What’s For Dinner?

 

What's For Dinner?
It’s a question that predates “ Wait –Is that a snake?”; “ What’s for dinner” has been the scourge of moms and heads-of-households since the dawn of the time. In fact, right now, some super cute Capuchin is probably hovering over a plate of spiders wondering what the hell to make tonight… However, for us hopelessly evolved human primates, what once was a clarion call to rummage through freezer-burnt chicken nuggets and hopelessly mushy broccoli spears, this question is now a visceral summons that whets all sorts of appetites, and poses all sorts of questions about who we are, and what we really care about. Yup, its about to get heavy, people.

Because, of course, meal planning, or lack there-of, is yet another hall mark of those every creative, ever under-entertained cohort, the Millennial. Food gathering, food preparation and food sharing are all not simply extensions of the drudgery-filled second shift… but rather outlets of entertainment, education and adventure. From ethnic to exotic to nostalgic, food no longer means consumption, but rather self-expression, of who we are and what we wish to say about how we view the world, and by extension, ourselves. Raised in an era where the pursuit of experience trumps all, deciding what to eat has become a game everyone wants to play…..and where everybody wins – except, perhaps, the traditional supermarket.

What's For Dinner?
FOMO has given birth to the anytime-anywhere-anything-you could possibly dream up-food culture of today. From UberIceCream, to meals-in-a-box services such as Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh, to Drizly and Saucey serving up cocktails to your door, who needs to plan ahead? And, frankly, how embarrassing to do so??! As Ellie Goulding promises, “Anything Could Happen”…so why would you align yourself with ingredients that might lead to, well, simply, Tuesday Taco Night? This is a generation on the move, the proverbial ‘Living light’ cohort, refusing to be weighed down by cars, dishwashers, homes or marriage. Instead, they prefer to move lithely (and poetically, blithely?) through the urban jungle of opportunity and tastes, and simply respond to the most potent whim of the group. The experiences they seek? A Food crawl through Grand Central Market, a night out at LA’s Night Market, a tour of authentic Chinese in Queens, or a date rummaging through Pike’s Market for an ultimate cook-off, or perhaps a last minute meal at an underground, invite-only supper club…. meals are a chance to create memories, experiences, and at the very least, excellent Instagram posts. The online food explosion eggs us on to new feats of taste , and when we weary of the chase, a box of Mac ‘n Cheese can be seen as ironic and sweetly ‘Throwback’ in nature. Simply put, food has become one more flag to fly in the game of true colors.

So, what is the future of food? Millennials are looking to prepare food – it’s not all about Chipotle after all, but if they are going to cook, it needs to mean something. Either they are tapping into nostalgia… by making Ramen or Fruit Loops, hankering for authenticity by tracking down artisanal ingredients, or hoping to learn a new skill (hello, Dream Dinners) food must come with a +…. Its not simply a raw ingredient for a meal, its an element for an experience, an opportunity to make a statement about values, proclivities, or at the very least, allergies. If, by definition, every eating occasion is an opportunity for adventure, then those that preplan, and stuff a freezer full of frozen food, are by definition, sitting out the game of life…no? So then, given these stakes, how do those in food markets compete? By not loading up on ingredients alone, but by providing unique food opportunities.

What's For Dinner
Cartologists, by definition, are mapmakers, not Prozac-addled housewives leadenly moving through Mazak-filled icy aisles, tossing shredded wheat into a moving metal cage. They are opportunists, springing upon the moment to create, captivate, seduce and socialize every sensory experience. Those food purveyors who can tap into the quick step dance of nostalgia, opportunity, education and entertainment that exists on the tip of every fork, knife, package and can, will win the day. Food is a multi-dimensional story of love, history, seduction and play… provide the props and the stage, and watch the consumer shine!

Our opinions enhanced here in a recent interview with Food Navigator-USA and Hartman Group: Millennials and food shopping: Are you up to speed?

Past Perfect

Paging Dr. HousePast Perfect

Hugh Laurie, as Dr. House on the acerbic medical drama, House, used to state, “ Everybody lies.” As a consumer behavior expert, I often tell my clients the same thing, (but with slightly less malice). People lie to us. Every day. Whether we are slicing up big data, or sipping coffee during an ethnography, people tell us lies. Every damn day.

