Thought Starters: Britishness, Trump goes AWOL and Black Lives Matter

Laurie Penny explores the notion of Britishness in a country that seems increasingly wrapped up in nostalgia:

But there is a narrative chasm between the twee and borderless dreamscape of fantasy Britain and actual, material Britain, where rents are rising and racists are running brave. The chasm is wide, and a lot of people are falling into it. The omnishambles of British politics is what happens when you get scared and mean and retreat into the fairytales you tell about yourself. When you can no longer live within your own contradictions. When you want to hold on to the belief that Britain is the land of Jane Austen and John Lennon and Sir Winston Churchill, the war hero who has been repeatedly voted the greatest Englishman of all time. When you want to forget that Britain is also the land of Cecil Rhodes and Oswald Moseley and Sir Winston Churchill, the brutal colonial administrator who sanctioned the building of the first concentration camps and condemned millions of Indians to death by starvation. These are not contradictions, even though the drive to separate them is cracking the country apart. If you love your country and don’t own its difficulties and its violence, you don’t actually love your country. You’re just catcalling it as it goes by.

Fintan O’Toole profiles Donald Trump and his divergence away from Americas traditional democratic norms:

All of these historical surpluses—the afterlives of slavery, of the deranged presidency, and of the threat of terrorism as permission to set aside legal and democratic rights—have raised the stakes in the present struggle. This mass of unresolved stuff is being forced toward some kind of resolution. That resolution can come in only one of two ways. What has come to the surface can be repressed again—but that repression will have to be enforced by methods that will also dismantle democracy. Trump’s boast that he can do whatever he wants will have to be institutionalized, made fully operational, and imposed by state violence. Or there will be a transformative wave of change. All of this unfinished business has made the United States semidemocratic, a half-and-half world in which ideals of equality, political accountability, and the rule of law exist alongside practices that make a daily mockery of those ideals. This half-life is ending—either the outward show of democracy is finished and authoritarianism triumphs, or the long-denied substance becomes real. The unconsumed past will either be faced and dealt with, or it will consume the American republic.

As Black Lives Matter focuses increasing scrutiny on American police, David Brooks explores how their record differs so much from other developed economies:

We’re tracing the etiology of dehumanization here, the gradual closing-off of natural sympathy between one person and another. Almost all cops resist this pressure most of the time, and we owe them our respect, honor, and gratitude. Many of us know warm and compassionate police officers, who have rejected the worst parts of their environment—but the cultural pressures are there, nonetheless.

The Slate’s visualisation provides a strong indication of the scale of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Recent unemployment figures from the US suggested that Donald Trump had me concerned that he might be spared the wrath of voters come in November. America’s failure to deal with coronavirus paints a rather different story and suggests the country may be faced with a U rather than V shaped recovery.

New confirmed cases of Covid-19 in United States, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, India and Pakistan

These figures from Reuters whilst not comparing apples with oranges, do give a clear indication of the generational divide between podcast and radio listeners.

Proportion that used a podcast in the last month and radio news in the last week by age

On a similar note, Benedict Evans looks at the growth and the more recent decline of the newspaper sector, rattled by decline consumption and advertising revenues…a point of real concern if we are expecting the fourth estate to keep a check on power.

US newspaper industry metrics

Of long been fascinated by cities, their form and how they’ve evolved to what we’re presented with today. Colouring London provides a great opportunity to explore one of the world’s great cities with overlays for age, construction, streetscape, sustainability and more.

Colouring London: age overlay

I was one of those people that happily fled the suburbs for the inner city…Ian Bogost reviews the role of suburbs in the age of coronavirus suggesting that it has strengthened their hand although this is the quote that stuck in my mind:

The tax base that suburbia generates often can’t support the infrastructure required to sustain it—roads, sewers, schools, emergency services, and all the rest. Along with federally backed mortgages and mortgage-interest deductions, the suburban lifestyle amounts to an enormous government subsidy, or else it slowly decays into disrepair.

Header image: Photo taken on visit to Heatherwick Studio during Open House London in 2019.

