I had two imaginary friends when I was little.

No, not like this one

For the record, I had real friends too, even though my dad used to joke that he had to hang a raw steak around my neck so the dog would play with me. He was the best. 

We lived on a cul-de-sac in an otherwise unremarkable, middle-class, suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood, with lots of kids around my vintage. We could wrangle a five-on-five game of anything – football, street hockey, capture the flag – at a moment’s notice. And we did, seemingly every day. 

If I wasn’t eating, sleeping, reading Hardy Boys books or crushing on Nicole Eggert on Charles in Charge, I was in that cul-de-sac, from dusk ‘til dawn. But that didn’t ramp up until I was old enough to play outside, unsupervised – call it 8 or so. 

Before that, I often had to imagine my own fun. My sister is six years older, so we weren’t exactly playmates. I didn’t own an Atari 2600, which I’m still bitter about, and cartoons were only on Saturday mornings. I had occasional real companions, but that required parental coordination, and parents of Gen Xers weren’t particularly proactive about scheduling playdates. “Playdate” wasn’t in the vernacular. 

So, I invented two friends, Nicholas and Bethany – at least I assume that’s how they spelled them, I never really asked. They were brother and sister. Twins. 

We spent hours playing cards (I always won), making movies (I was always the hero), and anything else I could think of. I may have also had a crush on Bethany, but don’t tell Nicholas. He was really good at karate.

They lived in my dad’s green liquor cabinet. And if that isn’t a stellar bit of life foreshadowing, I don’t know what is. To this day, some of my best friends live in the liquor cabinet – like Tito and Jose. My dad was a dark rum aficionado, but kept a bottle of Kahlua handy for the rare occasion when my mom drank.

It’s funny I can’t remember something from a meeting 15 minutes ago or why I drove to the store, but I can recall vivid details of imaginary friends from 40 years ago.

To be honest, I’m glad my brain held on to those things, regardless of what they’re crowding out today. Somebody else was probably taking notes in that meeting.

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence regressed over the past two weeks, just like I told you it would. In fairness, I (and our clients) do get to watch this tracking data every day, so it’s not like I went out on a limb. Still, I hope you didn’t interpret a few weeks of holiday-borne optimism as a lasting trend. COVID is raging, restaurant dining – especially above the Mason-Dixon line – is waning, and inflation isn’t as transitory as we were once told to expect. Confidence in making a major purchase took a particular hit because those Christmas credit card bills started landing. This too shall pass. Eventually.   

Brand loyalty is a major victim of COVID, supply shortages, and inflation. This is too important for me to capture in a couple pithy sentences, so you need to go read it for yourself. The CivicScientists published a crucial study showing how these forces are driving consumers away from their go-to brands and impacting spending. It focuses on the grocery store, but I can assure you it’s happening across the retail landscape. Run, don’t walk to that link (after you get to the bottom, of course). And if you want to see how it’s affecting your brand specifically, call me. 

Some Americans would rather just get COVID and move on. As Omicron concerns have reached new heights, a full 64% of Americans say they know one or more people who’ve been diagnosed with COVID in the past week, up from 57% a week ago – while a whopping 20% say they know more than five infectees. A sense of resignation appears to be emerging, with 1 in 10 U.S. adults saying they’d just as soon catch COVID and get it over with. Another almost-third say they’re not exactly psyched about catching COVID but wouldn’t be all that upset if they did. I’m not sure how you control a pandemic under those circumstances.

People are watching more and more influencers on TikTok and Instagram, for better or worse. The percentage of TikTok and Instagram users who follow a meaningful amount of influencer content on the platforms has grown appreciably over the past year. No surprise, that’s being driven by young people, but it’s especially prominent among the 18-24 y/o crowd specifically. College-aged kids (well, adults, I guess) are influencer-obsessed. On the darker side, however, is the staggering correlation we see between following influencer content and expressing feelings of stress, sadness, or fear. To be clear, we can’t prove causation – i.e., that influencer content makes people feel that way – or whether the types of people who follow that content are just more apt to feel that way. Either way, it sucks. 

The ceiling for improvement in parental leave in this country is a mile high. When asked if their workplace offers parental leave for new parents, the largest group – 29% – say no, not for either parent. The next largest group, 28%, don’t even know if their workplace offers it. A measly 26% offer it for moms and dads, 17% just for moms. As you would suspect, the majority of people who work at places without parental leave policies, aren’t happy about it. Add this to the long list of reasons American workers are revaluing their jobs right now.

Pet ownership has skyrocketed during the pandemic and so have virtual veterinary visits. In related news, our dog groomer is booked through the end of March, which is a huge pain in the ass. The deluge of pandemic pets have created linear increases in demand for pet services and, of course, all the workforce implications we see everywhere else. Add COVID fears to the mix and it’s no wonder more people are interested in seeing the vet via Zoom. The trend is particularly popular among remote workers who are trying to balance it all. 

A few more gems from CivicScience this week:

  • Pizza Hut is the king of the major pizza chains but they’re getting crushed by Domino’s among Gen Z;
  • Microsoft’s mega acquisition of Activision Blizzard should be a big boost for Xbox Game Pass;
  • Some fun facts about athleisure wearers;
  • I love Wordle but I’m clearly not the target demo.

The Most Popular Questions of the Week

Answer Key: I couldn’t make it through breakfast; Not enough!; Very much; 23%; Ice cream cones, but it’s a tough call.

Hoping you’re well.


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