It’s about time to relegate the phrase “mass market” to the trash heap of such bygone terms as “smoking section,” “leaded fuel,” and “nonpartisan.” 

It’s passé. At best, it’s hard-capped at 70% of the population. 

There may be exceptions – like utilities – where brand doesn’t matter. Or true unicorns like McDonald’s or the tech giants, who reach enough of America to establish herd immunity. 

Everyone else I can think of has to pick their tribe. Appealing to everybody appeals to nobody. So, either choose your followers or they will choose you.

We once did a study for a tech device company to identify music artists for a marketing campaign they were planning. We found that their customers aligned with what I would characterize as “middle-class” celebs – not the avant-garde, hip personalities they expected (or hoped for). 

The client CMO hated it – incredulously. Their customers weren’t who they wanted them to be. The assumptions they made about their brand – at least how it landed in the real world – were wrong. The quantity of customers didn’t matter to them, because the quality was undesirable.

That’s bad business.

For contrast, look at a company like Barstool Sports. You might not know much about them – you might not have even heard of them – and I don’t think they care. 

Or, you may know them and hate them. They don’t care about that either. They use detractors as fodder to garner even more rabid support among their fans. Barstool is obsessively focused, consistent, and unapologetic – if abrasive.

It’s the same strategy that won a presidential election in 2016.

If I told you the chart below showed a company that more than quadrupled in value over the past couple years, you’d think I was delusional. But it’s true.

So how do they do it? 

Because Barstool fans or “Stoolies” are so loyal, they buy everything the company sells, from media content to events to merchandise to a sports betting app to cocktail mixes. A simple pizza review video can garner nearly 3 million viewers – more than most TV shows.

Once you’ve manufactured enough loyalty, you can do no wrong. 

Tribe trumps all, pun intended.   

In an increasingly fragmented, distrusting, brands-as-aesthetic world, that’s the future of consumer marketing, in my not-so-humble opinion. Know your customer, be unyielding in your authenticity, and sell them everything you possibly can. 

Politics aside, that’s good business. 

This is what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence is a hot mess. To say we’ve never seen this kind of divergence in our key economic metrics before is a profound understatement. For a decade, the lines all basically flowed in a similar pattern – and now our chart is “K-shaped” in the truest sense. The booming job market can’t offset concerns about the housing market and, increasingly, other major purchases. Price and inventory are straining all kinds of large item categories. The line I’ll be watching closest in the coming months is the green one. If people start spending beyond their means to keep up with inflation, it will catch up to us.  

Nonetheless, consumers are still sitting on tons of money to spend, and restaurants are poised to benefit. A new high-water mark of 76% of Americans are comfortable dining out right now, a full 10% jump over the past month. Comfort shopping in stores is nearly 85%. One notable blip is that the number of Americans who say they feel safe traveling has actually fallen 10% in the past week – due, we believe, to concern about the COVID variants in some parts of the country and world. No surprise, politics still matter. See for yourself.

Most women think their significant other could dress better. This study was primarily about the fact that 41% of Americans say they need new clothes. Wardrobe updates are in greatest need among Gen Xers. Additionally, the group who was most likely to have already purchased more clothes this summer than usual are heavily influenced by social media. But I thought the chart below was the standout of the story.



Meanwhile, when it comes to activewear, Amazon is the most popular place to buy. I have to say this study surprised me – at least in terms of how Amazon and Walmart lead the category. Sporting goods retailers are still the most popular among men, but men don’t even know the difference between activewear, leisurewear, and athleisure – so I’m not sure how much our opinion really matters on the subject. 

Half of American parents think their kids have fallen behind academically and the income gap is a real problem. Sorry to bury what is arguably the most important insight we uncovered this week – I just got stuck on a consumer spending and clothes tangent. But this shit is serious. An even 50% of parents think their kids are lagging in school because of the pandemic and it jumps much higher among lower income families. To make matters less equitable, these families aren’t able to support their kids with tutors or enrichment classes this summer. COVID-borne inequality has barely even begun to rear its ugly head.

    We did a handful of far less serious – but fun and interesting studies this week:

  • Americans love pasta, especially spaghetti, especially red sauce, and especially Barilla;
  • I should have realized because Noelle is a big Pinterest user, but I was surprised to learn that Pinterest is most popular among the teen, TikTok crowd;
  • Here’s everything you ever needed to know about how people do laundry and what they care about when they’re doing it;
  • Yet another in a long line of parallels between Gen X and Gen Z is the latter’s love for Jeep.

Here go your most popular questions this week:

Answer Key: Bartender and it isn’t even close; A good while, actually; Tough one but vodka, over dark rum by a nose; Sure, why not?; Bourbon. 

Hoping you’re well.

JD