THE WOKE OLYMPICS

The race for brands to parade their PC credentials is well underway! Gillette dashed to the front of the pack by showing us it was more interested in curing toxic masculinity than selling razorblades, but dropped back suddenly after it lost $8 billion in sales. Turns out blokes don’t like being called misogynists. A close shave indeed.  

Surprisingly, the enthusiasm for hopping on the outrage bandwagon has lost none of its momentum. Just like the way poor Taylor Swift was bullied to come out for one side or the other, brands must now decide if they are left or right, right on or stuck in the mud, Democrat or Republican. Brands, like the rest of us, have been dragged into the bear pit of the Twittersphere and the landscape in which they can express themselves, their Overton window if you like, has shrunk to a pinhole. You’re either with us, or against us.

Stuff we bought to shave with, or wash our knickers with, has grown a twenty first century conscience. In a world in which we have everything we need, a brand cannot simply offer us more stuff. In fact, this misunderstanding is largely responsible for the demise of our high streets and shopping centres. They were built on the premise that we needed to buy things to keep our mundane lives trundling along. They made the aisles wide and linear so that we could grab and go once we’d located what we were looking for. Product categories were announced in fonts bolder than motorway signs, as if we were all moving at seventy miles per hour. And in a sense we were. We dashed in and rushed back to the car before the ticket expired and our people carrier was towed away for ransom. How simple life was back then.

Where was I? Ah yes. Brands have realised they cannot carry on as if it were 1985, and so have evolved from being smiley, helpful and value-for-money, into fully grown, cynical adults with issues, consciences and axes to grind. In short: woke. In the rush of revelation some have joined the outrage hunters, pushing to the front of the melee in a desperate search for things to be shocked by. This then, is the new landscape for brands and we can expect it to intensify over the next few years. 

But you do know they’re faking it right? You do realise their pretend outrage and loud baying noises are for the purpose of deflection, lest the mob turn on them? An orchestrated distraction to avoid the laser beam of outrage homing in on their own transgressions, whether they be plastic packaging, pollution, landfill, low wages or waste. Like teenage bullies, woke brands are eager to elbow to the front of the mob in the name of progressivism. And who is against progressivism?

The problem is, in its rush to kick at the wicked establishment patriarchy, the mob is forced to edge forward, becoming ever more outraged and angry with the status quo. Egged on by a mainstream media exercising its last gasp for glory, too many of society’s strongest, deepest foundations are getting damaged along the way, sometimes irreparably. 

The frenzy of the mob, you see, can bring out the worst in us. All of a sudden, those quiet, conventional, harmless types see their opportunity to exert a little control. Very quickly, what considered itself a libertarian movement finds itself fuelled by an authoritarian impulse, one that wants to close down, ban, censor and admonish. The impulse that fights for women’s rights, for instance, swiftly morphs into something that’s distinctly anti-male. The push for racial equality, likewise, can so easily become discriminatory. Logic would suggest that the same libertarian instinct that campaigned for gay marriage and sexual equality would be against censorious regulation, but the reverse is true. Libertarianism and authoritarianism, once at opposite ends of the spectrum, have become fused in a kind of Alice in Wonderland nightmare. A new puritanism has infected the liberal mindset and its effects are serious.

And so, armed with this newfound pc superpower, the Advertising Standards Authority has waded into the mire to ban images it deems un-woke, things it doesn’t want you to see. We’ve all read about it: with the aim of discouraging gender stereotypes, the ASA banned a Volkswagen ad showing a young mother, sitting on a park bench alongside a pram. Once upon a time ‘motherhood and apple pie’ represented all that was good and wholesome with the world. Today, the ASA finds motherhood demeaning, something that might hamper a girl’s ambition and life chances. Shrug all this off as a slice of summer madness whipped up creamy by Daily Mailers by all means, but I believe it deserves a serious pause for thought: our regulatory bodies have decided that motherhood is wrongthink. It’s pretty obvious that a society that finds motherhood embarrassing or demeaning won’t last very long.

