Editor’s Note: In our opinion, commerce is, itself, the tool to bring about change. If you want to skip the missive and go straight to the solution skip down to “Reboot: Taking Control”.
"I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was so close to being complete." -Fight Club, 1999
I've been reading a lot lately. I made it a personal goal at the beginning of the year to get through 26 new books. If I’m very diligent I may pull it out in the end. My last 4 books have had some pretty heavy themes, as you’ve probably sensed from reading INSIDERS for the past few months:
So as I pen this letter today I think about the current state of retail: Target is doubling-down on its ‘owned brand’ strategy. Walmart is pivoting away from DTC. Venture Capital is coming under heavy scrutiny which may have a dramatic impact on startups in the next 18-24 months. Nike and Adidas are being called to task on their abuse of power. CAC is out of control making it harder to gain traction and find an audience. Bankruptcies, bankruptcies everywhere.
More specifically, what can I do about it? What tools do I have to affect change? What can our audience of tens of thousands of listeners do in response? So, that’s where I’m at right now as I write this blog.
And then an email from Morning Brew pops in my email reminding me that 20 years ago Fight Club debuted in theaters. We all remember the first rule of Fight Club, right? We don’t talk about Fight Club. 20 years ago today, Tyler Durden was introduced to the world on the silver screen. The movie is a bizarre romp that has amassed a cult following in the years following its theatrical debut thanks to DVD, and later, streaming.
The central premise is that the protagonist, The Narrator (Jack), is repeatedly encouraged to break out of the monotony of his everyday life. He’s challenged to reinvent himself. Everything he knows and cares about is lost. Including that ‘respectable wardrobe’. He’s faced with his own mortality and his own shallow consumerism. Eventually, his own exploration of his limits journey outside of himself and he aligns to a larger cause: Project Mayhem - erasing the private and public debts of the masses through coordinated bombing attacks and domestic terrorism.
When we meet him, Jack is incomplete because his completeness is defined in what he owns.
Through Project Mayhem he hopes to reboot modern society and give the world a fresh start. To “go back to zero”, to start over. The idea that the rules of Fight Club remain a cultural touchstone 20 years later is amazing. But the central premise (the bombings) which opens and closes the movie is itself fascinating.
We’ve spent the last 4 issues of INSIDERS musing on where we’re going as a society and how commerce is evolving. We have touched broadly on subjects like:
- How we need to be closer to our customers, how to provide a better customer experience.
- Trustwashing and Wokewashing and how brands should approach social issues.
- Broader, thornier, topics like privacy issues and surveillance, and the Attention Economy.
- Manipulation and coercion and dark patterns.
- And most recently in INSIDERS #009, Brian wondered if consumption is now all of our jobs, and that our modern economy depends on it now more than ever.
I realize that this may be heavy and unexpected considering that the central theme around Future Commerce has historically been tech-centered and generally positive, giving insight to brands on how to influence the sale. But we’ve also felt a responsibility to counterbalance 3 years of that messaging by asking if we’re headed in the right direction - if we’re better off for the past 15 years of fast fashion and A/B testing, and smartphones, and Google and Facebook?
And there are more and more people calling for a time out - like a voice in the wilderness - a veritable John the Baptist moment is happening. People like Jenny Odell, Shoshanna Zuboff, Nir Eyal, and Greta Thunberg. Some may even argue it’s time to press the reset button.
In one of the most memorable scenes of Fight Club, Durden says to Jack:
The things you own end up owning you.
The Tyler Durden Philosophy of Life scene is a powerful statement on modern consumer culture - and it has never been truer today - though the movie took place prior to 9/11, smartphones, Google, and Facebook. [Suggested reading: Amusing Ourselves to Death]
Reboot: Taking Control
Operating under the assumption that there is a problem - what can we do about it? What can we do to inject mindfulness into brands? Do we blow up the system and start over? Not at all.
The Future Commerce Manifesto is this: commerce connects people. Commerce is vital to our existence and to participate in community and society. Therefore, people deserve to participate in society and community without the influence or control of systems and platforms that use subversive and manipulative techniques to persuade them. These techniques can be as overt as Trustwashing or can be as subversive as dark patterns (like confirm shaming).
Consumers should have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Consumers should have a reasonable expectation to choose to not be surveilled. Consumers should be treated as people, rather than purchases. Not all interactions must drive towards the sale. Not all marketing needs to build FOMO.
This is our mounting philosophy: modern brands draw a line in the sand and play the long game with the customer: this is a lifetime relationship. Customer Lifetime Value happens over the lifetime of the relationship with the customer, not the number that changes in Power BI or Google Analytics.
As you’ve heard on the podcast recently there are brands who are striving to create communities and perform social good. Here is a list of a few brands who we are tracking that are doing things the hard way, to create change in the world:
- Christy Dawn, a Los Angeles-based clothier who uses reclaimed deadstock fabric to make dresses, and pays regional workers a fair wage.
- Feit, a shoe manufacturer who uses only natural materials (cork, rubber) and handmade construction, recently unveiled a care, wear, repair, donate campaign to encourage customers to care for their products.
- Flex, a women’s wellness company focused on menstruation products, who recently cut their profit margin to make the product more accessible to their customers
- Noissue, a packaging manufacturer who creates
compostable mailers for DTC brands
- Good On You, an app maker who rates the social consciousness of brands based on their environmental, human, and animal impacts.
Each one of these brands are prioritizing people over profits, helping consumers find healthier or more sustainable alternatives, and encouraging them to live life outside of the next sale. This is how we fight back. This is how we hit reset. If the things we own end up owning us then let those values be virtues that affect positive change in this world.
Future Commerce is committed to the exchange of ideas that lead to future-altering outcomes. With our platform, we’re helping to elevate brands who are using their most powerful tool - commerce - to bring about the change they wish to see in the world. After all, the most effective way of predicting the future is to make the future. In this way, we can erase the effects of the past 20 years of manipulation, fear, control, and persuasion. We can bring about a new age. One, in the words of Jack, where we’re reset to zero.
We’re currently working on a list of brands to watch to be released with our new website. If you’d like to contribute drop us a line by clicking this link.