MSP42: LIFE AS WE KNOW IT

 Original Images: Pixabay. Glitched by Kulturpop.

Original Images: Pixabay. Glitched by Kulturpop.

MSP42: LIFE AS WE KNOW IT

Are we heading for a one world order of powerful corporations? Will commercial brands dictate the popular culture of the future? It might not be what you expect. It’s time to Mattsplain.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

As the world becomes increasingly wired, we often hear that culture is becoming more uniform and homogenised. Are we really heading for a one world order? Someone who’s not sure, but is pretty certain that it may not be the one world we imagine, is Kulturpop’s Matt Armitage. It’s time he Mattsplained.

 

Is it true you’ve had Jeff locked up for the crime of sarcasm?

·      In a fake news world those of us with power can bend the judiciary to our will.

·      Last week, Jeff said some horrible things about me. They may have been true but I choose to call them untrue.

·      So, he’s way this week: I’ve had him locked up for a week to teach him to be more polite.

 

I assume this has some link to the show?

·      You know what they say about assuming.

·      But yes, there is a link. 

·      Nobody seems to know which way is up, right now. 

·      True is false. Green on red. Orange is not the only fruit.

·      We are living in this weird and uncertain age where no one knows the rules.

·      It’s like we’re futuristic and medieval at the same time.

·      On social media, our lives are there for everyone to see. 

·      But IRL we’re walled up in castles, behind all kinds of physical and mental barriers.

 

How is this leading us to a one world order?

·      Conspiracy fans are more than familiar with the new world order.

·      That’s not what we’re talking about today.

·      As you mentioned in the intro, people are starting to wonder whether Digital technology is actually pushing us towards more singular vision of the world around us, rather than allowing us to share and celebrate the differences of cultures around the world.

 

We’re talking Amazon and Facebook, rather than a sinister plot to take over the world?

·      Precisely. Strange thing is, it’s possible that they could end up being same thing.

·      No conspiracy, but power still concentrated amongst a handful of companies by virtue of their size.

·      We did a show on Amazon and a few weeks back, in the company really is poised to become this global trade monolith.

·      Along with the Alibaba group based in China, these two companies are starting to carve out a niche for themselves where almost all of our trade touches them at some point.

·      Whether it’s an online payment, an app using cloud services or something we buy, it’s quite incredible the number of the companies and products we use in our daily lives that have some direct or indirect connection to companies like Amazon and Alipay.

 

But you’re not sure that this is where the future is heading?

·      A lot of today’s show was actually a bit of a thought experiment.

·      Usually when I do these shows I’m quoting from lots of sources, or at the very least a couple of websites.

·      A lot of them to talk about today’s conjecture. 

·      That’s one of the best things about futurism, you look at the information you have today, he hope that you handle on what’s going to happen tomorrow and use that to project or predict what’s going to happen in 10 or 50 or 100 years time.

·      So I can’t cite any particular studies to back up what I’m about to say, 

·      but if I’m on track, I think a lot of people Will be researching this very soon.

 

Where are we heading?

·      I don’t think people are wrong when they talk about a monoculture of the future.

·      I think where they get hungup is in terms of what that monoculture Will be.

 

That’s definitely going to need more explaining…

·      Which I’m more than happy to do.

·      We got to pull a 20 minute show out of a vague and not yet fully formed notion in my head.

·      Explaining’s all I’ve got.

·      When we talk about a culture, we’re often talking about Western influence consumer culture.

·      So we tend to mean McDonald’s and Coke and Levi’s and Nike.

·      Cultural commentators like to talk in terms that are these are the symbols that brought down the Iron Curtain in the 1980s.

 

Which is a simplistic generalisation of a whole host of factors that ended European Communism…

·      Well, but we probably won’t get into that: we’ve got 20 minutes to fill not two weeks.

·      And certainly, when the Russian economy was in freefall immediately after Gorbachev stepped down, Levi’s and Nike and Coke and certain cigarette brands became part of a barter economy alongside black-market US dollars.

·      It became a truism that the CIA shipped all those items into the country to shore up the economy, but you can believe what you want. 

·      Certainly, partly to do with the perception that they helped bring freedom to the world - I think people like us, that 80s generation have a very different opinion of those brands compared to the generations that have come after us.

