Join us for VISIONS Summit NYC  - June 11
Episode 260
June 24, 2022

“What Creators Owe To Their Audience”

TikTok creator Neil Shankar joins the show today to chat about the algorithm, how brands are playing the game, power stances in commerce, and our recent Visions 2022 report. Listen now!

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this episode sponsored by

Playing the Game

  • Neil Shankar is a TikTok content creator, producing content on what's new with consumer brands
  • “Getting the algorithm to like you is sometimes about playing the game of TikTok, for instance, speaking the language of TikTok and engaging with TikTok creators. You don't need to be like dancing in front of a ring light.” -Neil
  • Interacting with the idea of something is just as compelling to us as potentially purchasing that thing, its the concept of Romanticism, an idea we elaborate on more in our Visions report
  • As our infinite choice of options increases, it becomes a footprint issue, not just a carbon footprint, but a time footprint
  • “Brands and companies should be paying attention to how much time and focus their customers are giving them.” -Brian
  • When brands are able to slap a date on a project or report, or whatever it may be, it's creating a time capsule, meaning that it will never decay because it lives on in that year
  • “Visions 2022 will never become outdated. It will always be an encapsulation of this current moment.” -Neil

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Brian: [00:01:15] Hello [00:01:00] and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about the next generation of commerce. I'm Brian.  [00:01:20]

Phillip: [00:01:20] And I'm Phillip. Today we are here with one of my favorite TikTok creators who talks about brands and design trends. Neil Shankar is here. Welcome to the show, Neil.

Neil: [00:01:31] Thank you, Phillip and Brian. Thank you so much for having me.

Phillip: [00:01:33] Thank you. I have to put you on the spot. You're in my feed almost every day. [00:01:40] I wasn't aware of your content before, but I feel like it's really interesting and very differentiated. How did you come to start talking about brands and design on TikTok and what is that journey been like for you?

Neil: [00:01:56] First of all, I think I can thank the algorithm for that. Sometimes there's a correlation [00:02:00] between how much content I produce and how often it's on people's feeds, and sometimes that correlation is not as strong. There are weeks where I'll be producing content every day and I'll get comments saying, "Where have you been? I haven't seen your stuff," and vice versa. But yeah, as for the content series on brands and branding, which has been going really well so far. It actually started as [00:02:20] an idea for a website. The website was going to be DTC.Life, and it was going to be sort of a catalog of direct to consumer micro brands. So the more I learned about brands that just sell one thing... Like I saw on your Visions report, you had mentioned Faculty, and I think that's a great example of a micro brand. Faculty is a brand that just sells [00:02:40] nail polish, and when they started, they just sold one color of nail polish, green nail polish. So that was the original intention for DTC.Life, was to just catalog and help people make sense of these micro brands. The catalog actually started getting too big and it started to turn into something more like Thingtesting, which is a great resource, but [00:03:00] now they've got over 2000 brands or something like that. So I took a pause on it for a while and then brought it back as a content series that sort of goes deeper and makes connections, and that also gives me a way to weave in my own personal opinions on these brands.

Brian: [00:03:14] Nice. That's so cool. And so you got in on TikTok, well, not [00:03:20] too long ago, but you've been doing work like this for a while. And so as you've started to really I mean, grow your TikTok presence and build your brand there, how has it changed your work? And how has that changed the way that you engage [00:03:40] with brands?

Neil: [00:03:41] I was a little bit disillusioned at first, actually. I would put a lot of research into making a video on, say, the Always Pan from Our Place. And I would have a take on it. I would have other people's takes on it. I would put together a one-minute video and then all of the comments would be saying, "I love my Always Pan" or "I hate [00:04:00] my Always Pan. The nonstick doesn't work," and people weren't actually engaging with what I was saying at all. They were just engaging with the name of the brand. And so that happens with a lot of my videos. I'll namedrop a brand and there's no engagement with my actual take. So learning how to sort of navigate that, you know, making my videos focused on one take, one brand, one [00:04:20] opinion. I think for TikTok that really helps. But yeah, I mean, it's a good lesson learned at the end of the day. People have bought from these brands or people want to know which brands to buy from and they're really less concerned with my opinion.

