Social makes a hard push to get into the entertainment game with mixed results. Influencers aren’t always influencers. And most important of all, everyone’s favorite cheap tacos are coming back to Austin. All this and more in the latest edition of the Trend Report!
Turns out, maybe smartphones aren’t the end of civilization.
A few weeks ago, this article from The Atlantic made the rounds on social media, and a bunch of parents’ heads blew up. The basic premise is that smartphones have turned teens into neurotic, conflict-averse, listless sociopaths who are one snarky Instagram comment away from ending it all — a dire state of affairs, to be sure. Only, Buzzfeed’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown says it’s a bunch of malarkey. Apparently the author of The Atlantic piece, Jean M. Twenge, has a long history of promoting this sort of alarmist generational analysis. Brown accuses Twenge of cherry picking her data to back up her sensationalist claims. Brown’s point is that maybe we should spend some time trying to understand Gen Z (or whatever they end up being called) instead of maligning them for being different than the generations that came before them. Brown isn’t the only one to question Twenge’s conclusions. She cites several academics and psychologists who take issue with her assumptions. In fact, a large body of evidence exists to suggest the opposite: teens are as happy as they ever were, and rates for smoking, unprotected sex, car accidents, alcohol use and teen pregnancies are lower than in generations past. Look, being a teen-ager is hard, y’all. And no one’s going to just wipe away everything that makes it that way by locking up kids’ phones. I mean, how are you going to track their every movement then?
Why do we care?
This is a mobile world. And don’t teens know it. Entertainment, news and, yes, social interaction are all moving to platforms best viewed on handheld devices. The paradigm is shifting. And it’s our job, rather than recoiling in horror, to learn from the new generation. Teens have driven major cultural shifts from the labor movement to music production to DIY publishing to activism to scientific breakthroughs, and it’s going to take more than a tiny computer phone to fell them. In fact, they’re likely to find more innovative uses for it than anyone else.
Have a brand? That’s Entertainment!
People love being entertained. (Just look at our president.) But let’s face it — people don’t much like being advertised to while they’re being entertained. And with the advent of mid-roll, there are more opportunities than ever to frustrate users who’ve become accustomed to ad-free entertainment. But there’s a solution. More and more brands are making their ads the entertainment itself, rather than merely an add-on. And it’s not just about making long-form, cinematic ads. With an unprecedented number of touchpoints available, brands are racing to tailor content to the relevant medium. Forbes cites airline safety videos as one unconventional venue for expressing brand voice. But it doesn’t stop there. If you’ve ever been to an interactive conference, you’ve seen your share of righteous swag from tech companies. But now the big brands are getting into the game. Smartphone speakers with your McFlurry anyone? McDonald’s has turned their cardboard cup holders into a low-tech amplifier and speakers for your phone. (At one location. In Canada.) Still! The point is that today’s consumers are as savvy as ever. So why not make something they actually want to experience.
Why do we care?
Everyone’s jumping into the content game. Production and management companies like Shots Studio are inventing the playbook for harnessing the influence of YouTube creators, but the field is wide open. And with Snap’s Discover and Facebook’s Watch challenging YouTube for original programming supremacy, there’s plenty of distribution available for publishers and creators alike. This gives brands an opportunity not only for developing partnerships but for creating content of their own. Just don’t go overboard. No one wants another Poochie.
Speaking of Snapchat...
Is the camera-app-cum-content-platform going to be big media’s salvation? Turns out, of all the entertainment companies vying for relevance in Snapchat’s Discover feed, NBC has established an early beachhead, finding a ready audience for its Snapchat-only news show “Stay Tuned.” In fact, the short-form show, which airs twice daily plus occasional breaking news segments, has garnered more than 29 million views in its first month on the platform. Those are network numbers, and they signify the first real glimmer of hope that this new distribution channel can be a win for big media.
Why do we care?