 

Do you remember your first McDonald’s?

·      This is the weird thing. We’re both English.

·      A lot of people, especially here in Asia, might assume that we had all those brand symbols floating around just as commonly as the US did.

·      I think I would have been maybe nearly 10 years old when I had my first McDonald’s.

·      That was on a trip to Greenwich in London, although for the life of me I can’t remember why.

·      My association with McDs was from the cartoon ads on TV.

·      I remember one Xmas we asked for Hamburglar dolls. If that means nothing to you, google it.

·      The toys were stronger icons to us in the late 70s and early 80s than the food was.

·      And it took a long time for them to penetrate somewhere as culturally remote as my village in Norfolk. 

 

Rich can pitch in with something insulting about Norfolk

·      That’s kind of the point. Even in the 1980s, those brands were still working hard to penetrate the grey and monochrome culture of post-1970s UK.

·      The town I grew up in has no McDonald’s or Starbucks to this day.

·      The neighbouring town King’s Lynn got its first McDs in the late 80s or early 90s.

·      My nephew, who was brought up in the same village I grew up in, didn’t have his first Starbucks till a couple of years ago.

·      When I was a kid, we had Dunlop Green Flash not Nikes. 

·      There was one shop in the town that sold Levis.

 

To a lot of our listeners the 1980s might as well have been the Dark Ages.

·      Ok, to give it some context.

·      We had personal computers and video games. 

·      So it may be weird for listeners to imagine that there was a time when you could play Space Invaders but not eat a Big Mac.

·      Air travel to Europe was common by then, but the US was still this magical, faraway place.

 

Disneyland?

·      Exactly. The only really heard about people going to the United States to go to places like Disneyland.

·      That idea of jumping on the redeye to go to a meeting in New York was only in its infancy.

·      Where I live, it was a big deal if you drove for an hour to somewhere like Cambridge.

·      Doing that was enough to get you marked at school as being a posho.

 

Yet it’s only 20 or 30 years ago…

·      We’re only talking 20 or 30 years: America was still this magical place.

·      I’ve never been a Disney fan, so it was always the neon and road signs, the diners and the highways that fascinated me. 

·      Obviously, if your recollection is different feel free to say.

·      But America to us, me. My friends, my siblngs, was something that only happened on TV.

 

Rich Replies.

 

How is this leading us to the monoculture? And what does it have to do with the future?

·      Because we had this vision of these brands being permanent, cemented into our lives.

·      And that may well be true in the US.

·      But for people in the rest of the world, these brands were not something we had easy access to, they were aspirational in only the vaguest terms.

·      That they are now so rooted into our lives is a relatively recent phenomenon.

·      When you mention the franchise A&W to any Malaysian over the age of say 35, you’d better sit down…

·      You are about to be on the receiving end of a 30 minute monologue that illustrates how frosted root beer floats were interwoven into the experiences of their teens.

·      That cultural influence is far stronger for them than McDonald’s or Burger King.

 

And that explains the monoculture how?

·      People have this idea of what the monoculture is going to be.

·      And part of that I think is down to the presence of big brands in science fiction movies.

·      There was that David Niccol movie on Netflix earlier this year, Anon, with Clive Owen.

·      In the movie augmented reality turned buildings into ad spaces that was personalised to you.

·      So we get the idea that these big brands are going to be the ones that lead us into that future, but I have a feeling that the future may be a little different.

·      More on which after the break.

 

Finally, after only 8 years of doing these shows, Matt Armitage has mastered the reveal. Stay with us for his anti-climactic return after this.

 

BREAK

 

Enough beating around the Brazilian. Why do you think that the big brands of today maybe heading away the sunshine?

·      Because nobody has any real idea how to communicate with gen-Z, the generation that has risen from the ashes of the Millennials 

·      Those guys are starting to reach data mining maturity – because that’s how our worth and value to society will be calculated in the future.

·      It goes back to what I was saying about living visible lives inside mediaeval castles.

·      This is the first generation that point blank refuses to let the marketers in.

 

Why do you think this will have an impact on today’s big brands?

·      We have this idea of trusted brands.

·      People will choose one brand of car over another not because it’s more exciting but because it’s more reliable.

·      Or it has a better resale value.

