Glad that’s over with.
The Facebook arguments, I mean.
I got consumed by them. Even with all of our data at my disposal, there’s no substitute for debate when trying to understand how people think. If the pandemic-plus-election created the greatest social experiment in history (it did), Facebook was the greatest laboratory.
I’ve told you what an awful Facebook friend I am. My friends wised up. I can’t play games in my feed anymore. They see right through it. They know I’m working.
So, I had to jump into conversations with strangers – friends of friends – where I could disguise myself anywhere along the political spectrum.
Or even occupy new points on the spectrum altogether. That’s when things get interesting.
Over these past months, engulfed in data and debate, there’s nothing I’ve learned more incontrovertibly than this: People are hardwired to see things in binary ways.
We’re desperate for it. We seek black and white. We seek contrast. It’s all part of an unconscious effort, an instinct, to simplify things.
You see it everywhere. Duopolies like Coke or Pepsi, iOS or Android, Starbucks or Dunkin’. We pick our team as much for its aesthetic – because of who else is on that team and how we want people to view us – as for any rational distinction between one product or another.
In the end, are sodas or cups of coffee really that different? If they were, you wouldn’t need to spend billions of dollars on brand advertising.
Our binary impulse has never been clearer – or more pernicious – than in our modern political discourse. Tribalism thrives because it’s binary. “Us vs. Them” is easy. We also innately want to be part of a group, the larger the group the better. And groups are biggest when there are only two.
Nothing stymies a debate like breaking from this binary construct. If I said I voted straight-ticket Republican but also for Biden, people froze. If I said I was a Trump fan until he cowered under pressure to send the country into lockdown because of “the flu,” their heads exploded. (None of that’s true of course).
My favorite is arguing that presidents have no measurable impact on the economy (this might be true). If you consider that both Obama and Trump presided over historic economic growth, you can’t give one credit without crediting the other, or vice versa. Never once did I get someone to acquiesce on that point. It doesn’t compute.
No, I haven’t solved anything. I haven’t changed anyone’s mind.
I merely learned what we’re all up against. It’s not media or disinformation or Russia.
It’s human nature.
And now I’m hanging up my Facebook cleats. At least until the next political crisis.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
Consumer confidence had a little downward glitch over the past couple weeks. Growing unemployment claims were certainly a contributor, but it’s hard not to correlate the downturn in sentiment with the shitshow on 1/6. Keep in mind too that we published our latest reading the day of the inauguration. I can tell you how it’s changed since, if you’re a paying customer. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait two more weeks.
One harbinger of improving consumer confidence could be an uptick in COVID optimism. Even as case counts are still spiking, people appear to be more comfortable being in public places. Vaccine rollouts are playing a part, for sure. One area that isn’t improving is dining in at restaurants – but fortunately intent to order delivery or takeout is climbing. Support your local restaurants, folks.
Speaking of vaccines, the majority of Americans support companies providing incentives to their employees to get vaxxed. The numbers are particularly high among people in technical jobs. Business folks, like most of you, are less enthusiastic. I don’t know why.
In one of the most important trends we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic, women are playing an increasingly prominent role in household decision-making in almost every category we track – from tech to healthcare to finance. You need to just read this study, especially if you’re a marketer or a business leader or an investor or a husband or an aspiring husband or anyone with a pulse, really.
Men are more likely to get a haircut right now, that’s all. I’m an outlier here – I haven’t had a haircut in months, which may or may not be resulting in a mullet. But I digress. The trend is true across most categories of pampering or “splurging,” largely because men are generally less cautious about doing anything in public. Also, men are more self-indulgent.
Disney+ and HBO Max have been killing it since they launched, but the risk of churn is real. We’re not breaking new ground here when we tell you that cord-cutting has continued during the pandemic or that emergent streaming services are grabbing meaningful share. The challenge for platforms like Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and others is to keep people paying after they cycle through the exclusive content that brought them onboard. The gap between Netflix and all others when it comes to perception of their content – and especially their original content – is massive.
Maybe people are streaming so much content because they’re not having sex. The safest bet I’ve ever made is that this will be the most clicked-on link in this email. Most people are having less sex than they did before the pandemic, especially people who are working from home. It has been particularly bleak over the past month. Ironically, people are also reporting a higher level of overall satisfaction in their romantic relationships. The only things increasing are…um…solo performances, which makes me wonder what people were getting under the Christmas tree. Anyway, I’m blushing. Just read it. By yourself, I guess.
We published a few more PG-rated studies this week too:
- Consumer interest in online payment and credit services is stagnating, even as Wall St. is swooning over them;
- VR gaming hasn’t ridden the wave of conventional gaming during the pandemic, but AR shows promise;
- And we did a deep dive into the performance drink and supplement space – Gatorade still rules, by the way.
And these were the most popular questions this week:
- Are you a fan of true crime mysteries?
- In general, how trustworthy or untrustworthy do you think most of the information on Wikipedia articles is?
- Are you more of a milkshake person or more of a smoothie person?
- How important is the strength of your shower’s water pressure to you?
- Have you ever visited a presidential library?
Answer Key: Nope; Pretty trustworthy; Smoothies; Extremely; Sadly, no.
Hoping you’re well.