Siri Not Available

It’s a frustrating endeavor… We ask, they tell, and we seem no closer to the real truth of who they are and what they desire than a large percentage of those trips charted out for us via Google maps…. you are driving along, listening to the confident voice of your high tech directress, and you arrive……at a random building on a side street miles from your intended destination. Despite having longitude and latitude on your side, you just cant seem to get where you are going. Why is it, with all the shiny new tools we have at our fingertips, we so often feel like we are divining for water with a branch, instead of mining hard and fast information based on fact. WTF is going on?? Just spit it out, people!

Just Remember This…

I believe the great chasm between truth and self-fiction can be found in one simple word: Nostalgia. Nostalgia…..sounds soft and gentle, doesn’t it? – something wrapped in velvet, maybe with a touch of chintz. Yet Nostalgia is really the Bermuda triangle of marketing – a vast inscrutable space and place in time where consumers fabricate deep and rich stories about who they are, where they have come from, and where, perhaps, they may go. Defined as a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time, nostalgia sounds innocent, and a touch sad. What the definitions fail to warn us is that these memories of prior lives and sweeter times are incredibly false and woefully misleading – to all parties involved!

 There’s No Place Like Home 

Past Perfect

For years, I have spoken with and interviewed hundreds of people. And, in the course of a few short hours, I have witnessed complete Potemkin villages constructed before my eyes in the name of nostalgia. Vacation haunts, first loves, pet rabbits – have appeared mist-tinged and purple with prose from people’s ‘memories’. And what power these memories have! Nostalgia becomes an almost animalistic force that dictates so much of what people chose to aspire to and reach for at each milestone of their life. It seems that every step forward is ghosted with an emotional step back towards something believed to have been ‘better.’

I have always been challenged by this puzzle, by the rapt attention and almost carnal longing people give to stories about the past – even more so when I check these facts with other family members. So often there is little to no truth involved in the memory shared. What is happening?? Where does the truth disappear? And how do we understand what real desires are at play?

Just the Facts

A great deal of research has been conducted in the last several years around memory. How much is real? And how much is constructed by our parents, by stories shared by friends and neighbors, and by elements of the culture in which we were raised? It seems that memory, and with it, nostalgia, is ultimately a construct built around age, opportunity and time. After reviewing much of the most recent research and findings by prominent social scientists, I have come to believe that most memories, and the nostalgia that accompanies them is a simple longing for a sort of ‘sliding doors’ phenomenon…the idea of what might have been, and the delicious exercise of finishing early stories of our lives with bigger and better endings. Nostalgia is really a wolf in the sheep’s clothing of aspiration. Our memories sit in service to how we wish to see ourselves, and how we hoped our stories would spool out. We are wistful for what we might have been.

Our memories of youth are refracted with the bright lights of unused time – events that occurred with endless miles and hours to evolve, to experience, to grow and to change. When we envision decisions, heartbreak and experience through the rear view window of a later age… we see and interpret the facts as opportunities that could have led to a thousand different outcomes. A trip abroad that could have become a life in Provence; a chance encounter in a coffee shop could have led to love of a totally different sort than we have now; an impetuous break up that today, seems devastatingly poignant. The point here is that most of what we miss, and what we long for, never occurred. We will never know if that lost love would have meant a life full of fulfillment and heady, delicious sex, but we can imagine it so…adding drama and scope to a life that has perhaps turned ordinary. We color life’s milestones with the rosy hue of time, space and possibility: something we start to run short of as we grow older. The decisions we make later in life tend to have smaller and flatter outcomes. The dazzling trajectory of a decision made at 20 is far more stunted at 50, and even a 20 year old looks at the wider scape of childhood with longing and wonder. What lies ahead is often frightening in its very black and white limits. So we look backwards instead of forwards, and ascribe a degree of romanticism and glamour to a life perhaps not really lived, but imagined. We live in reverence to a person we never were, and in anticipation of someone we will never be.

Dancing in the Moonlight

Past Perfect

However, all is not lost!! These stories we are told actually contain the real and concrete road maps to what people long for – these very fantasies are the aspirational constructs we need to create products and build meaningful messages. As marketers, we need to interpret this dream life, the aspirational journey our customers may never have taken, and provide elements of those fantasies in what we make and say.