Brian: [00:04:33] Interesting. You were thanking [00:04:40] the algorithm for something earlier about how you end up in people's feeds. Do you feel like some of the content that you've created that you've tried to tailor that content to sort of address the algorithm as much as your audience?

Neil: [00:04:55] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and I say this a bit since I do a little bit of brand consulting [00:05:00] and social media [00:05:00] consulting. Brands often want to participate in trends. And same goes with creators, new creators, especially who want to do well on TikTok. They think it's all about participating in trends, using viral sounds, doing viral dances and pranks, and all those. And I think getting the algorithm to like you is sometimes about playing [00:05:20] the game of TikTok, like speaking the language of TikTok and engaging with TikTok creators. You don't need to be like dancing in front of a ring light. [00:05:28]

Brian: [00:05:28] It's almost like you're saying that you have to...

Phillip: [00:05:32] Here comes the self-serving content.

Brian: [00:05:33] No, no, no, no. You actually have to worry more about the [00:05:40] algorithm god than you do the actual end-users.

Phillip: [00:05:44] The audience is secondary.

Brian: [00:05:46] Your audience is actually the algorithm. Your audience is not necessarily people.

Neil: [00:05:51] I mean, that's exactly right. I think it would make like a really funny concept for a sci-fi movie or a sci-fi novel where there is a religion formed around praying [00:06:00] to the algorithm. The algorithm really is our overlord, but I mean, we have to do it on the creator side, like we have to play the game of the algorithm. But as a content consumer, someone even mindlessly scrolling, it's the same thing. The algorithm is your god or your pet. You have to train it to know what to do. When [00:06:20] you're scrolling through TikTok, you're both consuming content and training the algorithm.

Phillip: [00:06:26] Coming back to sort of at least the initial charter of your TikTok. And maybe you're experimenting with other content types. But I find it interesting that TikTok understands me well enough to bring somebody who does [00:06:40] critiques or exploration of direct to consumer brands. That's not a thing that I've ever overtly told the algorithm that I like, but it's something that I'm professionally interested in and I'm personally very interested in. I sometimes wonder how navel-gazing... Our industry is quite small in reality, but [00:07:00] that can be very sort of myopic, very inside baseball-type content. Do you think externalizing that sort of from your professional perspective is consumable by a broad audience? Are people getting the headier concepts that you're bringing to them? One, for instance, [00:07:20] to me is I noticed that you had this really interesting perspective on Prada selling a standalone badge, but you sort of positioned the video as a hack. And I thought that that was an interesting way to get people to care or the way I perceived it was, "Well, Neil's found a way to make people care [00:07:40] about something that's actually really esoteric," which is the brand is something separate from the product. So do you feel like you are having to sort of massage the content for the audience to get them to care about it? Or is that something that's just broadly more understood and something that's just unfilled as a need right now?

Neil: [00:07:59] Yeah, totally. [00:08:00] I mean, a lot of it is framing and there's another side to the video that I call the Infinite Prada Bag Hack, which sort of relates to, as I said, playing the game of TikTok and gating with other creators. In that case, one that backfired on me, and other creators weren't so happy about that. But yeah, I mean, playing the game of TikTok and [00:08:20] sometimes reframing things in a way that people are going to engage with. I think most of the people that saw that video bookmarked the video and commented on it aren't Prada shoppers. Prada shoppers would never call that a hack. But it's just sort of a way of thinking about things. I like to have my videos sort of touch on something conceptual and not just like, "Here's a pin [00:08:40] you can buy from Prada."

Brian: [00:08:42] Hmm. Yeah, that's a really good point. And what I'm taking away is that the actual consumers of the product aren't necessarily [00:09:00] the ones that interact with the content. And that's really, really interesting. Phillip and I have talked a little bit about this idea, well, actually, in our Visions report called Romanticism, that's sort of crept up, and interacting with the idea of something is actually just as compelling to [00:09:20] us as potentially purchasing that thing. Do you see TikTok as sort of playing into that more, into that concept? Is it changing how consumers see brands or how ultimately brands end up interacting with consumers?