Thought Starters: Pokémon Go, Complexion Reduction and Brexit

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to review and highlight some of the more important or interesting research and opinions that I’ve read over the last week or so. This edition looks at why there’s so much noise being made about Pokémon Go, what is Complexion Reduction, the impact of Brexit and whether automation is going to put you out of a job among other things:

Salesforce is the market leader in CRM, so its announcement that its Android mobile app will only support Samsung and Nexus branded handsets is a sign that not everyone is prepared to go along with the fragmented Android landscape.

Unilever and Procter & Gamble are the giants that have dominated the FMCG sector. Whilst neither brands have been afraid of taking over competitors in the past, Ben Thompson suggests that  Unilever’s takeover of the Dollar Shave Club represents something more fundamental:

AWS and Amazon itself, having both normalized e-commerce amongst consumers and incentivized the creation of fulfillment networks, made the creation of standalone e-commerce companies more viable than ever before. This meant that Dollar Shave Club, hosted on AWS servers, could neutralize P&G’s distribution advantage: on the Internet, shelf space is unlimited. More than that, an e-commerce model meant that Dollar Shave Club could not only be cheaper but also better: having your blades shipped to you automatically was a big advantage over going to the store.

That left advertising, and this is why this video is so seminal: for basically no money Dollar Shave Club reached 20 million people. Some number of those people became customers, and through responsive customer service and an ongoing focus on social media marketing, Dollar Shave Club created an army of brand ambassadors who did for free what P&G had to pay billions for on TV: tell people that their razors were worth buying for a whole lot less money than Gillette was charging.

The net result is that thanks to the Internet every P&G advantage, save inertia, was neutralized, leading to Dollar Shave Club capturing 15% of U.S. cartridge share last year.

Simply Measured’s survey of American marketers points to the challenges faced managing social media and also points to Faceboook as having the strongest ROI:

Challenges Faced by Social Media Professionals in America

July the 17th was apparently World Emoji Day and the top tweeted emojis give an interesting (if rather nonsensical) window into national psyche of different countries:

Top-tweeted emojos by country

Pokémon Go’s growth has been phenomenal going from nothing to the most popular mobile game in the US in the space of less than a month:

Whilst Pokémon Go got a headstart based on the popularity of the Pokémon franchise, it’s Niantic’s augmented reality technology blending the real and gaming world that got people really excited. Matthew Lynley explores the gameplay and monetisation that has made the game such a huge consumer and commercial success:

Niantic here does such a good job of creating just enough friction that, at the exact moment, it can capture an opportunity for monetization. Players don’t feel compelled to spend money, and instead they’re offered a delightful experience when they elect to spend money. Those eye-popping visuals continue, they keep throwing Pokéballs and they don’t have to wait to see some of the most powerful Pokémon game.

It’s also interesting to see how Pokémon Go is quickly emerging as a promotional opportunity for bricks and mortar businesses with this link further strengthened with Nintendo’s launch of sponsored locations:

The more salient point here is that no marketing channel is evergreen, but businesses that want to win have to keep one eye open for these big shifts-and they have to capitalize on them when it’s time. With Pokemon Go, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to create strong emotional bonds with new customers, and for very little money.

Even if Pokemon Go isn’t as powerful a tool for driving sales six months or a year from now, the customers that you delight today are going to remember you tomorrow.

Michael Horton provides a look at what he’s describing as Complexion Reduction, pointing to how many traditional design cues are disappearing on mobile in the quest for a better user experience:

1. Bigger, bolder headlines
2. Simpler more universal icons
3. Extraction of color

Google commissioned SOASTA to look at how poor mobile site performance can significantly degrade user experience, providing a valuable reminder that publishers need to keep an eye on the speed dial:

A faster full-site load time leads to a lower bounce rate

Whilst much has been made of the inexorable rise of Amazon, British bookseller Waterstones has provided an interesting counterpoint providing an example of where bricks and mortar retailers can face off against the ecommerce giant. Stephen Heyman profiles James Daunt’s strategy which has seen local store managers taking great control enabling them to act more like a local book shop and less like a one size fits all franchise:

While Barnes & Noble devolves from a bookstore into a thing store, Waterstones, the biggest bookstore chain in Britain, is plotting an entirely different course. In 2011, the company—choked with debt and facing the same existential threat from Amazon and e-books as B&N—nearly declared bankruptcy. Today, however, Waterstones isn’t closing shops but opening a raft of them, both big-box (in suburban shopping centers) and pint-size (in train stations). It has accomplished a stunning turnaround under the leadership of its managing director, James Daunt, who just announced Waterstones’ first annual profit since the financial crisis. How he pulled that off is a long story, involving old-fashioned business cunning, the largesse of a mysterious Russian oligarch, and some unexpected faith in the instincts of his booksellers.