So how does this play out? Consider this: a recent market study revealed that women responded best to window displays full of edgier clothing they admittedly would never buy. The same study showed that broad ranges of bold color draw people into home décor displays that still show them leaving with the safer soft beige and vanilla pieces. And we all know that for all the Rihanna and Beyoncé endorsed products sold, most of us are not dancing in the sand in a thong anytime soon. But what we do long for is the recognition, the idea that maybe, if the moon is right and the stars align, on a summer day long ago, we just maybe, might have….

 

In Pain, Veritas

Here, in America, we believe it is our right to be happy. We believe that if we work hard enough, push hard enough, smile broadly enough, happiness will come to us. And we believe that is right and true and good. For every person who is struggling with cancer, there are 10 people to tell them to ‘think positively’, to be a proud warrior, to focus on gratitude. If we speak to a neighbor, or a friend we don’t know all that well, and we ask them “ how are you ” we are truly aghast at their temerity if they dare to answer in the negative. “Not so good” is not a choice.

In Pain, Veritas
We are Failures if We Cry

We are failures if we cry. We are failures if we bleed. We are failures if we ache so much that tears spill down our cheeks. We are not trying hard enough.

The products we select promise us nights of passion and days of sunshine. With whitest teeth and smoothest skin, we will only know 300 thread count sheets that spill under us like nets of gossamer, cradling us while we hold/are held by a perfect cooing child/delicious nubile lover, doting husband/wife. Our kitchens gleam with shiny objects and artisanal baskets, awaiting the tenderly passed down meals from recipes hand written by grandmothers from South Carolina, or even better, some impossible to pronounce province of Northern Italy. We write special notes to pack in special lunchboxes full of special lunches for special children. We clutch the wares of happiness with two hands whose white knuckles and half moons bruises from fingernails pushed into fists demand that a beam of sunlight shine down on every step we take.

In Pain, Veritas
Pretty Lies

But this is not the truth. This is not humanness. This is not what connects us as breathing, dreaming, fragile creatures capable of incredible acts, and unspeakable deeds.

In my work, I talk to people. They tell me happy things. They tell me of pretty houses, golden children, funny dogs, and maybe of special tulips they like to grow. They present me with a pastry tray of prettiness for me to gasp my admiration over, and to perhaps wish silently for a life equally pretty. And the rooms are still and the walls are white and my pen sits on the table, waiting.

And then, slowly, the pain shows up. We talk of black nights of despair, of lost children and aging mothers. We talk of hospital stays and medicine on nightstands. Dreams that died from wrong decisions and impulsive acts – closing doors forever on golden hopes. 2:00 am calls that delivered gut punches, nights when knees were the only support. And I watch hands clutch, and hearts grabbed, I watch tears trickle and small, impervious nods of recognition that signal the comradery of pain and longing. And this – this is where we connect – this is where we find each other. In the dark and lonely hallways of humanity, where we stumble like blind people, hands in front of us, hoping to find something or someone to hang onto.

In Pain, Veritas
Scar Tissue Connect Us

Many people – clients, associates, experts – tell me we can’t learn from people in research. I am told that people lie, and that all I ever will see is some burnished mirror reflecting back pretty phrases for me to collect and assemble into candy coated fairy tales. But I disagree. I believe if we are not afraid to walk into the dark, and ask those with us to come there too, we will find those incredible human nuggets of fear and love and longing that tell us everything we need to know. Every person I have met has a story. They are tragic, heart breaking, and ultimately uplifting. And they always leave a scar – visible or not. But it is this very webbing of scar tissue, this network of pain that every human has earned over a life span, that we must harvest to create, innovate and form products and messages that solve, salve and raise us up. The work is deep and dark and hard. It breaks my heart sometimes. But the incredible treasure trove of riches it leaves me with allows the most amazing work to take place. Find these scars, and you will find your way. They are the very map of human experience.

Design – the New “It” Girl

Design - The New "It" Girl
We have all been on an incredible heart-in-our-throats, wind-in-our-hair, wish-I-hadn’t-had-that-last-churro roller coaster ride through the world of commerce over the past several years. With digital and mobile consuming the free world as we know it, icons have fallen, start-ups have overtaken legacy corporations, and the smartphone is everyone’s new remote control. With a flip, click or swish, we can summon face creams from Korea, handmade shoes from India, and 28 hours of entertainment straight up from Hollywood, no passing go.  This dizzying maelstrom of change has caused many a pundit to prophesize the end of retail as we know it, and to point instead to a future existing only in a 3 x 5 inch digital screen, glowing like sequins on a burlesque dancer’s tights….