Neil: [00:09:35] Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think the obvious answer is yes. A better [00:09:40] question is how much is that changing things? How much is TikTok changing commerce? But I mean, it's sort of a privilege in a way to be an independent content creator. If I was working on the eCommerce side, if I was working for a brand, if I was working on a growth marketing team as I have before, I'd have a conversion goal. And as an independent content creator discussing [00:10:00] brands, especially brands that I'm not partners with, I don't have any responsibility to convert. So it doesn't matter if nobody buys the Prada pin. It just matters if they find that interesting. But I made a video actually, I think last week about brands like Allbirds, like super-successful direct to consumer brands that have traditionally done really well on social. Their Instagram has [00:10:20] nearly half a million followers. And I get Instagram ads for brands like Allbirds all the time. Head over to their TikTok, and they don't even have 2000 followers. Their videos get a couple of hundred views and that's not really a dig on them at all. It just means that they're not working the algorithm. So for whatever reason, I don't think that it's specific to their brand. The [00:10:40] algorithm isn't really rewarding brands for using a traditional Instagram strategy, and I don't think TikTok consumers want to see that kind of content either.

Brian: [00:10:48] Or maybe only millennials buy Allbirds.

Phillip: [00:10:51] That could be the case, too. I have a number of Allbirds. For sale. Old, [00:11:00] Allbirds. You are doing something that we haven't done. I consider myself to be a content creator of some kind. I've had podcasts for going on eight, or nine years now and it's less attributable. It's very fuzzy. [00:11:20] How often do people engage with the content? Well, what channel are you talking about? Is it Spotify? Is it Apple Podcasts? There are a lot of like unknowns about really the reach that you're having and it's really channel specific and device specific. It feels to me like it's extremely quantifiable in the world of TikTok. How often [00:11:40] when you're looking at that sort of content that you're creating, how are you using sort of the engagement metrics to shape the future content that you're planning? Do you find the guardrails yourself? And how often is your audience kind of speaking back to you that [00:12:00] gives you new ideas or new directions?

Neil: [00:12:04] Yeah. So [00:12:04] in terms of engagement and looking at TikTok analytics, the demographics really vary from video to video. And I think that's the algorithm putting it on different people's For You pages based on what I'm talking about. But one thing that's pretty constant is the drop off rate. So pretty much across [00:12:20] the board, I'm going to lose 25% of viewers in the first 2 seconds. So I have 2 seconds to sort of make a hook. Oftentimes, if I'm stitching a video, the stitch doesn't even last 2 seconds. If I have a four second stitch, they don't even see my face in the first 2 seconds. So, I mean, that's just what you're up against. I don't think anyone's really found a great solution to that [00:12:40] other than having a compelling hook. But I mean, the engagement metrics are pretty valuable in that way. [00:12:46]

Phillip: [00:13:46] Have you started to [00:13:40] recognize people in the comments who are highly engaged with you? Is that becoming something that is on your radar yet or is it quite varied?

Neil: [00:13:58] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There [00:14:00] are fans. There's also sort of a community forming in the comments where people are engaging with each other and sort of starting to recognize each other's usernames and following each other. So I love to see that. And I mean to your point earlier about being a content creator for going on a decade now and also being a professional brand strategist, or is that a term that you would call yourself [00:14:20]? Brand strategist?

Phillip: [00:14:21] Sure. Yeah.

Neil: [00:14:22] Being in this industry, I sometimes feel like there are pros and cons to creating content for everyone. Oftentimes, as a digital designer, I see so much Figma 101 content on TikTok, and so much Illustrator 101, Intro to Photoshop, "You'll never believe [00:14:40] these ten tricks..." It's just design 101 content. And as a professional designer, I don't need that. And so when I started this content series, I really wanted to do a little bit of inside baseball, as you mentioned, and keep it a little bit elevated, but still make it approachable. And so for a lot of people, I think this is their first time engaging with brand strategy work or engaging with [00:15:00] that discussion. So I like to see that. But at the same time, I do want to keep it a bit elevated and keep it smart.

