Episode 176
September 25, 2020

The Anti-Blands

Brian and Phillip talk about the New Dadaism and existential brands they’ve been currently keeping an eye on. 

this episode sponsored by

The New Dadaism

  • Dadaism was an intellectual movement post-WWI that focused on subverting the serious. 
  • In response to the popularity of minimalism, maximalism has been on the rise. Brands have been using absurdity to reach their markets - specifically with Gen Z and Millennial brands. 

An Exploration in Brands in this Moment

  • “Topicals really is the Anti-Bland” - Phillip
  • Topicals is a skin care brand founded by two women of color. They have continuously been selling out, even after retailing with Nordstrom. They have individually branded, specified products which tailors to their market.
  • Gen Z is into spiritualism which is reflected in Topical’s quiz to find your unique skin care needs. 
  • Faculty is a male skincare brand that has also stuck to the Gen Z and millennial generational experience - in dropping products periodically instead of restocking, in adding music to their brand experience, and in their use of SMS marketing.
  • Brands are experiencing their own existentialism in the current global climate which has left room for refreshing and redefinition, even in larger CPG brands like Walmart, Pepsi, and Amazon, that are already set up for success regardless of the economy. 

Links

Brands Mentioned

Have any questions or comments about the show? You can reach out to us at info@futurecommerce.fm or any of our social channels, we love hearing from our listeners!

Phillip: [00:01:30] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about whatever the heck we feel like that is beyond today in commerce. You know, the future...

Brian: [00:01:42] {laughter}

Phillip: [00:01:42] There is no like... I just feel... Do you feel after two hundred and some episodes, or however you count it, that the idea about cutting edge and next generation commerce, which was our tagline for long time... Is that tired? Are you tired of that?

Brian: [00:02:02] I don't know. I don't know if it's... It's commerce, certainly commerce, but I'll leave it there. But we don't even talk about commerce all the time anyway.

Phillip: [00:02:17] We do. We talk about things that relate to engaging in commerce in a not creepy way. That's what is... I take issue with the cutting edge thing. I think the cutting edge is the thing that bothers me. Did you ever see the movie The Cutting Edge? Do you remember that movie from the '90s?

Brian: [00:02:40] The ice skating one?

Phillip: [00:02:42] The ice skating movie. Exactly.

Brian: [00:02:43] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:02:43] My sister and I had this whole thing in, like growing up when we saw that movie. Because it's a hockey player becomes a figure skater.

Brian: [00:02:55] Right.

Phillip: [00:02:55] For the US hockey team. Which is just the best conceit for any sort of rom com movie ever. But the movie takes itself super seriously. But he's this tough guy, and she's the best figure skater in America. And he asks the question, "What's a toe pick?" And then she basically busts his butt a bunch on the ice. And every time he falls, she's like "Toe pick." Which has become an in-joke for 30 years with my sister. Anyway. Has nothing to do with anything.

Brian: [00:03:31] Nice.

Phillip: [00:03:32] I take issue with cutting edge.

Brian: [00:03:34] There was a sequel. There was a sequel to that. Wasn't it called something like The Bleeding Edge?

Phillip: [00:03:40] No, it was called D2 the Mighty Ducks.

Brian: [00:03:45] {laughter} Oh, my gosh.

Phillip: [00:03:46] That's the one where... You know, it's funny if you want like a weird tangent... To rep my recent Insider's piece, one of the stars of the Mighty Ducks, a guy named Brock Pierce, was mentioned in my most recent piece. Brock Pierce went on to become like this Blockchain, Twitter sort of guru sort of person and and kept company with a bunch of known pedophiles. I don't know. There's no nice way to say that.

Brian: [00:04:21] Oh geez.

Phillip: [00:04:21] Which is the subject of, the people he kept company with is the subject of some of my most recent Insiders article and some of the happenings in VC funding in the early 2000s around something called the Digital Entertainment Network. So, yeah, check that out. And somehow in the story, Payless Shoes makes an appearance, and we sort of pin it to some news around Payless launching a purpose built, or purpose driven, mission driven brand. Relaunching as a mission driven brand to connect the world to the Internet. So I shan't say anymore. If that's not cutting edge, Brian, I don't know what is.