The networks have been losing ground for years. But the assumption has always been that teens and millennials don’t connect with the kind of mainstream entertainment the networks have to offer. NBC may have cracked the code. Mobile is absolutely central to the way that young people interact with content, and the sooner big media realizes that, the sooner it can figure out a strategy for staying relevant. And big numbers mean that original programming on social could actually turn into the kind of bonanza that brands and publishers have been looking for. This is great news for Facebook and Snapchat as they prepare to launch scripted content in the coming months. Word on the street is that video series on Facebook are already garnering significant engagement ahead of Watch’s full rollout. Sounds like it’s time to get together that pitch for my animated series “Roast Beef and Cheese” about an Arby’s sandwich named Roast Beef and his adorable puppy sidekick Cheese. What’s that? Right. I’ll show myself the door.
Gusty winds may exist.
Out in New Mexico, along the I-40 mountain pass that winds its way into Albuquerque, there’s a road sign that reads “Gusty winds may exist.” Every time I see it, I go into an existential tailspin. I’m pretty certain that gusty winds exist. In fact, I’d probably swear that they do. I have, myself, experienced them. But what if they don’t? What if I’ve somehow been duped by my own senses? It’s the same question we should be asking ourselves when we hire influencers on Instagram. Except in this case, it isn’t our own senses that are doing the duping — it’s con artists. Everyone knows that Instagram is lousy with fake accounts. But with the influencer market growing (influencer marketing company Mediakix expects it to hit $2 billion by 2019), some savvy players are using those fake likes and comments to grab some of those brand dollars.
Why do we care?
No one likes being swindled. And while big brands may be able to absorb the costs of a few bogus influencer campaigns, smaller brands can’t. Luckily, Forbes has some advice on how to recognize those fake accounts that are aiming to qualify for influencer status. If the account has tons of followers but low engagement, you’ve got a red flag. It also matters how long they’ve been around. Did they just set up the account but already have thousands of followers? Maybe do some extra investigating. If there’s one maxim about the digital age that holds true, it’s that as soon as something new is introduced, someone will figure out how to manipulate it. There have always been con artists. But in a world of avatars and bitmoji, where you can repurpose as many photos as you want with a couple of mouse clicks, it’s easier than ever to create an alias and use fake profiles to legitimize it. How long will it be until the majority of internet traffic is just bots talking to each other? Maybe Baudrillard was right.
WHAT’S NEW IN PLATFORM UPDATES?
EXTREME FACEBOOK MAKEOVER
Facebook really likes its Messenger app. So much so, that it’s redesigning the entire site experience to look and behave more like it. You’ve probably already received announcements about the move to circular profile pictures. (I have.) The new look will also feature Messenger-style word balloons in the comments. Probably the most jarring change will be Facebook’s trademark blue bar shifting in places to a pale gray. The goal is to make the entire site experience feel more like a conversation. That’s all well and good, but with circular profile pictures, what’s going to happen to this guy.
STAY ON TARGET
Facebook is testing out a way of letting stores target ads to their IRL visitors. The updated Custom Audience tab lets advertisers select “Store Visits” as a targeting option. The feature takes advantage of the Location Services feature and allows stores to better focus their marketing to people who’ve already showed an interest by actually going there. It’s also a good opportunity to offer discounts or special offers to loyal customers. By the way, if you’re reading this and thinking, “Wait, Facebook knows which stores I go to?” then, you should probably look at this.
COMMENT THREADS, FINALLY
Remember when Slack introduced comment threads and suddenly you didn’t have 30 comments about “Blue’s Clues” scattered throughout the general feed? I do. I remember that. That was a great day. And then you’d log on to Instagram and try to read a comment thread that had four different conversations interspersed within a single column, and you’d think, “Come on, Instagram. Get it together.” Well, they finally did. As of August 15, you can reply to a specific comment, and the thread will be indented to the right. Considering Instagram is owned by Facebook, which introduced a similar feature quite a while ago, it’s kind of a miracle that it took this long. And by the way, Steve’s fine, y’all, so everybody can get back to work.