Phillip: [00:15:06] If you're forming some sort of like recognition for yourself of these people who are now fans or who are creating some sort of community, it [00:15:20] makes me sort of then take the next logical step in that community is what really creators owe to their community. There's a story that broke today about Daily Harvest having a recall. Recalls in CPG are not uncommon. I was in Target last week [00:15:40] and there's literally no peanut butter on the shelf and there's a big sign that says "Jif just did a recall. Ha ha. Too bad." There's nobody screaming at the security cameras.

Brian: [00:15:50] Is that an exact quote?

Phillip: [00:15:51] Exactly. That's verbatim.

Neil: [00:15:51] From the press release.

Phillip: [00:15:54] They say, you know, "Cap, for real. For real. But there's [00:16:00] nobody who's screaming at Target, saying that it's Target's fault for Jif not being in stock because of a recall. In the case of Daily Harvest, in the midst of this recall, there are a lot of folks who seem to be giving influencers grief or sort of being able to identify that, well, [00:16:20] this influencer endorsed Daily Harvest therefore, it's their responsibility to take ownership of the fact that they endorse something that got me sick or, you know, had some sort of quality issue and they should be addressing that. As a creator yourself, I'm curious what your perspective on that might be, because [00:16:40] that sounds like an unfair critique of influencer or creator culture on the behalf of the consumer and an expectation that they would never level against, say, a retailer.

Neil: [00:16:50] Right. Yeah, there's a bit of a blame game there. And so if it's a responsibility problem, like who's going to bear responsibility for making me buy this thing? [00:17:00] There's a group of people who say the consumer is responsible. You are responsible for your own purchase decisions. But creators, I think a big part of being a professional content creator or someone who does a lot of affiliate marketing is amplifying. So you're amplifying messages, you're amplifying brands. And so for all the creators that amplify Daily Harvest, [00:17:20] there's that other group of people, as you mentioned, who think they should bear some responsibility. And I think in tech, we've been seeing that conversation for a long time with platforms. So what responsibility do platforms bear for the content that's posted there? I mean, it's an ethical problem. I mean, it's a hard one. There are no clear answers, but [00:17:40] especially if a creator is getting paid for the content, I think they have some due diligence.

Brian: [00:17:47] It's interesting. Back to your Jif example, Phillip, we would be pretty mad at Target if they left the peanut butter that they knew was recalled on the shelf. [00:18:00]

Phillip: [00:18:00] Yeah, that's a different scenario.

Brian: [00:18:05] Well, you're right. Or if Target left it on the shelf and didn't check that they were supposed to recall it or didn't pay attention or didn't care, you know what I mean? And yeah, there are systems set up and obviously, it's not going to happen with Target. But my point [00:18:20] in saying that is perhaps it's on the... If a brand is paying an influencer or content creator, perhaps they should have some sort of notification system for those content creators.

Phillip: [00:18:34] That's such an interesting concept, Brian,  [00:18:40]thinking through it because I think one of the challenges here is that there really isn't a real-life example of the thing that we have in social media or in this social entertainment is persistence. Someone's endorsement [00:19:00] of something as effectively ephemeral whether it's in person or it happened in the past or it was a television ad, it's come and gone. But if you post it on TikTok, you can reference it many years later. And so the question here becomes sort of mutability. Is it now incumbent upon the influencer/creator... Sorry that [00:19:20] we keep interchangeably using those words. I'm trying to change my vernacular and be conscious of it. But when you're thinking about the creator who now has to take ownership of every content endorsement that they've ever done, every brand endorsement and brand partnership that they've ever engaged in, that [00:19:40] becomes unwieldy after a little while, I believe. Neil, we're having our own little sidebar here. Sorry. Any thoughts?

Neil: [00:19:45] I mean, it's a debate, right? I don't think there are any clear answers, especially when it comes down to like if people are getting sick from whatever this recall was about. And also, like, as you mentioned, this just happened I think yesterday or today. I'm sure there are creators that have [00:20:00] amplified Daily Harvest who don't even know. Don't even know.

Phillip: [00:20:04] That's true.

