Big advertisers could solve a lot of our societal problems if they had the courage. 

We know the evils: rampant misinformation, nonexistent privacy, the impact of social media on teen mental health, prejudiced and predatory algorithms, even foreign troll farms and bots. There aren’t many issues in our country – climate aside – that couldn’t be traced, at least in part, to ad-supported platforms run amok. 

Three possible solutions get all the airtime: 1) Government regulation (D.C. is out of its league); 2) Platform self-regulation (yeah, right); 3) Educating consumers to protect themselves (the most ludicrous of the three).

We forget where all the money – the market cap – for these platforms comes from.

At some point, advertisers came to believe they’re more beholden to the platforms than the other way around; that digital advertising simply must work the way it does, or it won’t be effective; that we have to spy on people and hijack their personal information, all while looking the other way as truth and ethics are compromised to keep eyeballs on the content. 

“Yeah, I know all this stuff is terrible for humanity, but I need my ads to perform!”    

As third-party cookies slowly fade, I cry a little inside every time a blue-chip advertiser endorses some new-fangled cross-platform identifier. If cookies are cigarettes, these new IDs are vape cartridges. 

Let’s be 100% clear. There’s no scenario whatsoever where my personal information traveling across websites, streaming platforms, or retailers will ever be anything but net harmful. Full stop.  

What’s ironic about big brands’ resistance to change (or lack of resolve to force change) is that they would be infinitely better off if surveillance advertising disappeared altogether. If marketing was less about gaming ad tech (which one dude in a basement can do), the most trusted brands with the best customer relationships, value, and creativity would win. 

Instead, they’re bankrolling a system that inherently negates their competitive advantage.

So, why won’t things change? 

The median tenure of CMOs is currently around 24 months (!), less than half that of other C-level titles. That’s fucking stupid. If there’s any role where long-term vision, risk tolerance, and higher purpose should be rewarded, it’s in the CMO seat. And yet, ever threatened by the guillotine of quarterly earnings and the dispensability of marketing during economic headwinds, CMOs are forced to think short-term, to go along with the crowd. 

It would take about 10 big brand CEOs in America to give the freedom and runway to 10 CMOs to – literally – change the world. 

Some of you are reading this right now. 

Who wants to go first?

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence fell a smidge, but it’s basically flat. Americans are collectively in a holding pattern, as our Economic Sentiment Index is hovering well above its low point in June, but showing no signs of surging optimism. Views of the job market improved slightly, while attitudes about the housing market went in the opposite direction (hello, interest rates). All of it amounts to a big nothingburger. Will things go up or down as the midterms approach? I wish I knew.

Even as back-to-school spending held steady YoY, a lot of families weren’t able to get everything they needed. One of the recurring themes of our heavily bifurcated economy has been that “the haves” continue to spend more than “the have-nots” are spending less, painting a resilient picture overall, but masking the growing economic divide in our country. Among Americans who say they are worse off financially since the beginning of COVID, 52% say they were unable to purchase some or all of the school supplies they needed. Meanwhile, 52% of parents say their kids have fallen behind academically and one-third say they worry about the safety of their kids in school. Look outside of your bubble, folks. 

In other divided news, the well-being of Black and White Americans often tell two different stories at different times. Our weekly Well-Being Index has become one of the most relied-upon tools in our clients’ arsenal, as the physical, emotional, and mental health of their customers increasingly drives consumer behavior. While brand-level data is particularly predictive, we can learn a lot from demographic comparisons. Take a look at the chart below and read this article, comparing well-being between Black and White adults in the U.S. Note how well-being among White Americans is more affected by global events (Ukraine in March), while well-being among Black Americans is more affected by domestic events (flooding, water crises, and extreme weather in August). Makes sense, if sadly. And if you aren’t tracking well-being metrics among your customers, click here

Parents are cracking down (a little) on screen time again, now that quarantine is behind us. During peak COVID, a majority of U.S. parents said they never limited their kids’ time in front of a device. Today that number sits at 40%. With or without limits, nearly half of parents say their kids spend 3+ hours per day in front of a screen – not including schoolwork. Games are the number one screen activity for those kids, followed by watching shows. And there’s a huge correlation between the age of the parents (and thus the age of the kids) and screen time controls. See for yourself.

More Americans plan to get a flu shot this year than the next COVID booster. The difference isn’t huge – in all, 35% of Americans say they have no intent of getting another COVID booster, 31% say they have no intent of getting a flu shot. Not surprisingly, there’s a big overlap between these groups, meaning 21% of adults will get neither. One positive note: When we first asked about flu shot intent in the fall of 2015, 48% of people said they had no intention of receiving one. Despite all the political division over vaccines the past couple years, we seem to have made some progress over the long-term. 

More data from the CivicScientists this week:

  • Some people will buy Peloton’s new rowing machine, oar maybe not;
  • Electric car owners are 4X more likely to watch college basketball and other factoids.

The best new questions this week:

Answer Key: With company; Pumpkin; No way; Reality; Chicken; All over the place.

Hoping you’re well.


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