Amazon has been rightly lauded for its move from retailer to platform provider but that’s not to say it has gone without a hitch. There have been growing reports of third party sellers listing counterfeit goods on Amazon upsetting consumers and brands:

Now Amazon is filling up with counterfeits, a term that can mean several things:

* A near-identical (or identical) knock-off, sometimes even made in the same factory as the original goods, and sold out the back door
* Factory rejects that failed inspection
* Low-quality fakes that look like originals, but are made from inferior or defective materials or suffer from defective/shoddy manufacturing

The Brexit referendum now means that Britain’s exit from the European Union is now more than just a Nigel Farage’s pipe dream but the end goal is far from clear.  Ian Dent’s report based on discussions with Dr. Holger P. Hestermeyer, Professor Anand Menon, and Dr James Strong is worth read if you want a closer look at the different options faced by Theresa May.

London’s economy has benefited hugely from being the financial capital of Europe as Ryan Avent details in his book Work, Power and Status in the Twenty-First Century quoted in Marginal Revolution. Given this, it’s no wonder that other European centres are keen to see London’s access to European financial markets curtailed:

London is the richest city in Europe.  Real output per person is central London is nearly four times the average in the European Union, and nearly twice that Europe’s other large, rich metropolitan areas, such as Amsterdam and Paris.  Strikingly, London is more than twice as rich as the next richest region within Britain.  However one slices it, the city is an extraordinary economic outlier.

Whilst the coup in Turkey seems to have quickly passed, the impact on the country’s civil society are more wide reaching as Erdoğan pushes the country further away from the foundations of Atatürk, as James Palmer profiles:

Erdoğan’s populist authoritarianism threatens a frightening change in Turkey — a dictatorship with the barest veneer of democracy laid over it as cover, fueled by resentment and religious conviction, and drawing in elements from jihadists to intelligence officers to organized crime to shield itself and assault its enemies.

Will robots put you out of a job? McKinsey have analysed the impact that automation will have on different occupations, with more and more jobs impacted directly or indirectly:

Automation is technically feasible for many types of activities in industry sectors, but some activities can be more affected than others.

The last 30 years has seen substantial gains in income for much of the world’s population, but the middle classes of the US and Western Europe haven’t fared nearly as well. I’d argue that these disparities in incomes between the developed and developing world would inevitably reduce over time as education levels improve and as technologies enable international collaboration. Unfortunately one of the side effects has has been the rise of populist politicians such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in the US and Europe:

Who Has Gained from Globalisation

The Brexit referendum has exposed a less tolerant side to British society. Pew Research Center figures enable a comparison between UK and other Western countries suggesting that it’s hardly an outlier:

Americans more likely to say growing diversity makes their country a better place to live

Laurie Penny provides a thoughtful critique of the culture of wellness with its very individualistic view of the world providing a barrier to a more collective view of society:

The wellbeing ideology is a symptom of a broader political disease. The rigors of both work and worklessness, the colonization of every public space by private money, the precarity of daily living, and the growing impossibility of building any sort of community maroon each of us in our lonely struggle to survive. We are supposed to believe that we can only work to improve our lives on that same individual level. Chris Maisano concludes that while “the appeal of individualistic and therapeutic approaches to the problems of our time is not difficult to apprehend . . . it is only through the creation of solidarities that rebuild confidence in our collective capacity to change the world that their grip can be broken.”

The featured image is “Taste” or “В К У С” in Russian is the first big solo mural by Sergey Akramov in his hometown of Yekaterinburg, Russia for the Stenograffia Street Art Festival and published in StreetArtNews.