Neil: [00:20:04] And an interesting framework, one that I started thinking about last week. So Elon Musk had sort of an all-hands meeting with Twitter and he mentioned a content framework called Freedom of Speech, Not Freedom of Reach. And so [00:20:18] the idea there is that [00:20:20] Twitter as a platform can be a conduit for any messages, even you could say harassment or negative messages, things of that kind. Twitter as a platform, doesn't have a responsibility to amplify that, though. So that's the not Freedom of Reach part of it. And you mentioned mutability, too. And there's a parallel conversation. [00:20:40] I know you guys are in New York for NFT NYC right now happening in the Web3 community where immutability is really sacred. There's a lot of energy and investment dollars going into making sure that things never get deleted, things never disappear, and platforms are sort of doing the opposite right now. They're trying to shut off [00:21:00] that reach. [00:21:01]

Brian: [00:21:01] That's really interesting as well. And actually, that throws the third layer into this conversation as well, because what responsibility does the platform have in sort of policing the bad information about [00:21:20] a product as well? If someone's promoting a product on the platform, where does... If TikTok were to promote that particular creator who just promoted a product that was recalled, where [00:21:40] does the buck stop?

Phillip: [00:21:41] I almost think it's actually a little different there, Brian, when you think about it, just to kind of come back to our Visions report because it's top of mind recently for us. When you think about the number of consumers who state that they believe that [00:22:00] their tastes are being curated by platforms. They are aware that platforms are tastemakers for them and the types of content that are being served to them are very purposeful to make them aware or give them some sort of like awareness of something [00:22:20] that they may not have even known that they wanted. If the consumer believes the platform is responsible for creating tastes in the platform, at some point we have to have some philosophical conversation about what the platform's responsibilities are for the things we buy.

Brian: [00:22:35] Right, right. Let's take this to the next level. Yeah, I agree.

Phillip: [00:22:38] A Section 230 conversation [00:22:40] all over again, which is been really trot out all over the place. Before we shift gears, any thoughts about that, Neil?

Neil: [00:22:48] Yeah. I mean, it's a rabbit hole we could spend forever on this. But yeah, I mean, on the topic of curation, curation has existed forever. If you went to a department store 100 years [00:23:00] ago, you're looking at a curated selection of items. It's just who is doing the curating? That's what's changing now. Platforms are doing some curating by way of the algorithm. Curators are doing their own curating. And we tend to follow curators who do really tight curation, especially curation by aesthetic. I saw on the Visions report Cottagecore was of interest to you guys. Cottagecore [00:23:20] is of interest to me as well. When you have a very tight aesthetic and you're looking for products that fit into that aesthetic, that's heavy curation. So yeah, who is doing the curating is the thing that's changing. But it reminds me Tristan Harris, who was in that Netflix documentary about like ethics and tech. I forget what it [00:23:40] was called, but he had an essay many years ago called The Designer as Magician, something like that. And the whole idea is that what Yelp does and what platforms do that are so insidious to him is that it makes you think that those ten restaurants that come up at the top of the list are your only options for food. [00:24:00] So it reframes your question of "What am I eating? I'm hungry, what should I eat?" To "Which of these ten restaurants should I go to?" And that's a curation problem. Like when TikTok keeps showing you the same ad for Daily Harvest or for the Always Pan or whatever it is, it makes you think like, "Oh, I got to buy a pan. I only have three options."

Phillip: [00:25:51] In [00:25:40] actuality, and [00:25:52] this is what I think is psychologically a challenge that we [00:26:00] don't know even exists yet, but I sense is becoming problematic, is we have infinite choice. We have infinite choice for everything all the time. [00:26:09]

Neil: [00:26:10] That's right.

Phillip: [00:26:10] Anything that you want it's a Bo Burnham quote. But it is literally a little bit of everything all at the time. And it's [00:26:20] an infinite choice of food, an infinite choice of romantic partners, and dating apps. But people have never been sadder, quite frankly, like we're not better for it necessarily. And I don't know if you can draw a straight line between the mental health state of Western culture or not. But I do think that there is [00:26:40] an interesting factor of modernity there that we all haven't really acquainted ourselves with.

