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Tricks of the Trade

April 12, 2024
Thanks to Google Gemini, I now know that punk rockers in Britain called themselves skinheads.

Welcome to Friday, futurists. The following is a true story.

My eldest daughter turned thirteen last week, and her birthday wish was to get a pair of Doc Martens classic boots. She walked out wearing a pair of the 1460 silhouette, the classic pair worn by the likes of Gwen Stefani, Miley Cyrus, and, yes, “skinheads.”

Imagine my surprise when we left the store and she turned to me. "Dad. There were a lot of pictures of celebrities wearing Doc Martens on the wall,” she said. “Here's a question: Is that ethos, logos, or pathos?” 


She went on: “You know, rhetorical appeal. I learned about it in psychology and philosophy.” Of course, I’m familiar with the concept, especially regarding brands. She went on: “I think that's pathos because they're trying to make me feel like I can identify with that person who trusts the brand and supports it, and they make me feel like I could be that. I could be Shakira wearing Doc Martens, or I could be Gwen Stefani wearing Doc Martens.”

I’m proud that she subscribes to Future Commerce. But I’m even prouder that she’s part of a new consumer class that thinks deeply about how brands make us feel. This manipulation of feelings is a trick of the trade—a celebrity photo, a “vegan leather” sign, 10% off your first order—all tools to help consumers capitulate to commerce.

Rather than merely experiencing, my daughter is like many in Gen Alpha—analytical, inquisitive, and interactive in the meta-mechanics of how brands operate. Rather than merely shop at a store, they view a retail experience as if it were a piece of content from a creator. “What is the creator wanting me to feel, and how am I supposed to react to it,” seems to be a new type of consumer response that I’m fortunate to witness firsthand. The prior paragraph is probably rhetorically aligned as an ‘ethos’ argument, isn’t it?

I don’t remember being very bright as a teenager, but that probably says more about me than it does about teenagers. I’m glad to see my kids doing better than I did; they have better taste, too.

— Phillip

Phillip: I don't even know that I taught that to her. She just took middle school philosophy and psychology this year, and she's starting to look for it in actual practice

P.S. This week on the podcast, we dive into more insights of a teenage shopper; including corporate anniversaries and a summation of the “right to disconnect” laws in California. Listen on Apple or Spotify.

Pictured: “TRUCKGATE,” a counterprogramming activation parked outside ‘The Whalies’ user conference in NYC. (via @AlexaKilroy on X)

The Adventure Home. This week eCom analytics tech startup Triple Whale held their second-annual conference, The Whalies, headlined by Shopify President Harley Finkelstein. The user conference primarily featured founder interviews and product roadmap announcements, but the prevailing stories happened in the social discourse.

Triple Whale’s hefty media partnership with 𝕏 (Twitter) led to a persistent live stream of the conference globally on the bird app’s home page. For everyone. Everywhere. Following a tweet about the stream from Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino, the viewership ballooned north of 700,000 views; Linda’s tweet has just 200 likes at the time of writing.

But the bigger story was the humorous if not butthurt, counterprogramming activation by ad creative platform Marpipe, which parked a digital billboard truck just across the street from the conference. In a large comic sans typeface, they declared the conference too expensive to sponsor officially.

Our Take: We find it somewhat amusing that the ‘attribution platform’ is spending so heavily on brand. The marketing push for this event looks quite expensive and was well-executed, but payback periods for brand investments often fall outside of the “eCom tech attribution window.” 

No doubt, what Triple Whale wants their customers to be thinking about is TW3.0, a revised version of the platform that accompanies a rebrand of their chat-based insights tool, Moby. 

In response to their original AI chatbot launch, we published a petition to FREE WILLY” in April 2023. Willy’s retirement might mean that he’s finally free. Or, perhaps, Moby is the sequel? Either way, it’s nice to see them paying homage to both whales and penises.

The events at The Whalies this week remind us that brands are no longer in control of their stories. This is a multiplayer dynamic — “The story isn’t the headline, it’s the discourse.”

Image Credit: Pietro Rampazzo via Unsplash

Prêt-à-Pronate. Runners are spoiled for choice — but what do you wear to watch other people run? The struggle is real for spectators. Wonder no more: a new guide helps you find appropriate clothing options for standing in a crowd, in the elements, waiting for a glimpse of a loved one chugging by on the struggle bus.

Image Credit: Crocs / Pringles

A Big Week for Fugly Shoes. The fugly footwear (food+ugly) trend is popping off this week with two big CPG collaborations with the Crocs brand. Pringles and Crocs dropped a limited  

edition collection that we wish was way, way more limited. Perhaps even elem-inated? The boot comes with a chip can holster which some are calling “the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.”

Discontent to leave well enough alone, Crocs paired up with Kellogg’s for a limited edition line of breakfast-cereal-inspired shoes and jibbitz. Your favorite cartoon mascots have tie-ins, including Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam.

The Licensor Becomes the Licensee. Ghost Lifestyle's admirable rise took a new turn this week with the launch of a better-for-you cereal. The protein-laden $10 box of cereal differs from its rivals on the cereal aisle in that it was produced in partnership with General Mills. 

Our Take: Ghost made a name for itself in supplements and RTD energy verticals, backed by an incredible licensing arm. The dual-brand strategy has leveraged traditional indulgence brands like candy and snacks to make being healthy slightly naughty. In the seven years since launch, they have secured licenses with Oreo, Nutter Butter, Sour Patch Kids, Warheads, Swedish Fish, and Bubbleicious.

This cereal launch could be seen as late-to-the-game—Magic Spoon, Off-Limits, and Three Wishes compete in the better-for-you cereal game. None have the power of licenses behind them and none have built a brand at the scale of Ghost's retail development. Ghost’s RTD energy SKUs alone are sold at national chains like 7-Eleven, Kroger, GNC, and Circle K.

The real insight: building a cultural brand is entirely possible by piggybacking on the back of other brands, but Ghost may be the first to do so in CPG. Funko did it, Hasbro did it, and now Ghost has done it.

Image Credit: Alexander Andrews via Unsplash

Dumb Gadgets Aren’t Going Away. The dumbphone trend isn’t going away any time soon. In a feature for the NewYorker, author of Filterworld, Kyle Chayka, pulls the antenna out on the retro-tech trend that is helping people disconnect from distraction.

Want more? Listen to our interview with Kyle Chayka on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Ooh-Ooh Temu. Temu’s building closer to home in an effort to go after Amazon on speedy delivery. The program will begin by labeling faster-shipment items departing from U.S. locations. On a recent episode of the Jason & Scot podcast, Temu expert Michael Maloof of Earnest Analytics broke down the key partnerships that power the rise of Temu, including the Global Postal Treaty. 

Earnest Analytics reports that Temu is growing fastest among *high-income earners* in the United States.

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