital can accelerate and lose your soul. I think there's another way that having a long, long, long, long-term outlook on preserving the history and the future of the brand can restore a soul as well. [00:29:09]

Deana: [00:29:09] Wow. Well, shout out to Clark's. I had no idea. Okay.

Phillip: [00:29:13] I'll be wearing Clark's to Art Basel. I don't know.

Deana: [00:30:17] Okay. So you mentioned Glossier, and then you touched on Roblox, which brings me to my next point here, which is about the idea of communal experiences. I think Glossier had/has one of the best retail communal experiences. And, of course, Roblox, I think, is I don't know the category Goliath in a communal experience. This idea of a 3rd or 4th place, whether it's IRL like a Glossier or online like a Roblox is, I think, increasingly important in both expression for the brand and also a community where we find our humanity. I think probably more so in the Roblox example than Glossier. I know that you have some thinking on this. I'd love to give you some space to muse on it a bit.

Phillip: [00:31:06] Yeah. Well, I do think that these communal experiences... I mean, I am an old guy in the space now. I do remember the time before the Internet was pervasive. I was born in the eighties. I have very fond vivid memories of being in an AIM chat room for whatever that's worth.

Deana: [00:31:26] Same. Age/sex/location. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:31:29] I was the guy who would go in the Christian chat room and paste in a bunch of crosses and tell everybody that you can have a cross too if you hold alt and hit F4 and watch everybody dump out of the room. So I was sort of like a digital terrorist back then to some degree too.

Deana: [00:31:44] Nice.

Phillip: [00:31:45] But I think that the Roblox of it all as one example is just the modern form of that. I think that we were doing that 25, 30 years ago too. So it's not necessarily a new behavior. I think humanity finds each other, and we find our people. It's easier now than it's ever been, back to Henry Jenkins' point. So the barrier to entry is very, very low. Also, it's multi-device and multi-platform now. You can participate in this, in all in all different kinds of ways. My kids on their Nintendo Switch can pop into Minecraft and talk with their cousins. While it doesn't have the same kind of heat that we see in mainstream media's coverage of it, [00:32:27] gaming as an industry eclipses any other form of media when combined. You know, you put the movie industry and newspapers and television together, and it comes nowhere close to the amount of daily active eyeballs, and time that's spent in these communal experiences. [00:32:42] But there is a level of immersion specifically in Roblox that I find unbelievably fascinating. For instance, Ryanair has been operating in Roblox for a better part of a year now. I don't know if you've seen this. But Ryanair decided that they would set up a virtual airport. And then they ask people on Roblox to staff it. And organizational structures have emerged where there are people who clock in and work at the airport.

Deana: [00:33:12] Oh. {laughter} Are you serious?

Phillip: [00:33:13] They fly the planes. They manage the itineraries. They cosplay as flight attendants, and that is one interesting behavior where people are actually putting their time in as if they're working. And they're not alone, by the way. Chipotle has a a virtual recruiting center where you can work a virtual burrito line as a back line worker.

Deana: [00:33:33] What is that? What is that behavior? What's the motivation there?

Phillip: [00:33:36] I believe that this is like an approximation for a type of work that people want the community experience of, but they don't want the actual physical experience of.

Deana: [00:33:45] Like Charli D'Amelio, cosplaying as a Walmart employee?

Phillip: [00:33:48] As a Walmart employee? Well maybe. As a photo op, yes. Did she do it for 8 hours, I think, would be the next question. And also that would be very novel for her. There are people who are doing this because that's they found a community.

Deana: [00:34:02] Working.

Phillip: [00:34:03] I don't know. I screwed around a lot at work when I was 16, 17, 18 years old, and I was bagging groceries, which I don't know how many people actually bag groceries anymore, but I was bagging groceries or I was working my parents' bakery. And the best part of bagging groceries was cutting it up with your friends or screwing around. The work happened in between. And so maybe that communal experience is just giving you a reason, having something semi-ironic to do that can be shared as well. Also, this is a really interesting effect and something that we also look at at Future Commerce is the Hawthorne effect, which is a concept in psychology that your behavior becomes altered when you perceive you're being watched. It comes from a really famous experiment done in and it's taught in business school. I think it was an auto manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, Indiana or something. I'm probably getting the state wrong. But they were way more productive when there were people watching the manufacturer teams on the line working because they were on their best behavior. We have that now through Twitch. There's a whole generation of people who are voyeuristic in watching other people's behavior. There are people that are performative in being that expressive always on character for those people that are paying attention, and they just happen to be using this layer of meta-modernist irony and making social critique about people who might work at Chipotle in that way. But brands are eating this up. So if you're looking to recruit At Chipotle, who would you rather reach for? I think the the question is, can you take that online behavior and translate it to offline behavior? And I don't think that there's been a brand that solved that in any way, not even in shopping just yet. So, maybe it's a completely new behavior that we haven't really seen the effects or the economic effects yet of, but it certainly is one that brands like Clark's and others are making big investments in.

Deana: [00:36:11] You remind me there. Natasha and I had a concept for a show called Work, and it was a Twitch streaming show where we were just streaming for 8 hours a day. And it's just our screens of what we're, like, responding to emails and doing weird stuff.

Phillip: [00:36:25] Yep.

Deana: [00:36:26] So I don't know. Now that I'm hearing you talk about virtual Chipotle employees, I'm like, maybe there's something there.

Phillip: [00:36:33] There is definitely something there. There and there would be an audience for it. The world's a very large place.

Deana: [00:36:39] Okay. Amazing. Well, Phillip, this has been such a fun chat. I wanna end here. What are you excited about in terms of, I understand thematically, but specific brands or projects that you think are doing excellent work that are maybe underrated or maybe appropriately rated, but... Yeah, we'd love to hear.