It’s important we don’t add to the hysteria, but at the same time, we cannot pretend everything is just fine. It’s blindingly obvious that brands are tip-toeing around convention, sweating over showing a heterosexual nuclear family with clearly gendered offspring, or a sexually attractive female for fear of being labelled regressive or bigoted. Humour that pokes fun at anything cultural, gender-based, racial or religious has been off-limits for so long that we’ve grown used to advertising’s mediocre glumness. But the prohibition of gender stereotypes promises to make life considerably more treacherous for brands wanting to stand out from the crowd. Expect to see a lot more of the Alice in Wonderland world in which heroes, adventurers, scientists and scholars are exclusively female, where families are made up from across the sexual ‘spectrum’ and where the image of a smiling, white, middle class family is deemed harmful to society.

I know. We’re already there.

So, Mr Futurist, how does all this end, I hear you cry?

That’s easy: a mighty financial crash, obviously.

In the meantime, have a great week!

 

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail musings

  Howard Saunders   Sep 04, 2019   advertising, Brand, Future, overton, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

SUSTAINABULLSHIT!

I’m so sick of the daily drip, drip, drip. The endless environmental nagging is too much now. Let’s deal with this head on: Nothing is sustainable. Sorry if that upsets you, but it’s true. Some things, some actions can be made more sustainable, of course. And that is a very worthy aim, but the idea that anything involved in the world of making stuff: producing food, manufacturing products, buildings and infrastructure can ever be sustainable is pompous nonsense. And yet, find me an annual report in the FTSE 100 that hasn’t added the S word to its corporate, virtue signalling lexicon.

Two more things while I’m in full rant mode. 1. The planet is old and wise. We might live a minute by minute existence, measuring this and that on a daily basis, but Gaia doesn’t think like that. You might feel smug when recycling your yoghurt pots but she looks at the long term, big picture and knows, for example, that all your ugly building development is hugely damaging to her planet. Let’s briefly consider plans for just one poxy new office block. It will require thousands of tonnes of highly damaging concrete and bricks fired in huge, high carbon emitting, energy quaffing kilns. Then there’s the immense tonnage of gypsum plaster, acres of desperately damaging gas-fired glass, heat-treated structural steel, engineered wooden floors, hundreds of computer terminals, miles of copper wiring and, of course, beautiful granite vandalised in giant chunks from a mountainside in Brazil or India, only to be craned onto diesel glugging cargo ships before grinding and polishing… just so the reception looks posh. Then we have to fill the place with thousands of tubular steel chairs and tables covered in plastic with plastic moulded wheels and plastic handles. Look, the list goes on and on. And this is before it declares itself a sustainable building because its loos flush with rainwater. For god’s sake, how supine must you be to believe this stuff?

Oh and 2. Mother Earth does not keep annual accounts. At the beginning of the year she doesn’t expect us to do a little better than the previous year. Planets, and the Earth is no exception, just keep spinning…until they don’t. Your carbon footprint is not a blackboard that gets wiped clean every December 31st. Your pollution output keeps compounding. Just because you drove your gas guzzler a little less this year, compared to last, means you drove more in total, I’m afraid. The planet is not stupid like most of us clearly are.

The enthusiasm for banning ‘single use’ plastics is equally infantile. You may use your Sainsbury’s carrier bag a thousand times before finally fashioning it into a handy effigy of George Michael, but it’s still one extra piece of plastic to ship to Chinese landfill. The environment won’t credit you for not using the 999 imaginary bags you could have used.

A few years ago I spoke at a retail conference along with a gentle soul from Prince Charles’ very own Duchy Originals. In Eton-esque tones he explained how in the interest of sustainability they’d thinned the carton to reduce the amount of paper they use, as well as the freight costs. When it came to questions, and even though I was up next, I felt it my duty to ask what I still consider the killer question: “Admirable though all your efforts clearly are Sir, wouldn’t it have been better for the planet if you’d simply stopped producing biscuits entirely?” My point, if I need to hammer it home, is that asking the public to do less, or consume less, is so judgemental. Do we really need biscuits, holidays or marble reception halls? Ultimately, someone has to be the arbiter of all this. Nagging us to stop flying to Barcelona, whilst rich companies receive accolades for reducing the thickness of their biscuit packs, is rude to the point of bloody insulting.