Brian: [00:05:04] Payless Shoes. Cutting edge. That's the next generation of commerce. {laughter}.

Phillip: [00:05:09] Yeah, that is cutting edge and next generation commerce. There it is. That's your intro. Brian, you recently wrote a piece that actually caught on. It's funny. It was featured in Lean Luxe. I think it came out in July. I think.

Brian: [00:05:24] Yeah, in early July, I think. Yeah. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:05:27] What was it about?

Brian: [00:05:28] Yeah. The new Dada. It was about sort of the view of the world that CARLY and the next generation has and how they view their stuff and...

Phillip: [00:05:45] Can give us... What is Dada?

Brian: [00:05:52] So Dadaism was a movement in the early 20th century that was sort of a response to the World War 1 and to all of the crazy things that were happening in the world. It felt like the world was sort of blowing up, kind of similar to the way we feel about the world right now. And so it was this movement to sort of like just put in the most ridiculous things and sort of make a point with them and sort of subvert the...

Phillip: [00:06:27] An artist movement. It was a movement in art.

Brian: [00:06:29] Yes, exactly. In art well, and in culture. Beyond art. It was in culture. And it was to subvert everything that everyone took so seriously. And so you see that kind of popping up right now, actually, almost exactly one hundred years later where you kind of get laughed at if you don't subvert yourself to some [00:06:55] degree. You're not actually taken seriously unless you don't take yourself seriously to some degree. [00:07:01] And it started with this idea that I had about how, at this point in culture, there's this whole idea of something that can be taken seriously and also make fun of itself at the exact same time. Beyond irony, so much as like additional layers of sort of self-parody, but also like legitimate art at the exact same time. I couldn't find a word for it to describe it. So I had to write an article about it.

Phillip: [00:07:31] While you were talking, I'll read from the Wikipedia. It's an avant garde intellectual movement that started in World War 1. Although not at first an art movement, it did influence art.

Brian: [00:07:41] Yes. It was cultural.

Phillip: [00:07:41] And Marcel Duchamp had this famous fountain sculpture, which was literally just like a urinal turned on its side so that you urinate on yourself.

Brian: [00:07:53] Correct.

Phillip: [00:07:54] Interesting. So what does that have to do with brands and brand marketing? Why do people care?

Brian: [00:07:59] It's interesting. There's a lot of different sort of outflows of that. One of the things that we talked about in the article was the sort of this new American maximalism. So we've been so hyper focused on minimalism for so long, and it's such a like, it's crept into our psyche. What we don't realize is that it's actually only made a little tiny dent in our psyche. Actually maximalism has never really left. And it's back on the rise. And so it's this really interesting moment where we talk about being minimalist, but we actually take things to the extremes and the absurd. And we also make fun of ourselves for doing it because we all know we should be minimalists.

Phillip: [00:08:44] Yeah. What's funny is there was a piece about the maximalism and the cottage core of like Gigi Hadid, which had landed some time ago. I forget the publication. Now I'm having deja vu. I feel like we've mentioned this at least once.

Brian: [00:09:01] I think we have mentioned this before. That was The New Yorker.

Phillip: [00:09:05] Yeah. Oh, yeah. The New Yorker piece. Anyway, long story short, nice to see a little feature from Paul and Gang at Lean Luxe. I enjoyed your piece, and go check it out. We'll link it up in the show notes.

Brian: [00:09:22] Yeah. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:09:22] It's from Future Commerce Insiders. If you're not on the list for Future Commerce Insiders, you should be. Go to FutureCommerce.fm/subscribe, and that will allow you to sign up, get on the list. And yeah, new essays every Sunday. And we've got some real bangers coming up.

Brian: [00:09:40] Oh yeah. The most recent one was The Existential Brands Part 1.

Phillip: [00:09:49] Yeah. If you haven't noticed...

Brian: [00:09:51] Got some interesting feedback on that one.

Phillip: [00:09:52] We swing wildly. Brian likes to focus on, art and psychology, and I literally know nothing about art or psychology, so you won't get that from me. But between Brian and I and Jesse Tyler, we got some varied and very interesting concepts. But let's put that aside for a bit, because I feel like it's very self-serving to talk about that. There is like a bunch happening in the world.