So is shopping, browsing, fantasizing, touching, and dreaming over racks of denim and silk over? As my Magic 8 Ball app would say – signs point to “ No “.  However, the cost of entry has changed dramatically. In a world where anything is available to us 24/7; and where the same items can be price compared in a nano-second, how and why would anyone choose to ‘shop’ in a store?  Excluding the lowest tier of pure price plays, what compels someone to choose any retail site, physical or digital?

It’s the Design, Stupid

Design - The New "It" Girl
It is not new news that today’s consumer is an experience junkie. We look for story, stimulation and experience in every consumer journey that we take, whether it’s grabbing a sandwich (oh hey Kogi barbecue truck!) or looking for a new pair of kicks (Nike design lab, anyone??).  It’s no longer about the actual products, since, for the most part, the basic pieces we seek, be they clothes, electronics, accessories, food, etc. all have their doppelgangers in a wide variety of locations. Given the density of choice, and the hunger for sensation, those who can build the best immersion tanks will be the ultimate winners.

Stamp that Passport!!

Design - The New "It" Girl
Let’s look at the Apple Store – yes, yes, a super easy example – but that’s for a reason. When we enter this temple of technology, we are already ahead in the cool game. Its sleek counters, easily accessible play items, and hip helpers invite us in for an experience – NOT a transaction. And its never a bad thing to start of a sentence with “When I was at the Apple Store today…”  Sephora broke new ground by creating a playground of a different sort – a place that understood glamour, and the sexy excitement of a showgirl’s cluttered vanity. Perhaps for the first time, a woman was offered the chance to try on any number of new looks and personas in public, before a penny was spent. Every girl’s fantasy realized!  And perhaps the folks who get this concept best are toy stores – Hamleys in the UK, FAO Schwartz in NYC  and American Girl Place intrinsically know that fantasy and experience = sales. When all the senses are engaged, and the journey takes you to another dimension, the memory and emotion create connection and engagement. A product, if sold correctly, should be simply a stamp on a passport of incredible experience. A tea party begets a doll….and then some!

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp

None of this is easy. Once the concept is developed, it still needs to be teased out into a multiplicity of channels and tactics.  What is the essence of the brand experience? What does it smell like? What is its soundtrack? How would you costume the employees – and how would you address them? Are your customers guests? Visitors? Co-creators?  Are you tapping into nostalgia? Or future worlds? Taking a walk through Eataly in NYC, or a larger REI store, invokes a very specific connection between how that consumer wishes to see themself at that moment of shopping – they are choosing an experience that resonates with part of their aspirational selves. For the gourmet emporium, it’s a high-end householder wandering through the best shops in Italy, picking and choosing for a memorable meal, to be prepared perhaps in a stately manor home off a cobbled street. The scents and sounds, the display of wares, welcome that personal vision, and give it life. The REI store celebrates the outdoorsman that nestles (dormant for most of us) in the heart of many an urban warrior, and feeds an opportunity to dream of white caps and white-outs. It is this level of giving flesh and bones to the intrinsic dreams we all carry that transforms commerce into engagement. Design the dream, and they will come. I, for one, am totally down for the Barbie Dream House Xperience!  Anyone in?

Design - The New "It" Girl

Blurred Lines – Today’s Gender Bending Mash Up

Who’s that Lady?

Blurred Lines – Today's Gender Bending Mash Up

Are you a sissy??  No –that’s not a typo, it’s a real question in today’s world of gender reassessment.  Just a few years ago, the big gender battle was one over same sex marriages – a fight that seemed at times to tear the country apart. Now, in what seems to be a mere heart beat, we have a large, public company hiring a transgender girl as their spokesperson.  The story of gender identification, and the deeper issue of how our sexual identification shapes our lives is just beginning to unfold.  There are many reasons why it is a white hot topic right now – from the Kardashians to Amazon – but its gonna get way hotter  – trust.

