Back in the day, we had a mantra we used to tell brand marketers: “Don’t sell to me. Sell to the person I want to be.” The idea being that consumers’ aspirations mattered more than their current state.  

But as social media proliferated, especially as Millennials and Zs came of age, we modified the statement: “Don’t sell to me. Sell to the person I want people to think I am.” While it’s only a subtle difference on paper, the implications are enormous. 

We’re living in the undisputed era of personal brand building. You can thank the device in our pockets and the multitude of different places we peddle our identity – Facebook, Instagram, even LinkedIn. The clothes we wear in our pictures, the restaurants we “check in” from, even the media sources we cite are ultimately curated – consciously or not – to convey the image we want people to believe. 

We all do it to varying degrees and with varying levels of premeditation. Hell, I’m Patient Zero. If you don’t think I labor over every word in this email to make sure I stay “on brand,” you might also be devastated to learn there’s no Tooth Fairy.

Before you yell at me about how you don’t do any of this, please know that “I’m not on social media and I don’t give a shit what people think of me” is most definitely a brand.  

Even our COVID protocols have become another personal brand element. One group can’t wait to flex their sense of anti-establishment, individual freedom. The other would rather be photographed naked than caught dead in a picture without a mask. If you didn’t know better, you might wonder whether the COVID vaccine only works if you post about it on social media.

Despite all of this posturing and self-promotion, however, little about our self-assessment has changed. Almost three times as many Americans in our survey data say they’ve gained weight – versus lost weight – during the pandemic. Yet, the percentage who describe themselves as “overweight” hasn’t budged. In fact, that number has actually declined over the past five years.

As long as you see other people in the showroom of personal brands who appear worse than you do – politically unrefined, culturally unsophisticated, fatter – then you’re winning. Perception matters more than substance.

Alas, I’m in no position to judge. Or, certainly, to change it. 

But there’s nothing about the human condition today that is more important for you to understand. No matter what you’re selling.

Here’s what we’re seeing:   

People are paying down their credit card debt in unprecedented numbers. Among the many promising economic signs coming out of the pandemic, personal debt has dwindled to levels we’ve never seen, at least as long as we’ve tracked it. Sixty-nine percent of Americans who carry credit cards have either increased their monthly payments or paid off their CC debt altogether. Only 5% have taken on more credit card debt – which we can correlate to other types of debt, particularly student loans. Perhaps most notably, people who’ve lost their jobs during COVID are the most likely to have paid off their cards completely. Good stuff (unless you’re a credit card company).

That extra credit card head room might come in handy, because people are starting to feel the effect of rising costs of goods. I know you economists out there will cry foul if I misuse the technical term, “inflation,” so let’s just say people are beginning to notice that things are more expensive than they were before. Sixty-five percent of Americans have noticed higher prices. They have either begun buying less (27%) or buying the same and paying more (38%) in recent months. No surprise, the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to notice.

Immigrants are the most American Americans. I was joined on our podcast by Roberto Ruiz, EVP of Research and Insights at Univision, to talk about the growing and evolving population of Hispanic Americans. The American Dream is alive and well among Hispanics, far more so than among white Americans. It explains why we saw surprising (to me, not to Roberto) levels of Hispanic support for Trump last year. FYI: This was the last episode of our first podcast season. I had a blast doing it. We’ll definitely be back with more.

It’s time to start paying attention to cryptocurrency if you aren’t already. The percentage of people who have invested in crypto has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year and it shows no signs of stopping, particularly as more people learn how it works. We published the first of what will be many recurring, wide-ranging studies on the subject. Check it out. It ain’t just a fad. 

Consumer privacy fears have reached a new peak. Maybe it’s because people aren’t as worried about politics or COVID or the economy, but concerns over consumer privacy are climbing like crazy right now. Not only are concerned people now “very concerned” at a record level, the percentage of people who aren’t at all concerned is in the single digits for the first time. People are particularly sketched out about things like facial recognition technology. A privacy revolution is coming. I’m certain of it.   

Pretty much everyone supports legalized weed at this point and TikTok users love edibles. study we published on Tuesday for no particular reason found that nearly 70% of Americans now believe recreational herb should be legit, including 51% of political Conservatives, which is noteworthy. Of the various methods of pot consumption, users of TikTok are significantly more likely to use edibles. And, no, that’s not a pure age proxy – younger people, on balance, are actually less likely to prefer eating their weed. It’s just the TikTok users for some reason. 


A few other great studies this week:

Our most popular questions: 

Answer Key: Definitely sausage; Mom; A week’s worth; Saved by the Bell; That’s what Twitter is for; It’s complicated.

​​​​​​Hoping you’re well.



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