Thank you for sticking around for 100 issues of this newsletter. I can't wait to show you what's next. To get a sneak peek at our newest consumer research reporting, sign up for the advance copy of Nine by Nine, which is launching soon.
Manifestation. Prophesying. Calling things into being.
Whatever you call it, when we launched this email newsletter some 100 weeks ago, we did so with the idea that we were outsiders looking in. We wanted to be Insiders. What we discovered while writing this newsletter for over two years now was that being an insider comes with a distinct disadvantage.
Five years ago we started a podcast as veritable outsiders in the "retail" industry. That podcast, Future Commerce, quickly scaled to 10,000 listeners and became a decent little side hustle.
For Future Commerce, our greatest strength in the retail media industrial complex is that we're not part of the retail media industrial complex.
Looking back, calling this newsletter Insiders was an attempt to manifest destiny, to try to convince others that we were worthy of being given attention.
In the journey of writing a weekly piece, we found that the discipline of writing a deep-dive on a frequent basis caused us to shore up our own positions on complex subjects. It required our own examination of the role of media and commerce in the culture, and how we're contributing to the problems and solutions. It required research and planning and a team, which has grown to 11 people.
But most of all it required grit.
Below are three pieces that I feel are as meaningful today as the day they were published.
#3: On Replica Sneakers and the Value of Art (Insiders #013)
In this piece from 2019, Brian proposes is that there are two "truths" to economic value: function, and quality. A third function may supersede rational economic value models: art.
Art—and the collector's connection to the artist—can create irrational valuations when expressed in monetary terms. Framed art is valued more than the sum of the cost of goods sold (the paint, the canvas, the frame) and the labor associated with making the piece. The valuation of a piece of art is not subject to COGS analyses or margin calculations.
Today, design is also art. And there is no commercial product that exists that isn't designed. So, to some, products become pieces of art that are worthy of collecting or speculative investing. Brian predicted the NFT markets two years before they exploded, but examining the replica sneaker market:
In Brian's words:
In the same way that a child’s piece of art is more valuable to those who care about the child, a certain few may find that the product from a brand solves a problem in such a way that they’re willing to pay more to acquire it. If that product is scarce or hard to obtain, or available in limited quantities, then by virtue of economics the demand outstrips the supply and its economic value is driven up.
I wouldn’t worry that much about copies. First, knockoff sneakers are hot at the moment because there is a thrill in being perceived as owning something that is scarce. They offer a subversive connection back to the original art. If Nike didn’t exist, neither would the reps.
Rational irrationality. Brand is art.
#2: The New Dada: Absurdism, Maximalism, and the Generational Divide (Insiders #045)
In the summer of social justice and in the midst of a pandemic, Brian and I co-authored a piece about what we saw happening in the culture. The cultural awareness of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery coincided with growing absurdism in social media, music, art, and consumer brands.
That coincident reaction at that moment in time lacked a name. We called it The New Dadaism.
The Dadaist movement of the early 1900s was a reaction to the logic and aestheticism of pre-World War I society. The early movement used art as a medium of subversion. It used nonsense and irrationality to make statements about society, in art—the medium that high society often used to flex its high-class intellectualism.
Brands like MSCHF, KFC, and Liquid Death are modern Dadaists. The piece is still highly relevant and a great example of Future Commerce giving language and context to existing phenomena.
From the piece:
Naturally, we begin to see a trend toward Maximalism. The collection of trinkets and knick-knacks from our former travels into The Outside are now trophies of a former life. We’ll begin to declutter less, and horde more, and it will melange into a mix-matched collage, purposely, ironically, clashing. Move over nordic minimalism, enter American Maximalism. As we spend more time in our homes, images of our maximalist homes will replace images of our travels on Instagram. Maximalism is a reaction, and brands are here to help you.
#1: Meet C.A.R.L.Y. (Insiders #018)
The pièce de résistance of Future Commerce thought leadership. Our psychographic of the young consumer who talks in memes, is socially conscious, and shares her purchasing power with roommates or caregivers, is the one that put us on the map.
C.A.R.L.Y. (Can't Afford Real Life Yet) is a natural reaction to the popularization of the H.E.N.R.Y. psychographic (High Earner, Not Rich Yet). CARLY has been featured in Buzzfeed, GQ, WWD, and El País.
The piece was authored in December 2019 in reaction to lines at the mall outside of the Crocs store. The product being purchased was the Post Malone X Crocs collaboration that featured a delightfully absurd, and uglier-than-usual, Croc, retailing for a scant $35. The line outside the store was a familiar sight for the generation that grew up watching drop culture form in lines outside Supreme. But while the actions were similar, the customer was a different creature altogether
Had you purchased Crocs stock on the date that the essay was written, you could have realized a nearly 4X return on that investment. And you'd better do something. Because, if Jerome Powell is wrong and inflation isn't transitory, in the end, we're all CARL-E.
From the article:
And we must do it in an affordable, accessible way. After all, CARLY is young and has very little of her own money to spend. If we do that today, in 20 years’ time we may have fostered a relationship that grows with her and matures into a generational customer relationship, making the most successful of executors the new heritage brands of the 2030s and beyond.
After all, today at least, CARLY can’t afford real life… yet.
Eventually, CARLY will grow up and become more conservative, as generations before her have done. She'll settle down, buy a house, adopt a dog or cat. Understanding CARLY isn't nearly as important as understanding human beings.
Why Future Commerce matters, 100 essays later
Mere awareness of the consumer brands that experience the network effects of a generation coming into the greatest spending power ever known to mankind is only one way to generate opportunity.
However, understanding the personhood of the customer on the other side of the transaction will help you to build goods and services to help them live a better life.
This is the core of what Future Commerce is all about.