Brian: [00:26:49] It's isolating, infinite choice, because we end up getting so obsessed with ourselves and what we can [00:27:00] have, and we also are doing it in isolation, typically on our phones. And so I think that and I hate to continue to beat this drum, but I will like I think this is an attention footprint issue. We have carbon footprints. [00:27:20] We should be paying attention to how much time or brands and companies should be paying attention to how much time and focus their customers are giving them. And it might be a highly inappropriate amount of time.

Phillip: [00:27:38] And I see the TikTok, [00:27:40] you know, hey, you've been scrolling for a little while. The shame post. I get it. I get it pretty often. Neil, you mentioned Cottagecore. One of the things I love about your YouTube is the sort of investigation of design trends. What are some other sort of aesthetic trends [00:28:00] that you're tracking at the moment that are somewhat meaningful? Are there things that are top of mind that are sort of emergent that people may not have on their radar at the moment?

Neil: [00:28:10] Yeah, definitely. And so on my YouTube, I'm doing a slightly different investigation, which is more on web design, which is something that I think about a lot, the [00:28:20] design of websites and how that sort of effects our consumer choices as well. But on TikTok, especially, Cottagecore was really popular maybe last year or a few years ago, and these things are cyclical, right? I remember a few years ago, maybe as much as ten years ago, Kinfolk magazine was really popular and that's a similar aesthetic [00:28:40] and Drift magazine for coffee lovers. And now that's sort of having its TikTok resurgence. And a few months ago, there's an aesthetic that's now being called Nite Luxe, which is super, super popular on TikTok, and there are Vsco presets and iPhone presets that'll sort of take your exposure all the way down and let you film your life as if it's, I [00:29:00] don't know, an old romantic movie or something. And so Terry Nguyen, who is a writer over at Vox, just sort of published a deep dive into what these aesthetics even mean for our consumer habits. And so the title is a little bit clickbaity. It's called "Trends are Dead." I don't think trends are dead. Trends aren't going anywhere. But [00:29:20] I mean, her discussion is sort of about why do we even need to name trends? Like where does that come from, our need to categorize aesthetics as trends? And why does that keep happening? Why did we start doing that many years ago in the Tumblr days? Then why are we still doing it today? And I mean, it's a great question. Where [00:29:40] does that need come from, that need to like fall into esthetic patterns collectively?

Brian: [00:29:46] I think it's well before Tumblr. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:29:50] Well, if you take it back... So I come from a religious tradition, as many sis white males of my ilk do, in  [00:30:00]Western Christianity, a lot of the creation stories are just about naming things. Naming in some ways sort of creates an ordinal society. The thing that has a name is subordinate to the thing that gave it the name. And that is a really interesting sort of psychological [00:30:20] exploration of the way that we sort of hierarchically govern ourselves in society is if I name something, I have taken its power away and imbued myself with power because I'm the one who named it. And yeah, so I find that it's not so much the recognition [00:30:40] that there are recurring trends so much as the sort of human desire to want to gain the social status that comes along with the "and this person recognized it." And for whatever it's worth and [00:31:00] maybe this isn't something that you've recognized yet, Neil, as somebody who's creating content in my feed a lot, I see you as being that person that's top of mind as a person that's calling out trends and that's, as far as the algorithm is concerned, I see you as that person as this [00:31:20] is the person who has the power and the voice to sort of educate more people than I do in a different channel about the things that are shaping the way that we buy.

Brian: [00:31:30] Let me just add to that a little bit. I think [00:31:35] let alone just taking away something's power. I think there's also an element of understanding. [00:31:40] We have to name things in order to communicate because people use language to be able to have a common way of exchanging ideas. And so by naming things, I think we give ourselves a way to sort of speak about something in an efficient manner, but also in [00:32:00] a way that people can sort of, you know, use when talking about them. [00:32:06]

Phillip: [00:32:08] That's the nice... That's actually the... Yeah. I feel like a horrible person having given my take. And now you're like, no, but this is how humanity actually all connects together.

