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Marketers: A Parabolic Firefly

PLUS: the Rebirth of Retail
January 6, 2023
Joe Putnam on Twitter

Welcome to the first Friday of 2023, futurists. Liquid Death is in the news this week due to explosive growth, with an October 2022 graphic floating around. Contrast this with the recent negative retail news.

Analyst Neil Saunders summed up the uproarious first week of 2023 beautifully: 

“Only 5 days into 2023 and we've had massive Amazon layoffs, a bankruptcy warning from Bed Bath & Beyond (though has been brewing for ages), 20% of staff laid off at Stitch Fix, Walgreens posting a $3.7bn quarterly loss, Victoria's Secret CEO exiting, Macy's announcing closures”

Wherever Liquid Death is mentioned, there will be haters. “It’s just water,” is the typical refrain of the naysayer. The profession of the opponent, more often than not? A digital marketer. 

Marketers are known for their short attention span and excitement, often jumping from one trend to the next in a never-ending search for the next big thing. This behavior of quickly-peaking excitement can be described as a parabolic hype cycle, where the attention and excitement of a marketer peaks before the broad adoption of a product.

Like a firefly, they are attracted to bright objects. Liquid Death has been a bright spot of growth since the DTC Downturn began in March of 2022. As predictably as you can imagine, at the beginning of this cycle, marketers are easily impressed by flashy brand voice, merchandising,  technologies, and trends; eagerly promoting them to their audiences. Threadlords rejoice: there’s a new brand doing something that is counter-cultural. The marketer may even go as far as creating entire campaigns around these products, hyping them up to the point of exhaustion.

However, like the firefly, they quickly burn out. As the product becomes more widely adopted, the excitement of the marketer wanes. Other bright lights appear, and they flee as quickly as they swarmed. When there is nothing left to be said, no tactic left to be praised, no musing left to be muttered about the cleverness of the brand and its marketing; when they have eschewed every novelty of the brand’s tactics, the attitude changes.

Some marketers may become disenchanted with the tactics used by the brand and may even become active opponents, actively de-platforming the product and spreading negative sentiment about it.

This cycle is not unique to digital marketers, but it is especially pronounced in this field due to the constantly evolving nature of technology, and Twitter’s rewarding of threads in its algorithm. It can be difficult for marketers to stay engaged and excited about a product for an extended period, especially when there are always new and shiny distractions on the horizon.

That’s where we are with Liquid Death. The attitude amongst marketers is changing, fast. This is the moment to sit up and take notice. Successful brands don’t exist to impress marketers. They exist to attract and retain customers, hopefully for very, very long periods of time.

This week, Logan Paul launched a new line of energy drinks from his beverage brand, Prime. A new bulb has been illuminated. Marketers will flee from Liquid Death and the cycle will begin anew.

It matters little to the light bulb how long a firefly gives it its attention. After all, the lightbulb doesn’t exist for the firefly.

— Phillip

P.S. Will I see you at our Archetypes Pop-Up in NYC? Let me know if you’re planning on coming, just reply to this email! We’ll be on-site for three days: Jan 15-17. Pop-Up hours are 11am-4pm. Industry West, 14 Crosby Street, SoHo. See you there! 

P.P.S it isn’t too late to start the new year off right — join The Power of Commerce: a 10-Day Meditation. In just ten days, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of commerce and learn how to use it as a force for positive change. Start the journey now.

Retail Rebirth. In a wild turn of events, Barnes and Noble is planning to open over 30 new locations over this next year, some of which are abandoned Amazon Books stores (which very likely may have been Barnes and Noble physical stores before that).

Dark Risks of Large Language Models. What aren’t the chatbots aren’t telling you? There are dark sides and risks to language models, such as GPT-3. In some instances, LLMs have urged a user to commit suicide or instructed a child to insert a penny into an electrical outlet. AI is progressing rapidly, and regulation is not. Safety concerns are growing as technology quickly outpaces consumer protections.

More Sights & Sounds. A college student spent New Year's Eve building an app that can detect essays written by ChatGPT. Australian band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard has broken all the rules of the industry, yet continues to gain popularity. And Naver, a South Korean search portal company will acquire U.S.-born Poshmark

The Transcendent Trek. Tracksmith has released a film called Church of the Long Run, which delivers an uninterrupted view into the sacred communion with self that one distance runner — like many others — faithfully show up for and experience during their Sunday long runs.

Making the Cut. San Francisco-based Stitch Fix has announced a 20% cut to its salaried jobs (the second in the past year). The company’s CEO is also stepping down, and founder Katrina Lake will step in as interim, less than two years since she exited the role.

Liquid Death Lives On. Founder Mike Cessario is on a mission to build a new lifestyle beverage brand, and is on a recent PR stint to draw attention to the incredible success he’s had thus far. While Liquid Death started as a joke on the internet, it has quickly turned its savvy branding and tallboy cans into a $50 million business. While some will continue to call it a gimmick, there’s no denying that Liquid Death’s unique can and edgy branding are making waves in the beverage world.

  • Our Take: The marketer hype cycle is parabolic. Early naysayers become devotees, and then quickly wane in their praise of a brand. Marketers are like fireflies, dazzling for a moment before burning out. That’s when you should sit up and take notice. Marketers aren’t real people. For a brand to succeed, it has to outlive the hype cycle that helped it gain notoriety. Liquid Death’s unique brand of content creation helps drive down the cost of customer acquisition in a way that very few others can.

    In 2021, Liquid Death produced a slasher movie,
    Dead Till Death. The 45-minute film features a group of friends who eat magic mushrooms on a camping trip and then become hunted by cans of Liquid Death. Founder Cessario says that brands ‘day trade’ in attention, this kind of earned media is vital for Liquid Death, with sharp spikes in awareness from the PR of a killer ad converting into sales.

    Dead Till Death was also available for $2.99 on Amazon Prime, which helped the brand recoup the costs of the film production. This tactic of combining a creative marketing idea with a product that can be mon- etised is something the brand has replicated on several occasions.

    For more reading on Liquid Death, the
    2022 trends report from Contagious outlines the viral marketing machine in detail. 

The Facts of Citrus. Nearly all of the citrus fruits we know and love today are not naturally occurring fruits. They are man-made hybrids hailing from 3 main ancestral varietals: the citron, the mandarin, and the pomelo. Enjoy the linked Twitter thread to see more about this citrus triangle.

Waste Not, Want Not. For those of us who wanted to get closer to our toilets, Withings has created a home urine monitor called U-Scan, which can collect a variety of health info snapshots. We’ll leave how it works up to the imagination.

A Little Healthy Competition? The Federal Trade Commission is proposing a ban on noncompete clauses, saying they “constitute an exploitative practice” and directly undermine laws prohibiting unfair competition methods. If adopted, companies will have to nullify these agreements and communicate the changes in policy to their employees.

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