“Who are you – who who who who???”  The Who

Blurred Lines – Today's Gender Bending Mash Up

 Questions of who we are, from a sexual identity standpoint, are not new.  Shakespeare played with the theme of gender identification back in the 16th century.  The idea that our gender creates a sort of Potemkin village of experiences depending on which chromosome dominates has led to a desire to experience ‘ the other side’ for centuries.  And certainly, that is an idea finding big merit with the Millennial audience.  As their age of identification experimentation continues to play out far longer than any generation prior, their refusal to be labeled grows exponentially. The hallowed ground of ‘dressing room play’ once reserved by researchers and social scientists for card-carrying adolescents has now become a full blown retail shop for young adults. From an early age, they were able to assume different identity roles in online gaming and on Second Life with few repercussions  And, without the gun barrel of mortgages and families staring back  at them, they have taken their time determining who they are, and how they wish to present themselves. That level of freedom has allowed a level of humor and lightness to color this phase. From the crazy costumes of Burning Man, to the not-so-serious lumbersexual uniform of certain zip codes, the external statement Millennials make today is by no means the final one.(See flash tattoos: semi-permanent hair color, Rupaul’s Drag Race, Season 7) They embrace the ability to change and play with what they want to say with their bodies. And anyone foolish enough to interpret their look as a clear statement of who they are is going to get seriously burned.  As Ariana Grande so eloquently stated: You think you know but you don’t have no idea….

Different Strokes, for Different Folks

 

Blurred Lines – Today's Gender Bending Mash Up


 As a generation fed on nurture versus nature, it should be no surprise that this cohort not only accepts diversity but seeks it out. They are hungry to learn and connect with those who have walked a different walk, explored a different path; the stories they crave are not about gender, or age, or ethnicity, but about experience.  We have Joan Didion as the poster child for Celine, and Jazz Jennings, the first transgender teen model, as the latest face for Clean + Clear. In this age of authenticity, personal narrative drives real value. What was once a murmured secret shared in the dark has become a full-blown House of Babel with a million voices sharing their beliefs, fears and tentative hopes. There is a reason that the Amazon show, Transparent, has caught fire. The idea that a person needs to state and serve a gender they find authentic, even if they were not born that way, is an idea that resonates with today’s life-seekers. And really, the unique story of real personal exploration and the journey for authenticity is one everyone shares.

HeSHeMe

It is no surprise that the fashion industry has been quick to push the story into the mainstream. Fashion has always loved a gender bending narrative. Vivienne Westwood opened her men’s fashion show by sending the female model Elliott Sailors down the runway, dressed in an homage to Prince Charles.  The always polarizing Hood by Air show featured models whose faces were covered in stocking hose – a bit of a gangsta statement?  Sure… but the man behind the house, Shayne Oliver, insists the purpose was to allow gender to be stripped away, and a story about clothes and occasion be told instead.  Selfridges of London has just announced a gender neutral concept store to capitalize on this trend, named, fittingly, Agender.  As the story of gender identification continues to rise to the surface, the real personal value of each individual’s story will become even more and more important. Miuccia Prada mixed genders and designs in her show, noting that her fashion story was about “what the genders share and what they take from each other.”  And isn’t that what we do whenever we connect?

So, in the end, maybe the Kardashification of America has been really for the good of us all. By oversharing, by telling the true stories of love, betrayal, ambition and possibly, a transgender evolution, they let us talk about our own unique paths a little more loudly, and to accept others a little more willingly.  Hey, thanks Kim!

image 1, 2, 3

The Ties That Bind

Wait- Lets Talk about Me!
It’s a bold new age for marketers – with social and digital vehicles slicing into target groups with razor sharp precision, it would seem that the golden age of real one on one conversion conversations is almost here. And hasn’t that been the Holy Grail of advertising? The ability to create individual messages that speak to – well – individuals? Picture the incredibly personalized conversations we will soon be creating; engaging each person with language and vernacular that will spike their unique sense of delight and engagement. Hyper tailored marketing in a radically segmented world, the impossible dream we talked about decades ago is now really and truly possible. But should it be?