Brian: [00:32:18] Yeah. No. So yeah, yeah. I actually think [00:32:20] that there's an element of what you're saying about... I think that's absolutely true.

Phillip: [00:32:22] Strike everything I said before. It's terrible.

Brian: [00:32:24] I think what you're saying is true. I think it does sort of give us the ability. Understanding is power.

Phillip: [00:32:29] You're right. {laughter}

Brian: [00:32:31] So where I'm heading with this, though, is I think that there is a modern take on naming [00:32:40] trends that really like took off in the early 20th century, maybe before that even. I feel like that's a really uneducated.

Phillip: [00:32:51] Trends are dead. That's what I just heard. Remembering that we do have a guest on this show today. If you're [00:33:00] thinking, Neil, to yourself about some of the things that are cultural movements or things that are taste and culture as being formed, I think a lot of people are giving a lot of credit to TikTok as having created a bunch of these, especially [00:33:20] in music. I'm curious if you see other areas where culture and taste are being formed that are maybe off the platform?

Neil: [00:33:30] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it has downstream effects everywhere, like everywhere. But I mean, to your point earlier, yeah, I mean, the very easy answer is maybe it's just [00:33:40] a good conversational device. When we name it Cottagecore, it just lets us talk about it without saying, "Oh, you know, that type of video where they do the thing where it's all soft and nice?" And it's just Cottagecore. But yeah, the effects are everywhere. We can see the effects on branding, we see the effects on fashion, [00:34:00] lifestyle, and consumer choices, and there are entire brands that I think have popped up that whether it's you can call it the TikTok aesthetic or the GenZ aesthetic. I know you guys are interested in maximalism. Starface comes to mind as an example just off the top of my head as a maximalist brand. I mean, the idea is don't hide your pimples, [00:34:20] don't hide your acne. You know, put a star on it, be maximal about it, wear it with pride. And that's totally antithetical to, I don't know, a Band-Aid that matches the color of your skin. And I think that form of expression totally has roots in TikTok and GenZ culture and euphoria. And all of those things are just one big [00:34:40] Venn diagram.

Phillip: [00:34:43] Does it feel like you have to consume more and more media to actually understand where the place that things exist in the world? Or do you feel some sort of responsibility as a creator to have to do that, to sort of stay relevant to some degree?

Neil: [00:34:57] Yeah, I have a hard time with that. Overconsumption [00:35:00] has its own negative effects, but like FOMO, like just feeling like you're going to miss out on the next viral video and not know what people are talking about. It's really hard, but I tried this thing last year where I sort of... I read a lot of newsletters and I mentioned Terry Nguyen earlier. She has a personal newsletter also called Gen Yeet, which I think [00:35:20] is really good for understanding Internet culture and just sort of getting into the mindset of somebody who's extremely online. And Embedded and Dirt. These are all substacks that I read that are all great, great newsletters. I read so many newsletters that I had to take a break from it. So I did two weeks where I just said, okay, I'm not going to read any newsletters [00:35:40]. I'm just going to see what I miss out on. And what was really interesting is that I think the important stuff still bubbled up to the surface. Like that was when Bored Ape was having its first big run. I had no idea what Bored Ape was at the time, but I heard about it and saw about it enough on Twitter and other places that I just went and googled it and I said, "What [00:36:00] is Bored Ape Yacht Club?" And found out about it. Whereas I probably could have read ten different takes and ten different newsletters about it. I felt like I didn't really need to. So doing a cleanse sort of helped me recalibrate in that way.

Phillip: [00:36:15] That's a beautiful segue because I think that again, I'd [00:36:20] love your take. So you've read through the Visions report that we just put out. I'm curious if you have any... It's been sprinkled throughout this entire last 30 minutes, but I'm curious if there's anything in particular that comes out to you. What you just mentioned, I would say, is sort of a [00:36:40] sacramental, very modern, sacramental practice of fasting where, you know, maybe ancestrally our parents or our grandparents might have fasted food, fasting social media has a very similar effect to us [00:37:00] to sort of remind us of our need state. Were there parts of the report that were of particular interest or anything that maybe stood out to you as worthy of critique?