Brian: [00:10:22] Well, tell me. So what's what's something you've been interested in lately? What's the brand that you found to be compelling? Tell me something interesting, Phillip.

Phillip: [00:10:33] Your excitement level is is very, very good today, Brian. I love it.

Brian: [00:10:37] Alright. Good.

Phillip: [00:10:38] Dude, there's a bunch of things that have been on my radar lately, mostly because if I had to rep some other media property, that's not Future Commerce, Thingtesting has a really interesting site and newsletter.

Brian: [00:10:54] Oh yeah.

Phillip: [00:10:54] And started with an Instagram, and they have such an interesting membership model. I'm sure we've mentioned Thingtesting on more than one occasion around these parts, but Thingtesting had a newsletter that came out, I think, I don't know, in the last two days or so that mentioned a few brands and one that we never actually got around to talking about after their launch. It's a brand called Topicals. And Topicals is a brand that's founded by two women of color. And it just has such an interesting product set. It's Olamide and Claudia. Olamide Olowe and Claudia Teng. And I hope I'm pronouncing those names correctly, but I thought at least try. And it's a skincare brand. What's so awesome about this and why it came back to mind is featured in a Thingtesting newsletter just recently, which got me back like sort of interested in talking about it. They keep selling out, which is sort of amping up the hype factor here. They launched right after Coronavirus in April and they ever since, they keep selling out of some products. They had a mass retail launch, I believe, with Nordstrom. Yeah, they launched last month in August at Nordstrom, where they sold out immediately as well. And there was a lot of discussion of like the sameness of millennial brands recently. There's like a concept called Blands that was in Bloomberg. And this article was called...

Brian: [00:12:41] Premium mediocre.

Phillip: [00:12:43] "Welcome to Your Bland New World," which was written by Ben Schott. Also often the much maligned piece of people who said, like, the take was bad... You cannot ignore the fact that there's a similar esthetic to a lot of brand launches in the last few years. But I don't know that that's really the pin on the piece. The pin is how does a consumer distinguish among them? And does big CPG ultimately just benefit at the end of the day?

Brian: [00:13:17] Webb Smith commented on this at length. I thought he did a actually pretty good job of saying...

Phillip: [00:13:21] He did a phenomenal job. He did a much better job than I'll ever do in sort of summing up that take. But all that aside, the reason I even brought it up was to say, I think Topicals really is the kind of Anti-Bland. Topicals really just strikes me as having such an interesting, just a different like look and feel, a different aesthetic. Each of their products are individually branded. They have something called Faded. And Faded is like for sun damaged and scarred skin. There's something called Like Butter, which is a product that is a hydrating mask. Oh Faded is a clearing gel. Like Butter is a hydrating mask. It feels kind of like the glossier model, like there's so much going on here. I really would highly recommend you check it out. But here's a couple of things that are a little deeper as to why I think Topicals is super compelling just from a brand watching perspective. They have a product finder quiz, as most modern brands do. Their quiz is called Skin, Sun and Stars, but their approach with the Skin, Sun and Stars quiz is effectively like input your info and receive your Skin's Star Signs picked for your unique needs. Which this just hearkened back to me how much I've been told, and I don't know this first hand, but I've been told Gen Z is really into sort of the spiritualism, sort of horoscope or being very in tune to this more spiritual life. And so I find that to be at least being echoed here. Reminds me Birthdate candles. I don't know if you saw, we did a piece like a brand review for Birthdate Candles, birthdatecandles.com. And it's like you can get all of your numerology for your birthday, your sign, and your horoscope and a scent that's perfectly crafted just for you based on your birth date. Anyway, it seems really much, very much in that vein. Great way to engage with customers and also raising money for a nonprofit called Sad Girls Club. And Sad Girls Club, SadGirlsClub.org, is creating a community around diminishing the stigma around mental health and striving to support women of color and the millennial and Gen Z population. So I love, love, love, love, I just love everything that this stands for. It's really cool. Tropicals is a brand to watch and one that, yeah, I'm stanning currently, as the kids say. I feel so stupid saying that.