Phillip: [00:37:01] Man, well, this is always the hardest question to answer. There are certainly brands, and brand leaders that are super fans of Future Commerce that come to mind and folks that I think are experimenting, and they're trying to find, you know, that future of commerce. If you really needed a couple examples, there are brands that Brian and I are fans of. Brian's probably the world's biggest Costco fan. I think Costco does all of these things that we're talking about, and they do them extraordinarily well. They also treat their employees fairly well, and they pay them a living wage. So, they have that going for them.

Deana: [00:37:38] Huge shout out to Costco. I love Costco. Have you listened to the acquired episode of...

Phillip: [00:37:42] Yes. Of course.

Deana: [00:37:43] Yeah. It's incredible. It's canon.

Phillip: [00:37:45] It's unbelievable. They also are pushing the boundaries of what you believe Costco to be, in the modern era. As Brian, my Co-Host and Co-Founder, would say, he wrote this article called "Dissociating at Costco." The piece is actually about his experience of dealing with loss and how his dad connected to Costco and how that became sort of a generational thing for him and his family. So he remembered going to Costco with his dad. His dad made friends with the wine buyer at Costco and, you know, Brian in his footsteps has followed and has a penchant for wine, has become friends with the wine buyer at Costco. Now his kids are watching him in that behavior. And [00:38:28] there's something really powerful about Costco is not actually the thing, but it's the connective tissue in between the things that are life. And the trips to the store actually make a really big impact on you and your behavior both as a consumer and as a person. [00:38:46] I also think that what's a really interesting retail experience is Five Below. So the Creative Director at Five Below, which is a discounter you may not have heard of, they have hundreds and hundreds of stores, but they're not as well known.

Deana: [00:38:59] I have two kids under the age of 7. So yes.

Phillip: [00:39:01] So you know Five Below. Not everybody may know Five Below. I think Five Below and maybe, you know, the nontransactional video game equivalents, you know, Roblox might be a good example of it. They are so important in a growth as a consumer because they give you autonomy as a consumer as a child to have to have this approximation of the feeling of being able to shop the way that you see your parents shop. So you can walk into Five Below with $10 and walk out with a bunch of stuff, or you can shop sort of wantonly, or your parents might let you make less consider decisions that the purchasing power goes a little further. It feels like you have greater agency and more spending power than you actually do, but it's not the dollar store. And I think those are really important. I watch my kids because I'm such a nerd about this stuff. I watch how they shop in Animal Crossing. Or I watch how they shop in Roblox. And I think to myself, "This is the future consumer, and this is where they're learning how to be consumers." And they are learning it for the first time, but they're trying to find ways of expressing that in their own way. So I think that having known some of the people who build those experiences, Dan Hoffman, for instance, Creative Director at Five Below. And he's one of these guys who's got a BFA. He's a sculpturist who found work as a motion designer and then as a creative director but feels sort o fundamentally unfulfilled in his fine art pursuit, but he has to find the creative outlet in his work. And thinking about how he thinks of a consumer as a muse and how that changes over time and how you grow into these generational behaviors and how deeply he and his team think about things like that, it's really hard for me to not bring up those types of brands because I think that they are actually... They have a lot of depth to them. It's not just, the TikTok of it all. Really hard for me to source a DTC brand that is doing something on that level because I don't think that they're there yet.

Deana: [00:41:13] Well, Phillip, thank you. You've given me the opportunity to do my favorite thing ever, which is to plug the Costco episode on Acquired.

Phillip: [00:41:21] {laughter} You got it.

Deana: [00:41:23] Okay. Let's do a quick plug for your event in Miami in December. Tell us what's going on there.

Phillip: [00:41:29] Yeah. Sure. So I have this, as somebody who likes to try to predict the future, I think that Art Basel Miami Beach is the next great technocultural event in the world. So we saw what happened to Cannes. We saw what happened to South By. I think the same thing is happening, and maybe to a lesser degree, I don't know... Sundance. But we have these cultural events where people that would be Future Commerce subscribers are gathering, but they're not doing it under the guise of work. And that's an opportunity for us because when you go to a work event or a trade show, you get booked up with meetings. You have to do a lot of things. You get to do few things. And we want to be more places where people look at a Future Commerce event as something they get to do or they make a choice to do, not because they have to fit five things under their dance card for work. So this year, and we're coming back for 3 days, we like to theme things. I like to put the creative director hat on, like, create brands. So that's what we've done. And so I would invite everybody to come to Muses, which is an exploration of the way that we see the modern muse. So the Greeks looked at the muse as this thing is sort of like, creativity, inspiration, and exploration. But I think that [00:42:51] innovation is at the heart of being and finding the muse in our modern era. And I think that commerce has a role to play in the way that people find personal inspiration and fulfillment, [00:43:02] and we're gonna explore that, in our launch of our 200-page journal and a 3 day event, December 6th, 7th, and 8th at Art Basel. And we're right on Lincoln Road. Incredible 10,000 square foot building that we somehow are going to activate, with an incredible art exhibition. Tam Gryn is a renowned curator who's come alongside us to put together the modern version of the Muses through, 10 amazing artists. And we'll have the eCommerce and retail ecosystem come out for what I think is gonna be, a mind blowing 3 days.

Deana: [00:43:38] Amazing. Well, I can't wait to stop by. Boys Club will be there.

Phillip: [00:43:41] Please. Yeah.

Deana: [00:43:41] We're doing our own event, so I will be in attendance, so can't wait to come by.

Phillip: [00:43:45] Thank you.

Deana: [00:43:46] Phillip, thank you so much. This is wonderful.

Phillip: [00:43:48] Oh my gosh. Thank you to Boys Club. I got all the shoutouts when I got the tweet drop a couple... I got the mention a couple weeks ago. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

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