Clueless
Group Hug
This has always been the brass ring on the marketing merry go round – to be able to parse out that intrinsically personal connection between one brand and one consumer. We have been pushing the envelope for years to arrive at that moment in time when every message every consumer gets is tailor-made just for them. But now I’m not so sure that that is what people truly want. In this age of the digital diaspora.. where screens serve to shield us from any and all spontaneous connection, I don’t know that the magical goal is this highly customized 360-degree individual experience. The more I observe human interactions, and delve into want and desire, I believe even more firmly that people don’t want to be isolated into a personal selling moment – a sort of marketing isolation booth, with a product and a story made just for them. In fact, this idea of splendid personal relationships is possibly the last thing today’s consumers are seeking.

It’s a unique conundrum. Certainly today, most consumers wield the power of the internet with seriously mad skills, bushwhacking their way through the myriad of spam swamps and click bait to find companies and products that work specifically for their wants and needs. But here is the critical difference –while I believe the end PRODUCTS need to be specific and unique – customizable and even bespoke, I believe the path that takes us there needs to be broad, inclusive and dare I say it – a communal experience. That’s where we are getting it wrong.

Maslow Got it Right
There is a reason why the sense of belonging comes third on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. After the physiological needs of food, water and shelter, and the basic human need of safety and security, comes the need for community and belonging. As humans, we need to feel part of a pack, included and welcomed into a recognizable society. Even those of us who live outside the lines seek their tribe. I have worked with million dollar-grossing chefs, and top salon stylists who speak of misspent youths filled with alienation and loneliness. In their professions, they found their kind, and with that connection, came purpose and direction. Community envelops us in a safety net of support, freeing us up for risk and experience. So, essentially, belonging, and sharing in a broader experience it is possibly, the ultimate conduit to trial. “Water cooler” conversations are not idle prattle. We, as human beings, need these conversational ties to bind us to the larger whole. As our habits and practices continue to chip away at larger moments of connection, from working virtually, to disparate TV viewing schedules, we grasp at those opportunities to share and connect.

Gordon Ramsay
BFF?
Just this past week, two major periodicals touched on the isolation issues our technology has fomented for us: The NY Sunday Times spoke about the truest form of love being the decision, as a couple, to watch a television show together, in real time. Even if that couple was separated geographically, they would cue up their favorite program while on the phone, so they could share in the narrative and experience the dramatic moments together. Something so basic merely a decade ago has become gallantry and commitment. The Wall Street Journal wrote of the dissolution of childhood friendships as the solitude of personal screen time has chipped away at the time and place for the flourishing of those special bonds that feed these relationships. A recent project we completed for Activision focusing on young girls tech usage proved this to be true: children are transitioning from multi-user console games to solo devices, and virtual partners. There is even an app for that – 20 day stranger, that connects people with ‘friends’ from around the world who will listen, and share. The play date may become a relic.

Let’s Make some Magic
The moments that we as marketers can create, then, need to be broad, inclusive and touch some element that marks them as mass memory. Whether its experiencing Coachella, and that moment when Kanye rises up above the crowd, to the shared pleasure of posting unboxing videos of the same box you share with your Birchbox community – finding that through line that binds us to a group is what gives us perhaps our deepest pleasure, and actually reassures us that we are on the right path to creating our own unique brand of self. Trending hashtags in which we get the joke, or a quip from a celebrity that we can rapidly share places us squarely within a larger whole – a place that feels safe and good. J C Penney ‘s wildly successful “Just Got Jingled” Twitter campaign proves this point. It created a chance for people to reach out, connect and then share back. Those events that illicit an emotional response feed us as human beings and open us to new opportunities.

I had the recent pleasure of spending this year’s Super Bowl with a group of about 30 septuagenarians, who were delighted and excited to share the day and watch not just the game but the commercials as well. When the infamous Jeep commercial came on, with its accompanying folk song “This Land is Your Land….” I watched this group begin to join in song – shaky and a bit tremulous at first – but then with unabated joy. Although the scenes of China and Brazil gave them pause, still, the pleasure they exhibited in sharing a moment with a song they all knew and had learned as children was incredibly touching. It reminded me of the power we as marketers have to create moments that matter, and that bring us together. In this age of micro-marketing, perhaps its worth remembering that its our job to connect and create those spaces where people can come together to laugh, to cry and to share. We are experience makers first and foremost. If we do that right, the rest is easy.

Children

ShineScout Weekly RoundUp

ShineScout

This is the ShineScout Weekly Roundup. A collection of shiny bits we are watching in the world of marketing: the bright, the broken, and the wtf?