Brian: [00:16:29] Actually it's interesting. It does remind me actually... Their site you mentioned sort of the design flavor that they brought. It does remind me a little bit of Behave. Behave Candy.

Phillip: [00:16:42] Oh Behave Candy. Well I think, Behave, to me feels brutalist.

Brian: [00:16:47] It's a little bit more in your face. Yeah, a little bit more... Yes, I do agree with that. There're some similarities. If you go look at their sites, there's a certain level of connection, I think, in terms of like layout and feel. And obviously it's a little bit... Behave's a lot more on your face.

Phillip: [00:17:08] Well, yeah. {laughter} For sure. So that site, by the way, is eatbehave.com. Behave definitely has a sort of brutalist esthetic. I would say Tropicals has sort of the fun color. I can see where you would see these are the same. I see them a little... Topicals is probably closer to the millennial aesthetic than Behave. I think Behave is way out there.

Brian: [00:17:33] It's Gen Z.

Phillip: [00:17:33] Long story short, can I mention one more brand? It's a friend of the show.

Brian: [00:17:38] Yes, do. I'll also mention one too.

Phillip: [00:17:40] It got me thinking about coffee brands. There's a friend of the show, Joe McCarthy, who no relation to the senator. I'm sure. Joseph McCarthy, who is the resident thought leader and speaker extraordinaire, and I think head of growth at our friend and former partner who worked with us in Nine by Nine, Klaviyo. And Joe co-founded a brand recently called Springline Coffee. SpringlineCoffee.com. And they are roasting and blending themselves and very nautically inspired. And which makes perfect sense, Joe, being from New England and in the Boston area. I got to try. I got to try Springline Signature myself. Like it a lot. I get nothing out of it by telling you about it. I just happen to love that a friend of mine started a brand. And Brian, you also received a package from them. I wore the hat, by the way.

Brian: [00:18:45] Nice.

Phillip: [00:18:45] Springline sent some merch along in my first order and sent me like a ball cap. I wore it on my 40 mile run for my 40th birthday. So that was kind of special, kind of cool to take that with me. But yeah, it's always special when a friend of yours start something new and extra special when it's in an area of the world, or area of the economy that we happen to cover on a podcast.

Brian: [00:19:14] Especially good call out after you posted that bit about Alex Cohen in Bluebottle.

Phillip: [00:19:21] Oh, yeah, Alex. Alex Cohen on Twitter saying Bluebottle... By the way, he turned off replies on that tweet, which is hilarious. Like he doesn't even want to be... Like "Don't @ me." Bluebottle is objectively like the best coffee chain. And my response to him was like La Columbe would like to have a word with you because I disagree. I like La Columbe a lot.

Brian: [00:19:48] Yeah, if we're going to go like large chain, there're a few. Intelligentsia is also pretty good.

Phillip: [00:19:52] Oh gosh, I forgot about Intelligentsia. I love them.

Brian: [00:19:55] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:19:56] Actually I'm remembering our trip last summer around Seattle doing coffee tasting at a bunch of places that you just don't get here in Palm Beach like Cafe Nero. And gosh, I wish those... It's a fond memory. I'll say it that way.

Brian: [00:20:15] Yes. Yes. That was a lot of fun. So much good coffee out here. Olympia Roasters. Killing it. They're just amazing. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:20:22] I will say though, I found the shot pool from Olympia to be very challenging. It was also I think maybe my fourth espresso shot. So I think I was...

Brian: [00:20:34] Oh no. That was like your eighth espresso shot, man.

Phillip: [00:20:38] {laughter}

Brian: [00:20:38] We had a lot of coffee. We had a lot of coffee. That was fun.

Phillip: [00:20:42] There is a brand you had your eye on recently.

Brian: [00:20:46] Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I mean sort of in line with like interesting models and interesting aesthetic for sure. Actually there's I think there's a little connection between the esthetic between Behave and this as well. But the brand Faculty I found to be pretty interesting, and I mentioned them in my most recent Insider's piece. Emily Singer called them out in Chips and Dips in her number 28, I think it was. Or was it 31? Anyway, one of these most recent ones. And what I found really, really interesting about their model is it sort of had that sort of MSCHF like feel to it where it's just all drops. Restocking is not a thing. Hypebeast did a whole article on this. It's just constant update of basically identity. I think that they said they had seven different logos that they would use. And I guarantee you that like they'll probably stop using some of those and introduce new ones. And the idea is that change is sort of built into the DNA of their brand and focusing on what's next, what's cool, what's interesting.