·      There are certain promises that we expect brands to fulfil. It’s part of the bargain: our money in exchange for the certain amount of style, design, utility and quality.

·      It’s part of how we calculate the value of that brand and where it fits into our life.

 

You see that changing?

·      We’re seeing a lot of direct cultural shifts, which I’ll get to in a little while.

·      So there have been all these warning signs for the last few years.

·      And I think what helped me bring all this stuff to gather was doing the king of the crowd section for Geeks Squawk.

·      For those of you who don’t tune into the show, shame on you. It’s really good. I do less talking.

·      King of the crowd is an item I do every week where I select a notable product or service from the crowdfunding sites and Jeff and I try to figure out what if anything is cool or interesting or ground breaking about it.

·      Crowdfunding sites are becoming increasingly mainstream.

·      A lot of product focused start-ups now use the crowdfunding model as their primary business model.

 

Because it allows them to bypass the middlemen: the physical and online retailers?

·      Precisely. And it’s really interesting for people like me because it’s transparent.

·      I can log onto a product page on kick starter and see precisely how many people have invested and what kind of sums the product or company has raised.

·      To get the same kind of information from Apple or Facebook would be far more complicated and time-consuming.

·      It’s also interesting to people like me because it’s a very direct way to assess new consumer trends.

 

You think the next Apple or Nike is going to come from a crowd-funding source?

·      No, because I think we’re looking at it the wrong way.

·      What’s interesting is the number of projects that are raising enormous sums of money.

·      Take for example the Tropic travel shoe, which I think was a KOTC a couple fo months ago.

·      To me they look like a generic version of Nike's Roshe Run series shoes.

·      They are marketed as a travel shoe because they have an aqua draining sole, you can use them for hiking and they look smart enough that most places will let you into eat dinner wearing them. 

·      With an early bird price – and remember that you’re cutting out the retail store which typically takes a 100% margin – of USD70 a pair plus shipping, they aren’t cheap.

·      To date, the Tropic shoe has raised of the US$3 million on the crowdfunding sites.

 

US$3 million is probably not going to worry Nike or Adidas.

·      It should. Look at it from another perspective.

·      If you walked into a sports store and saw two pairs of shoes, roughly the same price. Looked pretty similar.

·      One pair comes from Nike and the other comes from a company you have never heard of before.

·      Which do you buy?

 

Rich replies.

·      The Crowdfunding sites have turned that trust relationship around.

·      Or Rather, I think they’re an Avenue for people to demonstrate that that implicit trust is no longer there.

·      There a loads of similar examples on the crowdfunding sites, and also spread across social media feeds, that have raised millions of dollars, direct from consumers.

·      These are companies that have an idea or product, they don’t necessarily have an established brand pedigree, yet tens of thousands of people are willing to invest in them, and often wait months for the product come to market.

·      If we go back to your earlier question, $3 million is not going to worry Nike. B

·      ut if there are 10 projects like this and together they’re taking $20-$30 million out of the sports footwear market, that’s really something to get them worried.

 

You think the model is broken?

·      If not broken, then fundamentally changed. And still changing.

·      Billions of dollars of being spent every year through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

·      Those are billions of dollars that are being spent on start-ups rather than established companies.

·      Because a dollar spent on one thing, is a dollar not being spent on an alternative.

 

But you don’t see the Adidas of tomorrow emerging from the crowdfunding scene?

·      Not in the same way. I don’t think people are interested in the brands themselves in the same way that older generations are interested in Coca-Cola, for example.

·      There are people who spend their entire lives collecting coca-Cola memorabilia.

·      I can’t imagine the same thing happening to Tropic the travel shoe.

·      What we seeing is a change in the way people are buying products.

·      And a profound shift in the products that they’re buying.

 

And you think it’s generational?

·      Partly. I don’t have any hard data on the demographics of people purchasing through the crowdfunding sites.

·      But I’m imagining that a lot of those consumers are what we term as millennial and Gen-Z.

·      I think it goes hand-in-hand with the erosion of trust in civil and social institutions in general.

·      And that’s especially so for the generation Z. and I think technology has a lot to do with those changes.

 

Smartphones make you less brand loyal?

·      Smartphones make people less sarcastic. As Jeff is finding out. 

·      If you look at the differences between our generation, generation X and the millennials, the gaps between them are still relatively small.