Neil: [00:37:13] I mean, first of all, it's a great report, and congratulations to both of you and your team for putting this out. And what I like so much is that so [00:37:20] now I've read the 2021 and 2022 Visions report, and you can see the changes and trends just in the past year. Things are moving that fast, but it's sort of making me think differently about how I think about content as someone who comes from a design background, especially digital design, product design, and web design. When [00:37:40] you create content, especially when you timestamp it like that, saying Visions 2021, Visions 2022, it's sort of creating a time capsule, right? And it'll never decay. But when you create a website or when you create a product, it does decay and you sort of have a responsibility to maintain it and to upkeep [00:38:00] it. And so let's say I'm on the other side of this, I'm on the eCommerce side of it, and I say, "Okay, I just read Trends 2022. I really like maximalism and I want to tap into this. I'm going to create a maximal brand like Starface." I don't know if Starface is always going to be relevant unless they keep adapting to the latest consumer trends. On the other hand, [00:38:20] Visions 2022 will never become outdated. It will always be sort of an encapsulation of this current moment. So as a content creator, I appreciate that sort of framing of slapping a date on it and saying this is now.

Phillip: [00:38:33] Thank you. I appreciate that. I've never thought of it that way. That's a really interesting framing. Our biggest [00:38:40] critique from our teams and our PR team, in particular, is "Can you guys just narrow this down to like one thing? Because it's really hard to pitch." So now I'm just going to say, "Well, Neil said it was a time capsule, so that's what we're doing."

Brian: [00:38:54] We should rename it Time Capsule 2022.

Phillip: [00:38:56] Hey, I feel like there's... Naming things [00:39:00] gives things power, Brian. That's what I heard.

Brian: [00:39:02] It gives you power.

Phillip: [00:39:03] Yeah, I'm on a power trip apparently. What's next for you as a creator? Neil, are you feeling the fatigue? I've heard a lot of, you know, talk around the fatigue of content creation. Do you feel like that's something that's coming for you or are [00:39:20] you hard at work making a whole lot more content?

Neil: [00:39:22] Yeah, a little bit of both. I'm still trying to figure out the different directions to take this in. Initially, I was thinking of it as a series. It actually started as a series on direct to consumer brands and dupes and then past a certain point I sort of ran out of things to talk about on the dupe front, and a lot [00:39:40] of people were commenting like, "I don't get it. Where's the dupe? Did I miss the dupe?" I was like, "No, we're just not doing that anymore." So I think as long as I keep thinking of it as like, okay, this is season one, this is season two, or this is the next chapter of this, I'll just keep sort of going where my brain goes with it. But yeah, the nice thing about TikTok and sort of being plugged into [00:40:00] the ecosystem there is I can continue stitching creators. I love, I love responding to people and engaging with what they're saying. And so as long as people are creating content, I'm creating content too.

Phillip: [00:40:12] Amazing. Brian, I'll give you the last word. Anything?

Brian: [00:40:14] Oh, no, just. Thank you so much, Neil, for all of your insights and your awesome content. You are an inspiration [00:40:20] and a delight to chat with. Thank you for joining us.

Neil: [00:40:24] Thank you both. Really enjoyed this conversation.

Phillip: [00:40:26] Thanks, Neil. Where can people find you? Where can they get your TikTok? We'll link it up in the show notes. But just shout it out.

Neil: [00:40:32] Yeah. Best place is TallNeil on TikTok and most other places around the internet. TallNeil is online.

Phillip: [00:40:38] Very good. Well, [00:40:40] thank you for joining us. Thank you for listening. If you did want to get the Visions 2022 time-stamped time capsule, you can do that right now at Visions.Report. We also have launched a new content property along with it called Visions, which are larger conversations about the world. Commerce, yes, but also consumer culture [00:41:00] and modernity, art, spirituality, the things that actually shape who we are. And why is that? Because we believe that commerce is a catalyst for change. In who's world? In your world, but maybe in the world, too. And that's what we're hoping to do here for both of us. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for listening to [00:41:20] Future Commerce.

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