Phillip: [00:22:08] But you missed the... What are the products? What do they do?

Brian: [00:22:13] The product is basically men's skincare and nails. So they sell like nail polish for men and men's skincare products. And every product drop is different.

Phillip: [00:22:24] Yeah.

Brian: [00:24:45] Even if you're not into the category... Like I don't paint my nails, but I think that the...

Phillip: [00:24:50] You've never painted your nails? Not even clear?

Brian: [00:24:53] Not even clear.

Phillip: [00:24:53] Have you ever gone to a nail salon and gotten a manicure?

Brian: [00:24:58] No, I haven't.

Phillip: [00:24:59] Wow.

Brian: [00:24:59] Actually, I probably need one.

Phillip: [00:25:02] I'll tell you, I have a skin care regimen. I'm that guy. There's something special about, of course I haven't done it since I've been in my house for seven bloody months. But there's something special about having a manicure. You should try it sometime. It's probably not for everybody, but I like a good manicure.

Brian: [00:25:24] Sounds awesome actually. I probably should get a manicure some day.

Phillip: [00:25:26] I don't know if I'd wear the moss green. I don't know if I could get away with the moss green.

Brian: [00:25:31] Actually, of all the colors, I think the most green is actually the coolest.

Phillip: [00:25:37] Yeah. I love the site. I kind of want to do a deep dive on the site maybe as a YouTube piece.

Brian: [00:25:48] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You should do it.

Phillip: [00:25:49] Really dig it.

Brian: [00:25:50] I love that idea. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:25:51] And I really like... This is basically just turning into an exploration of brands. We just haven't talked in so long.

Brian: [00:25:58] I know, man.

Phillip: [00:25:58] I feel like this is turning into an audio exploration of brands that we've been watching, which is fine. That's totally fine, because I think they're doing super interesting things.

Brian: [00:26:11] They are. No, this is really cool.

Phillip: [00:26:14] It really reminds me... Faculty is super cool. If you go to work, so if you're on faculty.world, that's the domain, they have a playlist. Like music is part of the experience of shopping. If you click on World, it's like a little content portal. They have a Spotify playlist. It just seems very interesting. When you first land on the site, it it doesn't pop up asking you to join an email. It's an SMS. It's like join our SMS.

Brian: [00:26:52] SMS first.

Phillip: [00:26:55] It's very, very, very forward thinking. There's a crawl at the bottom that's like text Faculty for early access to drop and free stuff. It's very, very cool. I'm a big fan of that.

Brian: [00:27:08] Yeah, it's cool, it's really cool. Again, probably not my... I'm probably not gonna buy anything from them, but the model is, I think, really, really interesting, and I expect to see more of this. In fact, I'll probably dive into more of this. In fact, I'm going to dive into more of this in my next article that I write.

Phillip: [00:27:26] So in this vein, there's so much that's really kind of like happened in the world of brands. There just seems to be so much launching recently. There was a piece recently, which I don't even know why I'm talking about it because I won't be able to reference it. I should have had it ready to go. But even Venture is picking back up for consumer brands in the last six or eight weeks. It sounds like.

Brian: [00:27:59] Did it ever really slow down?

Phillip: [00:28:00] It did.

Brian: [00:28:00] I mean, maybe for like a couple of months when everyone was like, "DTC is dead," which was ridiculous. They focused in on a couple examples of DTC that was having trouble for reasons that are probably not related to the fact that it's DTC. Like bad business management and, you know, other things like that not even related to the model.

Phillip: [00:28:23] There's a lot happening. Brands that have been around for a long time that are actually starting to get recognition. A friend of the show, Adam, has Leaf Shaving. I don't know if you've...

Brian: [00:28:39] Yeah I checked out Leaf Shaving. It's really cool.