So, it’s time to get real. It’s pretty obvious that no amount of reusing plastic bags, thinning cardboard and rationing holidays can possibly dent the mighty issue we all face. We cannot keep piddling about at the edges if, as we are told, we have barely twelve years to avoid environmental calamity. And if things are as serious as we are to believe, then we must stop expecting the poor, befuddled consumer to turn things around. No, we need brave, decisive action from those indecisive, bespectacled bureaucrats we put in power. Bold action from the top is what we want, not the endless, daily nagging we’re currently forced to endure. Forget the Green New Deal, here’s my three point, London-centric, starter plan:

1. No more office building. None. There are hundreds of acres of office space available in London and we can’t possibly need any more dildo shaped signature buildings on our historic skyline. They gesture on the horizon like the rude middle-fingers they are, a daily reminder that rinsing yoghurt pots is for the little people. Apart from anything, an almighty push for remote working is long, long overdue. The technology has been around for decades but we’re too stuck in our ways to use it properly. Think of the travel emissions that alone would save!

2. We must drastically reduce food imports. Transportation of produce is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases. Currently, something like 50% of UK food is imported. Let’s get that down to 10% in ten years. It would encourage more home grown production, create jobs and, perhaps more importantly, reboot the byzantine nonsense that sees us both import and export milk and beef, for example. 

3. Let’s ban paperwork. All of it. There’s simply no need for ‘hard copies’ any more, and most of it looks embarrassingly out of place in this digital age. The sight of literally thousands of discarded Metro newspapers on the Underground every day, when we all have a smartphone is immoral. (Plus it’s a dreadful rag, anyway) If governments, big business and local authorities led the way by removing the need for all paperwork, what an amazing example they would set. Trickle down would be fast, impressive and quickly spread to other areas of the economy including the mighty swamp that is product packaging. 

I’m sure there are a million more sweeping changes that can set us in the right direction, but these are my three decisive moves that would swiftly improve the environment without putting the blame on ordinary consumers. That’s the change I’m begging for. So, until the powers-that-be implement some proper economy-shifting decisions, I swear I’ll never stuff that wrinkly old Sainsbury’s bag in my anorak pocket ever again.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants

  Howard Saunders   Jul 08, 2019   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

WE ARE ALREADY CYBORGS!

What’s the name of that bloke in that film? You know, the one about that telepathic girl stranded on an island? How long would it take to walk to the Arctic Circle and how many people actually live there? And how long would we survive on Mars, if we took off our helmets?

The answer to these, and a billion other banal questions, lies at our fingertips in the form of that little slab of black glass, our GODs (Great Overlords of Data) who will endeavour to answer precisely, however scantily clad in fact our ridiculous enquiry. Yes, we have the sum of all human knowledge with us at all times. This digital augmentation happened almost overnight. There was no surgery involved, no implants, no cocktail of drugs or injections. All we had to do was to pop into town to scrawl like a five year old across a screen and we were connected. Everyone knows everything now. We are already Cyborgs.

We used to joke about the smartphone being our most valued possession, prized even more than our homes and our children. Today, of course, we know the smartphone owns us. For a start, it knows a lot more about us than we do. Say you were witness to a serious incident, your account of where you were, what you did, how long you stood there looking hopeless, who you spoke to and what you talked about would be pretty unreliable. Perhaps you would adjust the times to bolster your importance, and you certainly wouldn’t mention the rude texts you sent your brother a few minutes earlier. No, no. You are a fully grown human being and reliable witness. Your GOD, on the other hand, will snitch on you in an instant, brazenly showing the authorities exactly where you were on a real-time map, and the fact you were staring at your screen most of the time anyway. Suddenly, those rude texts don’t look very funny.