·      In a sense, millennials have a foot in the predigital world and a foot in the digital world.

·      They’re post Internet and pre-smartphone, if you like.

·      Theirs was the bold experiment in living your life entirely in public view.

·      For marketers, they were and are a dream come true.

·      They’re highly social, They like to take pictures of themselves wearing or using whatever they’ve just bought .

·      And they still accept the idea that the world is built around brands like Coke and Pepsi, he added for balance.

 

And Gen Z

·      Same same but different.

·      Highly social. But not so interested in sharing with The world.

·      Look at the tail off of interest in open access sites like twitter and Facebook.

·      These guys are not so interested in universal communication.

·      They may have one feed that goes out to the world, say Instagram or Snapchat, everything else happens behind closed doors.

·      Buttoned-down messaging systems.

 

This is your patent pending bubble system?

·      If only. I’d be rich, I tell you. Rich. But I’m not and you’re Rich.

·      Bubbles is right – that’s how I explained it to a friend recently. 

·      Millennials and Gen Z are the first generation to essentially live inside protective bubbles.

·      With millennials those bubbles are perforated. They allow communication with the old world.

·      Gen Z, those bubbles are entirely closed. It’s like there’s a self-sustaining ecosystem inside them.

·      I wouldn’t call it an echo chamber though, I think they’re far smarter than that.

 

So they don’t believe in brands?

·      They don’t believe that anyone is telling them the truth.

·      They are as sceptical of large companies and global brands as they are of news organisations and politicians.

·      There is a social awareness and activist component to this as well, although it’s hard to make a case that that’s enough to have a global impact.

·      The most important thing is that they don’t listen.

·      This is the world of artisan beard oil, home-made cosmetics, and unknown sneaker companies. 

·      It’s unicorn shakes. It’s things that are quick consumption and designed for sharing. 

 

Is this back to your uncertainty principle?

·      Yes, indeed.

·      Technology and trends are moving so rapidly that these guys are living in a world without certainties.

·      What we have to get our head around is the fact this doesn’t particularly worry them.

·      This is their normal.

·      Big companies have spent billions of dollars and decades to build their brands.

·      And this is the first generation that genuinely doesn’t care.

·      The generation that’s actually more interested in the product and its provenance than in the producer.

 

How is this driving us towards a one world order?

·      Because it goes back to what I was saying right to the very start of the show.

·      There are very few companies aren’t in some way touched by Amazon, Alibaba or another giant logistics group.

·      You could quite easily transfer kickstarter’s business model onto Amazon.com.

·      Amazon doesn’t really care where do products come from, it’s only interested in shifting volumes.

·      And if anything, dealing with the tens of thousands of small players in Artisan or bespoke world, gives them much more power than if they dealing with big brands.

·      Amazon has to negotiate with big brands.

·      With small retailers it simply sets its terms. Take it or leave it.

·      That’s great for Amazon’s bottom line, and it’s also great for its power position.

 

Because it’s the only marketplace?

·      And that how I think we end up with a commercial monoculture. 

·      Because access to that retail and cultural gateway can be controlled.

 

Isn’t the crowdfunding model a demonstration of independence?

·      I think that’s the part that people overlook.

·      These massive online retailers are actually about infrastructure.

·      May be able to sell your product independently, but how do you get the product to customers if the shipping and courier companies are owned by the Amazons of the world.

·      Who hosts your retail site and payment gateway?

·      What cloud does your app sit on?

·      That’s I mean by these companies having a finger in every part of the transaction pie.

 

Should we fear it?

·      You should say anything that give someone or some company unchecked power.

·      It’s ironic that anti-consumer sentiment could lead to the creation of these global trade dominators.

·      But It shouldn’t be that surprising. We’re living in a world where the social algebra is failing.

·      Where the answer to what’s 2+2 changes on a daily basis.

 

Where’s the hope in that?

·      The very unpredictability of these brand new generations of humans is our best hope.

·      They have been forced to evolve and adapt socially far faster than any generation before them.

·      Maybe that means everything will go boom.

·      But I’ve got a feeling that that adaptability, that the capacity to deal with uncertainty and change Will enable them to make something very hard decisions about the future that my generation, our generation, has singularly failed to do.