Phillip: [00:28:40] You've seen Leaf Shaving recently. So it launched like eight years ago or something like that. Adam Simone, I'm sorry I forgot your last name, Adam. Adam and I have chatted a few times. We've done a few virtual coffees. You know, they got featured in GQ not through any PR move, but just because.

Brian: [00:29:01] Us, too. Oh wait. Was it PR or not? I don't know.

Phillip: [00:29:04] GQ has this really... They picked it as the most innovative razor, the Leaf Safety Razor. But they just relaunched on Shopify after many years on WooCommerce, and they launched with a little bit of a new brand identity, sort of modernizing it. LeafShave.com is the domain. They just, it's just beautiful. Like, it's beautiful. And [00:29:30] there's so much happening, even if it's not net new, like brand new brands that you've never seen before. There seems to be a lot of brands going through an exercise of... I don't want to say modernizing, but like sort of having a bit of a refresh or having a more public moment. [00:29:51] And Adam having been at it for six, seven years plus in the game and actually now going at it full time, growing the business, it's such a such an interesting time to be doing all of this. And I say this knowing full well, I'll make a statement. I know that the world is not back to normal. Don't get me wrong.

Brian: [00:30:18] It's not? What? What are you talking about, Phillip?

Phillip: [00:30:20] It may never go back to normal again. But it seems like the world has kind of learned that, like the moment that we had in the spring and sort of the like, everything grinding to a halt is not sustainable. And we kind of have to move on and learn to live in whatever the next normal is. We have to learn to live with the virus among us and learn to live with people who make bad choices and governments that aren't doing the best job. And that's like, yeah. So it's not that progress is picking back up. It's like the progress is... Well, yeah. There's this interesting...

Brian: [00:31:01] Case in point. Neiman Marcus just came out and said that they are going to effectively reorganize and lay off a bunch of store associates.

Phillip: [00:31:14] Yeah. The in-store associates.

Brian: [00:31:14] Yeah. Some threat facing, some not front facing or customer facing. And they said it's going to be significant and that the pivot is to eCom. And I think, like when you start to see, it's interesting, luxury is actually pivoting to eCom maybe even faster than non luxury is. Which is I mean, I think Luxury was already in eCom, so they didn't have to. Like there's no pivot necessary. But I do think that the non luxury that didn't...

Phillip: [00:31:52] Non luxury feels like a weird thing to say. Like digitally native brands or?

Brian: [00:32:00] Goods and services. I don't know, no not digitally native. They started in digital. I'm talking about brands that were had a big brick and mortar footprint.

Phillip: [00:32:07] Oh, I see what you mean. OK, sorry.

Brian: [00:32:09] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phillip: [00:32:09] So I'm the one playing catch up or Neiman Marcus is playing catch up, according to Steve Dennis. This is something that...

Brian: [00:32:17] They are playing catch up. Obviously went through bankruptcy. So it took them a while to catch up.

Phillip: [00:32:21] You're so excited right now.

Brian: [00:32:23] I know. Yeah, my microphones probably popping like crazy.

Phillip: [00:32:25] I think those things are... Financial distress causes you to have to reexamine and go back to the drawing board, but it's not too late.

Brian: [00:32:35] Have a little bit of an existential crisis.

Phillip: [00:32:42] Yeah. And if only someone had only written about that recently.

Brian: [00:32:45] Maybe, you know.

Phillip: [00:32:47] Yeah, long story short, there's like, yes, most of this is above my head and well above my pay grade, I will say as somebody who's a fan of the space and wants to see people succeed, I don't want to see retailers fail. Because when there's failures in this, in any sector of the economy, but especially in retail, there's a lot of people who are living like right at their means or who are grossly underpaid, not being paid a living wage, barely making ends meet that are victims of the fallout. They're the ones who pay the price. It's not the executives. The executives are going to probably just be just fine. It's the retail workers who depend on salary and who depend on some sort of stream of income and live probably month to month and barely make ends meet. We have to figure out how to solve that. I know there was a story recently about Walmart scaling up its pay.

Brian: [00:33:55] Yes.

Phillip: [00:33:55] Anything that makes the news is a concentrated push of press to make the world know about it, so that Walmart looks good in the end.

Brian: [00:34:09] Well well, Walmart's been...