Huggies Turns to Pandora to Encourage Baby-Making for Valentine’s Day

Hmmmm – undoubtedly created for the social buzz, Huggies’ Pandora promotion does provoke some thoughts: is there a bigger, social opportunity for Huggies and for other baby-oriented brands? Millennials we have spoken to about this doubt their ability to meld child raising with living a life of experience and choice. Maybe the the next step is starting a bigger conversation on parenting and work balance, and helping make a change. How about it, Enfamil, Gerbers, and J&J?

And more on kids:

How to Find a Best Friend

Fascinating look on the growing concern that technology is inhibiting kids ability to connect and make friends. A number of studies have shown increased screen time degrades kids abilities to read emotions, and additionally, the increasing role of solitary tech time means less interaction…look to tech brands to create interactive communal project play for multiple player groups!

Storehouse.co

We are CRAZY for the new app: storehouse – imagine merging your instagram, pinterest, videos and texts to tell stories about your real life adventures!!  This one is awesome for road trips, hooky days and magic moments. We heart! Storehouse.co (and no doubt, brands will be all over this one as they look to generate bigger broader stories around their brands and their users.)

Moda Operandi Raises $60M to Bring High-End Clothiers to Digital Shoppers

A smart play by moda-operandi – moving luxury from the exclusive geo-markets to a broader playing field. High earners are more likely than any other income group to buy via mobile, so creating  ‘buy on the fly’ options for luxe goods is rigbht ( pardon the pun!) on the money. Yup, this could be a game changer!

The bespoke drink: 365 Tokyo, Las Vegas

And finally –  the ultimate play in the customize-for-me game.

Cant wait until those cube trays go on sale at Bed Bath and Beyond….

loweshotel-rottet-1621-bedroom

Love in the Time of Tinder

Ahh, love – much has been made of the sense that perhaps today love – in its purest form, is simply a dusty relic doomed to sit on some faux-wood paneled basement shelf next to a lava lamp and perhaps a mood ring or two. Op-ed pieces feature cynical lumbersexuals sharing hard-edged thoughts on the dominance of the hook-up, and cite their need for self expression and life experience as obstacles to l’amour. The rise of apps such as Tinder have rendered the art of connection something on par with GTA, and the latest polls from CNN show that this cohort has the lowest rate of marriage in history. So, what’s up, kids? Is love, the hearts and flowers/moony eyed, bad poetry writing type, doomed? Well, dammit, we say no.

Kelso and Jackie

Lets look at the facts. This year, Americans will spend an estimated $17.6 billion on Valentine’s Day—that is the second highest grossing holiday on the calendar, coming second only to Christmas, and ahead of Mother’s Day, Halloween, and Easter. So just whose wallet is at the mercy of Cupid’s arrow, and what are they buying?
You might be surprised to discover that while overall consumer spending is down, Valentine’s Day-related spending is on the rise. For example, in 2001, the average American spent $82.60 on this pink-hued lover’s holiday. In 2008, at the start of the economic decline, the average spending was $122.98. This year, those celebrating will spend a whopping $126.03. And exactly who is celebrating? Well, it ain’t just the old folks. Actually, the group shelling out the most on sentimentality are – yup – millennials. The 25 to 34 age range spends the most at $176.85, with the 65-plus category spending the least at $79.97. The rest go as follows: 18-24 spend $148.05; 35-44 spend $141.82; 45-54 spend $122.43; 55-64 spend $88.13. So it would seem that our jaded and sentiment -weary digerati are actually throwing down in order to love it up.

We checked in with our own millennial panel to see where they stood, and here’s what they told us: Over 60% of those we asked told us ‘Love is the answer’ and that it was worth the search. Millennials want love in their life, and although it may not be easy, they are willing to do the time to make someone ‘mine’. And while over 45% of those polled scoffed at the Hallmark version of Valentines Day, (as if they needed a nationally designated day to love up their loved ones!!), they assured us that they expressed their love often and with meaning. Couple that with over 35% told us they were “ super pumped to do something cool and surprising for their sweetie,” I think its safe to say that love is well and alive in the right-swipe era. Even the 20% that ‘fessed up that today’s bleak financial outlook and tough times relegated love to their internal back burner weren’t rejecting baby-boy Cupid – they are just taking a rain check.

