Ten years ago, a few of my fraternity brothers and I created an imaginary friend. His name is Will Rochester from Savannah, Georgia.
Why would grown – arguably – adults invent a fictitious person, you ask? Naturally, to cajole one of our (real) friends into believing he had partied so much in college that he completely forgot an integral member of our group. That’s why.
Also, we’re terrible people.
It all started because nobody wanted to pick up our real friend (we’ll call him Ben) at the airport the morning of our 10th college reunion, as we had all been out too late the night before. “It’s Rochester’s fault,” one guy randomly texted. And off it went.
All weekend, we spun stories, like the time Rochester crashed a Vespa into the Ft. Lauderdale Hilton during Spring Break or, sophomore year, when he lost a bet and had to detail the interior of Ben’s Saab with a toothbrush. Ben laughed right along, not wanting to acknowledge he had lost so many brain cells that he couldn’t even remember a whole person.
We later set up a Gmail account for Rochester, so he could participate in the group thread. He joined our fantasy football league (my wife managed his team – adding the subtle touch of drafting Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons every year because, well, Rochester is from Georgia). I’ve personally emailed Ben from Rochester’s account, engaging in sincere two-way banter.
He absolutely buys it, hook, line, and sinker.
We’re careful not to overplay it. Rochester lives in Asia now and only chimes in occasionally. He never uses social media, the legend goes, because of questionable “romantic” choices he made over the years – with accompanying stories, of course. We’ve covered the tracks.
And it’s still going on a decade later.
I know, I know. We should be ashamed of ourselves. What kind of sick, twisted people do that to a close friend? Will we ever fess up? How will we explain ourselves when Rochester eventually dies and Ben flies all the way to Savannah for his funeral?
We don’t know yet – but we’re thinking a closed casket should do the trick.
Guess you’ll just have to keep reading until that unfolds.
In the meantime, here are a few real things we’re seeing right now:
Consumer confidence dropped to its lowest point this year, at a potentially pivotal time politically. Our bi-weekly Economic Sentiment Index showed a second consecutive steep decline this week. The President’s steel tariff announcement seemed to inspire a jump but only for one day. The negativity could just be a blip, as we’ve seen our Index bounce a lot (mostly up) during the Trump era and the Jobs Report yesterday won’t hurt. However, the timing of these numbers is interesting. Next Tuesday, all eyes will be on a special congressional election in our backyard of Western Pennsylvania, where the race is widely viewed as a referendum on the Trump presidency and the polling margins are razor thin. Even a little bit of erosion in consumer confidence could be enough to tilt the race, triggering a domino effect heading into next fall’s midterms. All of that is unlikely, given that Trump won this congressional district by 20 points, but it’s not unimaginable.
If you wonder why we study these macro-economic forces so closely, look no further than the QSR industry. One of the dozens of questions we track about restaurant dining enquires about people’s attitudes toward fast food value menu offerings. Look at the chart below and notice how attitudes toward value menu items among frequent QSR diners have shifted, coinciding with the rise in consumer confidence we’ve seen since the 2016 election. Value menus are still popular, for sure. But if you want to understand why McDonald’s can have success with “Signature Crafted Sandwiches” and fresh beef right now, this helps to explain it. If you can study consumer sentiment granularly enough, there is arguably nothing more impactful or predictive of industry (and political) trends.
One thing that isn’t changing – because of economic sentiment or otherwise – is the pace of mobile payment adoption in the U.S. Numerous experts have pontificated on the disparity between the growth of mobile payments in places like China and underwhelming numbers in the U.S. Our data tell us that only 1% of U.S. adults use mobile payments as their primary means of making purchases and that has barely budged in over two years. It’s crystal clear that security fears and personal privacy concerns are still holding people back, even our digitally-native Millennials.
Wells Fargo has quite a gun conundrum. I’ve always associated Wells Fargo with San Francisco because it’s headquartered there so – sorry to stereotype but it can be a real time-saver – I assumed its customer base would skew more Liberal. So, when news broke this week that Wells Fargo is the “top banker for the NRA and gunmakers,” I cringed for them. The numbers paint a more complicated story. First, we found that Wells Fargo, just a fraction more than Chase, had the highest rate of gun ownership among its customers of the four largest U.S. banks (BofA, Citi, Chase, and WF). But net favorability among gun owners was higher for WF (-9%) than for Chase (-12%) overall. The folks at Wells Fargo need to thread a tiny little needle or risk alienating one big customer segment or another. Tribalism is a bitch.
The Tiger Woods Show is heating up. Count me among the sports fans who are giddy over the apparent return of Tiger Woods. Whether (or when) he wins, it will be interesting to see if Tiger can reclaim his perch in public opinion. After bottoming out with the whole crashing-his-SUV-into-his-
Your Random (Seinfeld) Stats of the Week
- Kramer is the most popular main character, by far, at 47%, followed by George and Elaine at 18% each and Jerry at 16%.
- George’s parents are the most popular side characters at 22% followed by Newman at 19%. J Peterman is a distant third at 6%
- 51% of people think Seinfeld is overrated
Hoping you’re well.