Phillip: [00:34:10] Not having a great track record in the past of paying their workers a living wage or letting them have enough hours to be paid for benefits. So it would be nice to see them come true on it.

Brian: [00:34:23] Yeah. I feel like we've seen a lot of movement towards this, though, at Walmart. And Walmart's really, really doing everything in its power to shift its identity. I think it was a Retail Dive I recently saw, like "Is Walmart finally coming into fashion?" Effectively.

Phillip: [00:34:39] Oh that.

Brian: [00:34:39] Are they actually... Yeah. Yeah. And you've got Walmart Plus introduced to compete with Amazon Prime. Like, I feel like Walmart's doing everything it possibly can to shift its business starting a few years back when they started investing in eCom and saw it as a legitimate channel and started acquiring effectively talent. Even more than brands. Acquiring talent and expertize and understanding of how to do things in a modern way, well ahead of a lot of other like larger brands and CPG companies. And we've talked about Pepsi's attempt to get into this, which was not acquisition. It was just a launch.

Phillip: [00:35:26] We're not allowed to be too critical of Pepsi because then they don't respond to emails and they unsubscribe from Insiders. But I think there's a real challenge around... Listen Walmart is probably more positioned, better position to do well in a down economy than most retailers. Their pivot to digital can be somewhat slow. Jet-Black being shut down and some other experiments show them as like were they so forward thinking? Could they actually make something work? There're a bunch of questions there. Again, probably not qualified to comment on, but hey, like is it news that Walmart is launching a private label? Is it news?

Brian: [00:36:17] No {laughter}

Phillip: [00:36:17] That's not news. Walmart has had private label merchandise for a very long time, especially apparel. I know because I was a kid growing up in the 80s whose parents clothed me in Walmart clothes. And so shopping at the mall was totally off the table. Like, that was not the case. We couldn't afford it. That's not who we were. You know, son of a baker, I ran the till at the bakery at nine years old, and I wasn't paid. So this idea that that's some sort of pivotal strategic movement... Well, I mean, in that case, they're playing catch up to Target, who has been doing this for three or four years now.

Brian: [00:37:00] And you brought up an interesting point, though. Walmart is set up to succeed, whether they're playing catch up or not, whether they're in an up economy or a down economy. It kind of doesn't matter. Walmart's set up for success.

Phillip: [00:37:13] Yeah, I think the ubiquity. Right?

Brian: [00:37:15] Yes.

Phillip: [00:37:16] You could probably say the same about Amazon, and you could probably say the same about...

Brian: [00:37:23] Didn't you go to 4-star? Or you walk past the 4-star?

Phillip: [00:37:27] Oh yeah. This is such an interesting phenomenon. I do not understand this. And again, maybe I'm just not the target. We mentioned for the first time back in 2018, they had the launch of Amazon 4-star. It was an episode called Amazon Cake Mix, I think. Which isn't getting any SEO points, by the way. And Amazon Cake Mix does not exist, but should. Maybe as an Amazon basics offering.

Brian: [00:37:56] Should it? It would catch on fire. You better watch out. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:37:59] So there's a store called Amazon 4-star. If you're not hip, it is a store, brick and mortar store, or a chain of them now, that has only 4 Star rated products and above. And spoiler alert, there's a lot of Alexa devices in store. Many Echos, many powered by Alexa devices.

Brian: [00:38:23] Gen 1. Gen 2. Gen 7.

Phillip: [00:38:26] Well, it's all current Gen stuff, but it's actually really nicely categorized from what I could see through the window. So in Palm Beach Gardens, there's the Gardens Mall. It's a higher end mall. I don't know if it's a luxury mall. It's a higher end mall.

Brian: [00:38:44] That's what has the Amazon 4-star.