We may convince ourselves we’re pumping iron at the gym three times a week, reading intellectual tomes regularly and tucked up in bed by eleven, but our beloved personal snitch may beg to differ, raising its digital eyebrows as you illuminate your spellbound colleagues. Our routines and preferences have long been engraved into its memory.  We each carry a personal black box computer, literally, wherever we go (which incidentally, is stupidly predictable) that records our every move for eternity. Coming of age now arrives almost a decade before puberty. We hand our eight year olds their first ‘phones’ so that their inane musings can be published instantly, and globally. Stitched into the ether forever,  waiting in fear of being disinterred for public ridicule in generations to come.

You may think you are an independent life-form with absolute free will, but sadly you are not. You could run into the chip shop today wearing nothing but an Ikea lampshade and demand a free battered sausage. But you don’t. You my friend, just like the rest of us, are utterly predictable. You go to the same handful of places to do the same things, listen to the same music and watch the same sort of films on Netflix. This is what gives predictive algorithms their limitless magical power.

Your personal, digital assistant is ready to manage your life in ways we cannot yet imagine. Alexa, Siri and their chums will plan and even negotiate with the businesses and organisations you deal with on a daily basis, making booking, form-filling and applications soon seem quaintly nostalgic. Your regular Friday night takeaway will be negotiated and ordered as you sleep, perhaps with a competing curry house. Regular train or plane journeys will be reserved long in advance and adjusted accordingly. A smart digital assistant will know when your family needs a holiday and will research and negotiate with companies eager to bid for your business. A greater sense of trust will emerge, as ultimately of course ‘they know where you live’ and probably have your bank details too.

The benefits for those of us plugged into the economy will be obvious. And for those of us less fortunate? Well, that’s for another blog.

But rest assured, far too many predictions are set in the world of the busy executive with a minute by minute diary and a Starbucks pitstop scheduled on route to an airport. The true power of technology is much more democratic and even handed than that, I’m pleased to say. Remember how we all shifted to WhatsApp while the so-called Masters of the Universe were still fumbling with the pinhead keys on their Blackberries? The same will be true of AI as it sweeps in to revolutionise entertainment, health services, access to credit, public services and education and probably even democracy itself. Right across the population it will lubricate lives and eliminate the impotence of anonymity.

Smartphones may have almost reached saturation point here in the West, but their journey to improving our lives has barely begun. 

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants

  Howard Saunders   Jun 04, 2019   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

It’s 2019. We still don’t know what to have for breakfast

We’ve been lied to and lied to. Ever since we were told to ‘Dig for Victory’ back in 1941 governments have grown addicted to telling us how and what to eat in order to stay healthy. Often they were wrong. Sometimes, very wrong. Not that they were strategically malicious, you understand. Like all professional liars governments make stuff up, for often very good reasons…but once evidence emerges to deflate their well meaning hunches, instead of coming clean they double down or wriggle duplicitously so that the edges of truth become blurred and impossible to make out.

Fat is the obvious example. Scientists originally promoted low fat diets back in the fifties, along with the concept of controlling calories for cardiovascular health. Post war optimism ultimately embraced the low fat, high carb lifestyle. After all, we watched as the fat solidified after our morning fry up, and we certainly didn’t want that clogging up our arteries! So, in the sixties we switched to Cornflakes (along with a cup of sugar).

It turns out this was the worst advice given since the days of blood letting. Today, Cardiovascular Disease is the number one killer, responsible for a third of all premature deaths. A third ffs! But did we get an apology for the untold slaughter of a million innocent butter-dodgers?

New evidence contradicts everything the World Health Organisation still evangelises. Namely, saturated fats directly enable us to absorb essential minerals and vitamins, build cell membranes, and raise levels of good cholesterol…at the same time as disarming the bad. Bread and dripping anyone?

Just as the medical institutions enthusiastically leapt on the fat bandwagon, so they jumped on the cholesterol one too. Latest evidence suggests bad cholesterol may not be that wicked after all, despite Statins being one of the world’s most widely prescribed drugs ever. Bandwagons build tremendous momentum when they get going, and rather than change direction they simply get outpaced by a newer one.

