You Have (1) Unread Dark Pattern

The Myth of “Owning” Your Customer in the Platform Era
February 28, 2024

Welcome to Wednesday, futurists.

Over five hundred futurists have applied to attend our first VISIONS Summit of the year. We’re coming to Austin during SXSW for an evening exploring The Multiplayer Brand with our friends from Fermat Commerce. Apply to attend here, and we hope to see you for a multiplayer evening on March 13.

Pictured: go screw yourself, Google.

Algorithms Necessitate Dark Patterns

“I don’t know if you’ve seen this,” read a text message from my friend Dave. Dave is a veteran podcaster and film critic, who has built a global audience exceeding one million active subscribers. 

The “this” he was referring to was an article in the startup media brand Semafor, founded by Ben Smith (former EIC at Buzzfeed) which covers news, politics, advertising, and media brand trends. The H1 acts as a town crier for what many in the B2B media business have already observed directly: “The incredible shrinking podcast industry.” 

Nearly two years after retailers experienced the thermonuclear-level event that was iOS 14, Apple has now come for the podcasting industrial complex. Flipping the privacy switch to opt-in has hampered the already-opaque analytics of podcasting. Now, Apple is taking another bold step: unsubscribing unengaged listeners. As Semafor writes in the piece:

The shift, Apple wrote in a blog post, is technical: The dominant podcasting platform had begun switching off automatic downloads for users who haven’t listened to five episodes of a show in the last two weeks.

Considering the COVID-boom of eCommerce podcasts (we track the top 25 here at Future Commerce), the cottage industry of “content and commerce” is uniquely threatened once again by platforms changing the rules of engagement.

The “five episodes in two weeks” is an impossible bar for most B2B outlets, whose listeners often go through periods of engagement that require binging content during critical business periods.

A clearly defined threshold for listens now asks for an industry that has valued long form entertainment to make a pivot to clickbait and headfakes. “The last episode of Future Commerce” is a title that will act as reactivation; surely better than ‘Make Retail More Better.’ 

Podcasters are learning the lesson that Amazon sellers, Meta advertisers, and YouTube creators have had to learn before them: to be prioritized on an algorithmic platform you have to game engagement to stay above the algorithm. This sort of pressure creates latent anxiety and desperation that leads to tactics of last resort; something that eCommerce marketers know all too well.

It has been said that podcasting is one of the few owned-audience channels with a customer.  Apple reminds us that your subscriber isn’t yours at all—it's Apple’s. But they’re not alone. Gmail has begun testing an opt-out prompt for promotional inbox content. This is just the beginning. 

In a world with infinite content, and finite attention, the platforms will optimize for engagement. To stay above the algorithm, you’ll resort to dark patterns; those things which solicit engagement from your audience under a false pretense, with the express intent to deceive. Hey, we’re just trying to make a living here.

The greatest lie of our industry is that you can “own your customer.” In order to do that you’ll have to disown the platforms.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

— Phillip

P.S. If you want to bypass the filters that prevent Future Commerce from coming to your podcast feed, you can join the Future Commerce+ membership. When you do, you’ll get ad-free episodes, a private RSS feed for our podcasts, a private GPT to search our eight years of content, and a 15% discount on print and merch from Shop Future Commerce. Join the membership today.

P.P.S. Have you seen our new shop? Get our newest annual Journal, Muses, at our newest online storefront. Save with your FC+ membership! Shop the store today!

Image Credit: @xyzq.x19 on TikTok

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Touch: Clarks collaborates with Zara, blending iconic footwear with fast fashion. Hilton partners with AutoCamp for luxury outdoor hospitality, offering unique accommodations near national parks.

The Palate: Wendy's plans to introduce dynamic pricing, akin to Uber's surge pricing, to adjust menu prices in real time. KFC introduces Chizza, a chicken-pizza hybrid, stirring culinary curiosity and comparing existing dishes.

Image by Gemini prompted by Noor Al-Sibai

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