Phillip: [00:38:46] It has the Amazon 4-star. It's a four star mall. {laughter} Four star and above. So Amazon 4-star, I happened to be strolling past it this weekend. Back to school was last week for the kids, and I took them to the mall to grab some stuff. And hey by the way, just having mentioned being the kid that grew up with Walmart clothes, I'm doing OK for myself to be able to go to the mall for my kids, and take them to Nordstrom or whatever and buy the expensive freaking backpack or water bottle. You know, it's like my kid has a 40 dollar water bottle. That you just never happen. I'm pretty sure my entire wardrobe from like third grade was forty dollars. But I digress. But that's such an awesome thing. My kids have no idea how spoiled they are. We're walking past the Amazon 4-star Store. It's the only store in the entirety of the Gardens Mall that has a line outside of it. And when I say a line, I'm not talking about three or four people waiting in line like you might have seen for like Hot Topic or something. It's not because, not just because of space in the store or county restrictions on how many people can be in a confined space. It's that there are a hundred people in line. It's like ninety people, and it's wrapping around multiple times on itself line. It's baffling. I don't know, unless there are textbooks that receive a four star rating or above, I cannot fathom why so many people were in line for the store. It's shocking. But again, maybe I'm just not that shopper. It just goes to show you, I think, like, Amazon as a brand has a such a king of the hill dominance.

Brian: [00:40:36]  [00:40:36]Yeah, it doesn't matter what happens to the economy. Amazon's going to win. That's sort of where we're at. [00:40:42]

Phillip: [00:40:43] So that's in this moment, I think the footnote there is in this moment.

Brian: [00:40:47] In this moment. Yes.

Phillip: [00:40:49] In prior decades, you might have said JC Penney or Macy's or maybe Sears was positioned to be the dominant player that was going to win no matter what.

Brian: [00:40:59] That's a really good point.

Phillip: [00:41:00] Culture changes.

Brian: [00:41:00] Even Jeff Bezos has said "In 75 years from now, we might not exist." And that's OK. And actually, again, that kind of gets back to my Insiders article. Brands that can say that about themselves.

Phillip: [00:41:13] Which one, by the way? The Existential Brands?

Brian: [00:41:15] The Existential Brand one. Yes. Brands that actually have the ability to say it is OK if we don't exist. Those are the ones that actually have the ability to operate.

Phillip: [00:41:27] {with emphasis} "Those are the ones..." Which ones, Brian?

Brian: [00:41:30] {laughter} By the way, side point... I got to get this in there. I got to get this in there. This is a must. I'm so over five stars. Five star rating is dead. Dead to me.

Phillip: [00:41:40] Five star means.

Brian: [00:41:40] Absolutely means nothing.

Phillip: [00:41:42] There was a story about an Amazon cracking down on false reviews recently. I can't remember. Speaking of five stars, hey, do us a favor. Thanks for listening, by the way. We're going to wrap here in a second. You should go give us five stars. I know Brian just said five stars is dead. I don't want a four star from you. We're better than that. Go give us a five star.

Brian: [00:42:02] That's why it's dead. Four stars is the worst that people give. Like it's like four or five.

Phillip: [00:42:08] I don't know about you. We have definitely had at least one one star review on our podcast.

Brian: [00:42:13] Ok fine. Fine.

Phillip: [00:42:13] So I don't know if that's totally true.

Brian: [00:42:16] It's true. But a four star is like devastating. When I give someone four stars, I'm like, oh, this was not good.

Phillip: [00:42:21] Brian, you need to change. Like, I think that's a Brian problem and not like a rest of the world problem. But I want...

Brian: [00:42:26] I don't know about that.

Phillip: [00:42:26] Let me finish the plug.

Brian: [00:42:28] Yes.

Phillip: [00:42:28] Go to iTunes right now.

Brian: [00:42:30] Please give us a five star.

Phillip: [00:42:30] It helps us get in front of other people. Our audience is growing. We have an amazing community. And listen, you know, we're in this together. We're better together. I love that we can do this show for so long and encounter so many awesome people. I'm speaking of awesome people, next week's show, Sari Azout, from Level VC and Rokk3r and the author of an incredible newsletter, of which I'm a huge fan called Check Your Pulse. Sari Azout is going to be on the show. And she'll be chatting a little bit about what the world looks like right now. And we'll be discussing what the world looked like back in February when we first sat down with her to talk about the work that she does, the newsletter that she writes, and how she sees the world of startup and tech as a VC. So you'll find that at FutureCommerce.fm next Friday. That's it. Thank you for listening.

Brian: [00:43:33] Thank you. See ya.

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