WHO’S DOING COOL STUFF?
NOT THE EMOJI MOVIE
Emojis. Those cheeky little rascals that seem to sum up all of our thoughts with a smile or a wink (until you’re like, wait, there’s an emoji for fish cake but not guacamole? Those crazy Japanese). Their economy and versatility have taken communication to new places, and it seems like there’s no story they can’t tell. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some stories that maybe they shouldn’t tell. Like, for instance, the systematic disenfranchisement of women and their subjugation at the hands of a repressive state. Probably not the appropriate arena for a winking smiley face. Right? Well, apparently no one told that to The Emoji Movie. Apparently, if you’re The Emoji Movie (or at least if you’re on its social media management team), you think, You know what would be a great parody? What if we took the poster image from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and stuck a heavily mascaraed smiley face in it and called it “The Emoji’s Tale?” And then, apparently, no one tells you, “No, don’t do that; that’s a horrible idea,” because sure enough, that’s exactly what showed up on The Emoji Movie’s Twitter account the day of its premiere. But if nobody had the foresight to recognize how colossally tone deaf and offensive the idea was beforehand, never fear: plenty of people stepped up to let them know afterward. The movie already had its critics (clocking a devastating 7% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes), but now it can add “historically bad marketing gaffe” to its list of failures. Ironic for a project that exists almost entirely for the sake of marketing. Now if only we could all find something that would get this foul taste out of our mouths. Oh wait. Oh...just, never mind. SMDH.
Speaking of the systematic disenfranchisement of women, any guesses as to the percentage of women in the visual arts? What about the percentage of women’s art in permanent collections? The first answer isn’t that surprising: 51 percent. About the same as the percentage of women in the overall population. The second answer is...disproportionate. Five percent. Five percent of the art in permanent collections was made by women. LifeWTR has made it their mission to call attention to this discrepancy with a campaign called “Art By a Woman.” To launch the campaign, they set up a wall outside Lincoln Center with blank frames where the art should have been. A video about the launch asked the question “What if half of the world’s artwork went missing?” and then answered, “It already is.” Spectators were led through a doorway to the other side of the wall, which was completely covered with art made by women. The contrast is stirring. The activation also includes bottles custom-designed by female artists and a call to action for other women to tag their art with #artbyawoman. And in addition to the campaign, LifeWTR has organized workshops and other resources for women artists. Art is far from the only industry where women are underrepresented (Ahem, I’m looking at you, tech), but the arts are notoriously underfunded, and if PepsiCo (who owns LifeWTR) wants to hand a bunch of money and resources to women artists, I say have at it. They just probably shouldn’t let Niki de Saint Phalle design any of the bottles.
COOL STUFF AUSTIN EDITION: OUR TACO HOUSE CO-OP
For those of you reading this from afar, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you probably never had the chance to sit on the cement steps of the Tamale House #3 on Airport Boulevard and wait for some of the most legendary comfort food that Austin ever knew. Whether it was the 85¢ breakfast tacos, the humongous helpings of queso-drenched migas with cheese or (my personal favorite) the Frito salad with potatoes and guacamole, Tamale House kept hungover Austinites happy and full for over 36 years. When owner Robert Vasquez died in 2014, the community took quite a hit, and it looked like we’d be saying goodbye to the Airport Tamale House forever. But every taco cloud has a soft, pillowy tortilla lining. In this case, some of Vasquez’s former employees have decided to continue his tradition (and his recipes) of cheap, to-go Mexican food by establishing a taco co-op. Tamale House stalwarts Shirley Trevino and Raquel Banda have banded together with Bryan Lawhorn, a veteran of Wheatsville Co-op, to establish an employee-owned taco house. They’ve secured a location on N. Loop, just blocks away from the original TH3 location, and plan to open in May 2018. I wouldn’t be surprised if the line started forming months in advance. Everyone else has their iPhone 8, but here in Austin, we have Our Taco House Co-op. ¡Viva los tacos!
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