Valentines Day is real for this crew – over 50% told us they were looking forward to making a memory and having a romantic night out…(sigh…) so either way you slice it… our screened-in nation wants to reach out and touch someone. And lets bet that they will it with style.

Bright Shiny Objects

To unbox is to consume

Unboxing. To many people, this somewhat awkward phrase connotes the dreaded move in day, with lots of dust and stale pizza involved. Maybe a six-pack or two. To the folks at YouTube, it translates to eyeballs and dollars, lots and lots of dollars. Type unboxing into the search bar of that content provider and you will see stretched before you a vast field of consumers celebrating that ultimate climax of the online shopping experience – the unboxing.

But why the seismic wave of viewership? What could possibly be the benefit to watching them? Google first noted the term ‘unboxing’ in 2006, a mere blip on the scale of urban vernacular. Today, they are a peculiar yet insanely popular video genre — viewers watch nearly 6 billion hours of these videos each month. The genesis of these seem to be placed upon the ‘haul videos’ we saw first created by teens years ago, full of excited young girls unpacking bags of fast fashion finds from H&M, or Forever 21 with salacious abandon. And that seemed somewhat understandable, knowing the need for validation and approval from peer groups for young girls of that age. However, this incredibly large and voracious cousin knows no age or product limit.

No, here are grown men unpacking their go-pros, or iPhones, and grown women purring seductively over Prada purses, slowly undressed from layers of exquisite packaging. And of course, there are the oceans of the much discussed toy porn, or toy unboxing videos that seem to mesmerize the under 2 set. All with millions and millions of consumer views. When questioned, viewers provide some good rational reasons for watching. Moms speak to wanting to see if their children seemed to like the toy before they went ahead and purchased it. Others wanted to check out the variety of playing options that were showcased, to make sure it was worth their while. Men spoke of wanting to see the products they desired up close and unwrapped, to see if they looked to be of quality. Women gave the same response about their viewership of makeup boxes, or high-end purses. Well thought out personal, investigative journalism as it were, just of things that make people go weak in the knees.

Quality control sounds fine (and certainly laudable), but I think it goes deeper…. I think it reflects a shift in our culture of consumerism that ignited to a white hot level during the roaring mid-00’s. We are a culture that prizes consumerism and acquisition. We want things. We desire things. And we celebrate those who can acquire things. However, two huge events have converged to spark this particular fire. One, the recession thwarted many people’s ability to obtain things. And two, the abundance of ‘things’ brought about by the proliferation of social media. Never before has so much been available with so little effort. Thus, like porn, unboxing videos present the viewer with next best thing – consumption without risk. With so many things available to us, and yet, so many things limited by our income; videos, Pinterest boards, Keep sites, etc. let us collect images, and participate in perhaps the most delicious part of shopping: anticipation, and the delicious foreplay of unveiling. Now, Millennials have been accused of fauxerism – looking but not buying. But in a world where we can be Kim Kardashian for a day by playing a video game, or take a vacation on a Jamaican beach through a VR device, why not revel in the experience without the prize? Experiences have been trumping ownership among the millennials for some time now, so the idea of celebrating the catch and the kill without a cost seems to make sense. Couple this with the rapid growth of products we don’t need to own to enjoy. From streaming music to online entertainment, to Zipcars and more, those things that we once bought and owned have become ephemeral, and no less enjoyable. Tangibility is not mandatory anymore. To consume has a new definition. And desire never disappoints.


The mandate for retailers? Desire for the actual act of possession has become a much higher bar. The actual close of the sale merits greater payoff – not just a thank you or a walk around a counter. Every element needs to be thought through, and most importantly, the final unveiling needs to be personal and celebratory. Those brands (hello, net-a-porter) that take great care with presentation and packaging, and really highlight that element of the unpacking experience will be ahead of the game. This can be true for both online and bricks and mortar retailers; surprise and delight, or gamification, will need to be employed to really incite a final purchase, to close, as it where. Something unique and desirable has to take place between the cardboard and the tissue paper; that moment, like unlocking a hotel door, has to be exquisite and fulfilling. (And any toddler will tell you; the box is the best part ☺)

I would welcome any thoughts…..

lynn@shinescout.com