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Soul Delay and Dunbar’s Number: Why Brands Lose Their X-Factor

Answering the age-old question: How many brands can you fit in your soul?
September 28, 2022
She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien's theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.
—William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

I’ve spent the past 48 hours, riding out a hurricane in South Florida, pondering a question: “Why do brands lose their souls?”

I think I’ve found the answer: Soul Delay.

By now we’ve figured out that you cannot build a brand with capital alone. To become a cherished generational brand it takes more than ubiquity of marketing — it takes time — and time is the scarce resource that all brand operators have an equal measure of.

Few people want to spend more time than they ought to. To linger, to long. Time spent in waiting is often seen as time wasted. Elizabeth Hailey said it best, “Time is a cruel thief to rob us of our former selves. We lose as much to life as we do to death.” 

Spending decades building a brand means it becomes your life’s work. Would you want to spend your whole life building a better toilet plunger? 

“Moving fast” was a motto for the silicon valley age, and perhaps the rules of the real-world, made of atoms and molecules, don’t apply to software, where electrons weigh little more than ideas do.

In moving too fast, brands experience jetlag. They become lethargic, tired. They’re doing all of the right things, but their soul isn’t present; it has been left far behind them, trailing in the distance. 

What if Dunbar’s number doesn’t just apply to human relationships? British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that we can hold 150 meaningful relationships at any given time. 

Do we need to have a relationship with every brand on the supermarket shelf? Consumers are under constant barrage by more and more soulless brands filling their feeds, stuffing catalogs in their mailbox, and shilling their products during HGTV commercial breaks. 

Having a digital mayonnaise community where I can meet other mayonnaise fans sounds like a Dark Mirror hellscape. No thank you. Maybe it takes more than ten years for people to make room in their social circle for your hoodies to become a meaningful part of their lives. And when I’ve finally made room, I will commit to a brand who hasn’t lost its way, or made promises that it cannot keep.

So, we’re rethinking how brands take up space in the world. That takes time. If you move too fast, you might just leave something important behind — your soul.

And that’s where we pick up on the podcast this week. I sat down with Nick Ling to talk about how Pattern is building more heart and soul into every day life by bringing successful, profitable, brands into the fold.

Listen to how Pattern is rethinking growth, the meaning of brand, and how they’re apply lessons-learned from nearly two decades of powering DTC in this week’s podcast, available on Spotify and Apple; and everywhere else podcasts are found. 

— Phillip

TikTok Knows When You’re Ugly. TikTok’s current algorithm may be promoting lookism, a cognitive bias that selects for “attractiveness”. In findings published on Medium, a researcher is accusing TikTok of discerning user preferences for facial bias, and then tailoring content for the individual. If untended, face-based algorithmic bias may result in the same phenomena that leads to Instagram Surgery.

  • Our Take: This week the NYT released an exposé on LinkedIn and its “social experiments” (A/B tests) that led to a material impact on jobs and job satisfaction. As with our take on the Crying CEO on LinkedIn, algorithms are partly to blame for our behaviors, our tastes, and our preferences. Facebook’s own studies showed that youth are especially susceptible to forming eating disorders based on the content of their feed.

    We’re calling it now. Without self-governance, media companies will see legislation around the openness and transparency of their algorithms within a decade. We will also see the rise of open-source alternatives to TikTok; where the unique selling point is that you’re not part of a mass social experiment.

The Trend Merry-Go-Round. Trends are cyclical. The Blackbird Spyplane newsletter proposes the hidden reasons why nano, micro, and macro trends happen more predictably now; and further-defines why stochastic microtrends — like streetwear —cannot be predicted. 

More Sights & Sounds. After a decade of sponsorship from Pepsi, the NFL’s Superbowl halftime show will be sponsored by Apple Music this year. James Earl Jones — now 91 years old — has signed over rights to the Darth Vader voice, allowing filmmaker to use AI for future Vader needs. Is art experiencing a rebirth via AI? In a bold move, Macy’s is embracing technology, including automation and ​​digitalization to reduce company waste. An all-electric prototype communter airplane took its first flight this week. Luxury is booming in the UK due to GBP weakness. Walmart is focusing a huge effort into the metaverse with two immersive Roblox experiences, and plenty of opportunities for commerce. Dude Perfect, known originally for their YouTube channel, are trying to pitch a new $100M project which would be a large physical space known as “Trick Shot Town.” Also, have you heard of CARI?

Brad’s Beauty Backlash. The beauty industry is apparently not a fan of beautiful people selling beauty products, and have stated so in an open letter to Brad Pitt, following the release of his new skincare line, Le Domaine. Let us never forget that it was William Bradley Pitt that broke the back of CPG Twitter. Not Pharrell. Not a Jenner or Kardashian. Not even Travis Barker. William Bradley Pitt.

Founder and CEO. Sneaker Startup, Atoms, has named its co-founder Sidra Qasim as the company’s CEO.

Dystopian or Delicious? McDonald’s rolling out adult Happy Meals that come with nostalgic toys resembling characters “some” of us might remember, plus a new friend. The interesting thing about the meal is that it’s called a Cactus Plant Flea Market Box… which kinda sounds like they just did some market research on words that got a positive response from groups of young dadbodders.

Recipes for Success. Linda Skeens — a 74-year-old grandmother with a clean sweep of awards across multiple baking and canning categories (even quilt embroidery) at a Virginia county fair — has joined TikTok to share her recipes with all, after a far and wide search for her on the platform.

More Palate News. DoorDash and Chase are partnering to launch a DoorDash Mastercard that comes with rewards. P.F. Chang’s will now offer a monthly $6.99 subscription as part of it’s loyalty program relaunch.

Our Spends. This very interesting article shows how Americans spend, split out by generations. Noticeably absent is a line for avocado toast, which we all know is the most defining expenditure.

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