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The Counterfactual Narratives Won

PLUS: Trendception
May 10, 2024

The Armchair Ad Director: Counterfactuals Are All Around Us

“Counterfactual thinking is essential for the Multiplayer Brand to thrive,” says Future Commerce co-founder Brian Lange.

When Brian wrote his treatise on Multiversal Marketing, he asked an important question — what does a decade of being saturated in “What Ifs” do to the consumer, and how will it change the nature of our relationship with those who interpret the brands we build?

Counterfactual thinking, which examines alternative scenarios, has become prevalent in various domains, including customer decision-making, marketing, and business leadership. And it’s the misapplication—or even absence of—counterfactual analysis that has led to so much online discourse this week: of course, most have already seen the hubbub around Apple’s ‘Crush’ ad.

But a more relevant and nuanced example is the viral video of Keon Coleman unboxing winter coats from Nike after being drafted to Buffalo. Drawing from humble roots, Coleman said he “shops like his momma,” getting coats on sale at Macy’s during the summer.

Many called it a ‘missed opportunity.’ Let’s examine that.

Customers and creatives alike deliver critique through the lens of possibility. The questions are unanswerable because they presume an alternative timeline:

  • Macy’s should’ve sent Keon a care package.
  • What would have happened if Apple had involved customers in a focus group?
  • What will happen now that Apple has pulled the ad down?

Of course, the ‘Monday Morning Foresight’ professional makes 100% of the right calls 100% of the time. But that’s not how the multiverse works.

Just because there was a better choice doesn’t mean it took place in this universe. In this universe, Macy’s is an imperiled brand struggling with debt, hellbent on opening small-format stores. Speaking from the main stage keynote at Shoptalk in March, the new CEO of Macy’s Inc., Tony Spring, put forward a clear plan that curiously did not include a trigger-happy celebrity sports endorsement.

What-ifs abound in the era of multiversal thinking. The fact that customers participate in this type of critique is a form of counterfactual ideation that makes this a Multiplayer Brand moment.

Future Commerce subscriber Stefan Ango went viral after posting the Apple ‘Crush’ video played in reverse. “Made in five minutes (thanks to iMovie!),” he said in the viral post on X. When others see this type of creativity, the bandwagon effect begins.

The multiverse opens, and counterfactual thinking takes off.

“Counterfactuals demonstrate that customers have emotional investment into brands,” says Future Commerce co-founder Brian Lange. “If brands figure out how to funnel customers into co-creating the counterfactuals — those brands will win.”

— Phillip

P.S. What if the point-solution era of eCom is over? That’s the main thesis of Pietra, who have built a membership for eCommerce founders to source, develop, market, and deliver products to customers. We sit down with Ro Trivedi on this week’s podcast. Listen now on Apple or Spotify, or watch it on YouTube.

P.P.S. Our newest guide is out, and it’s ungated. Follow along with Season 3 of Decoded with this twenty-page companion guide to polymathic thinking for the modern marketer. Download it ungated right now, courtesy of our friends at Fermát Commerce.

Will the “Cramer Curse” Crush Costco? Jim Cramer may have jinxed Costco’s cultural ascendency. Despite its high valuation and stock prices nearing all-time highs, he believes the company still has potential for growth.

Leading Indicators? Those reading economic tea leaves: take a closer look. This week, a Northern California woman was charged with serial theft at the same San Francisco Target. She allegedly stole more than 120 times in a single year, amounting to $60,000 of stolen merchandise. She is being charged with felony grand theft. In a separate story, a homeless woman was found to be living in a grocery store rooftop sign in Michigan. She had set up a desk and coffee maker, police said.

Shopware is a Contender. European eCommerce platform giant is making “waves” in the most recent analyst report. Shopware has ascended to the rank of ‘Contender,’ securing a spot among the top 14 vendors in the 2024 Forrester Wave™ for B2B Commerce Solutions report. This recognition underscores Shopware's growing influence and capability in the digital commerce industry.

Curiously, Shopify is listed as a leader, despite previously opting out from rankings in the annual survey of platforms. (Editor’s note: for more on how these analyst reports and briefings work, listen to this deep dive on the Gartner Magic Quadrant from last year’s episode of the podcast.)

Image credit: Candace Parker/NBA TV

Parker Pivots to Presidency. After retiring from an illustrious WNBA career, Candace Parker is set to elevate Adidas's presence as the new president of women's basketball. Parker aims to blend her experience as an athlete with corporate strategy, potentially reshaping the brand's approach to the sport when the Three Stripes need a creative reboot.

Image credit: @getgraza on

Trends on Trends on Trends. Olive oil brand Graza’s tease of a new SKU displayed a confluence of trends, from chaos packaging to faux out of home, the launch was sullied by a leak on Emily Sundberg’s Substack, Feed Me. The product is an aluminum can refill for their iconic squeeze bottle, which has been at the center of other elements of discourse, like microplastics and Squeezegate.

Image generated using Midjourney

The AIs Are Dating AIs. Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd imagines a future where your AI interacts with others' AIs to filter and suggest top dating matches, potentially transforming the dating landscape by automating initial interactions and compatibility assessments. This is the plot of Black Mirror S4E4, “Hang the DJ.”

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