A case in point is the anti-meat bandwagon, which is currently gathering speed at one hell of a rate. Only a few years ago, vegans and vegetarians were a rare and endangered species notable mainly for their nose-rings and knitted socks. Today by contrast, even the reddest-blooded meat enthusiast will boast of the joys of flexitarianism. Shamed by a vitriolic climate of health-freakery, carnivores must now be wary of offending their friends and colleagues. They nibble their pork pies furtively inside the wrapper and sensitively lower their voices when recounting tales of the weekend barbecue. 

But actual evidence proving red meat causes cancer, which we hear on an almost daily basis, is very dubious indeed (the worst offender is very well done, or over-roasted meat…much like the risk of burnt toast) The WHO’s website sprinkles its meat warnings with a generous handful of mights and maybes, but then the press get hold of it and distil a thousand words into another bite-sized, blood-curdling headline. I can’t help but think this is driven primarily by environmental concerns, and our own health, rather than the planet’s, is their way of scaring us into abstention. (These are the things that keep me up at night)

Before the virtue signallers among you grin too broadly above your enormous plate of under-cooked kale, it’s worth pointing out that every silver lining is wrapped in a miserable, grey cloud. In short, iron in vegetables is nowhere near as absorbable as the iron in red meat. Rates of anaemia among vegans is rising, along with other delightfully named conditions such as Leaky Gut and Fatty Liver Disease. And we haven’t got time to get into the whole side effects of phytoestrogens thing, but trust me, it’s pretty scary. And believe it or not, just like everything else, you can have too many vegetables in your diet. A big plateful of fibre takes so much digesting that it can cause a deficiency in essential proteins and fats. Suck on that, smug potato.

If you don’t believe me, read this personal story of an ex-vegan:

https://www.cleaneatingkitchen.com/vegan-diet-dangers-health/

Things are changing so fast. We now know that many of the vegetable oils we glugged so enthusiastically a few years ago are much worse for us than lard, and  probably increase the risk of heart disease. So, it looks like we’ll learn to love lard like it’s 1939 again.

Fruit is another minefield of contradictions. Not long ago we were told to eat as much fruit as humanly possible, presumably because it was unlikely anyone could overdose on oranges. Blueberries, we were told, are a superfood that can prevent the cancer we’re all growing as a result of our meat addiction. Armed with this very rare, good news we gleefully poured bucketfuls of berries into the blender in the hope of living to 150. Within a few short weeks however, an alternative truth emerged: the high sugar content in fruit means we may as well drink Coca Cola.

It gets worse. After a thirty thousand year love affair, our most worshipped and romanticised food icon of all time, fresh bread is suddenly the worse thing we eat on a daily basis. News just in is that it’s loaded with salt, sugar, contains very few nutrients if any, and is no better for us than a box of Mr Kiplings.

The problem with advice from colossal institutions like the WHO or the NHS, is that it will never, ever, be up to date. Like ocean going tankers, embarked on a specific course, it is understandably impossible for big organisations to change direction overnight. So much time and money has been invested, millions, if not billions of people in hundreds of countries have been nudged or coaxed to follow certain guidelines, a thousand initiatives have been launched and hundreds of billion dollar deals have been made with Big Pharma. So here we are in 2019, surrounded by advanced technology, armies of super-scientists, legions of researchers and Yottabytes of detailed data, and yet we…actually…don’t…know…what…the…bloody…hell…to…have…for…breakfast. Full English, buttered toast, yoghurt, or a blueberry smoothie? You tell me.

There is, however, hope on the horizon in the shape of our little slab of black glass, yet again. If we wish, our smart-phone will shortly have access to our personal genome: the entire map of our unique DNA and all the biological propensities and fragilities our loving forefathers bestowed upon us. An army of apps will surely follow to advise and warn and encourage us to do what’s best for specifically for us, not generalised, out of date, one-size-fits-all mandates designed for entire populations.

Big data is really powerful when it gets small and personal. Now, pass the butter.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants

  Howard Saunders   Apr 17, 2019   Food, Future, pizza, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More