The Cashless Backlash

Amazon’s first cashier-less convenience store has opened in New York. Crowd DNA’s Tom Eccles pops in for a browse…

New York recently became the fourth city to feature one of Amazon’s cashier-less ‘Grab and Go’ stores. The stores offer a selection of typical convenience food – think sandwiches, drinks, ready meals, cook-at-home kits. But the appeal of Amazon Go isn’t really the products on offer – it’s the store experience itself; from the lack of any kind of checkout process, to the novelty that you simply take your items from the shelf and walk straight out the door. No lines, no one fumbling for quarters and no “unexpected items in the bagging area.”

Along came lunchtime on Friday – it was time to test drive the future of retail. I jumped on the subway, tapping my phone on the turnstile using NYC’s new contactless payment system, OMNY. To enter the store, I had to download the Amazon Go app, sign in and, again, scan my phone on the barrier. I browsed around, picking up and replacing a few items to try and fool the system, before deciding on some lunch and walking straight out.

Sure enough, a few minutes later I had a mobile notification with a receipt, helpfully informing me that I’d spent six minutes and ten seconds in the store. All in all, a pretty seamless, stress-free experience – and I didn’t use a single coin, banknote, or even a physical card.

So why, if the cashierless experience is so quick, easy and painless, is there a backlash against cashless stores on the rise? Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first US city to ban stores from not accepting cash. New Jersey followed suit with a state-wide ban, joined soon after by San Francisco. New York City is now working on similar legislation. In response, fancy salad outlet Sweetgreen – after going card and app only in 2017 – has pledged to resume taking cash in all stores by the end of this year.

The main argument against going cashless is the exclusion of those who often don’t have the means to access digital forms of payment; namely lower-income families, the disabled and elderly. According to the FDIC, six percent of American households (8.4 million) don’t even have a bank account. Furthermore, a lack of adequate banking facilities disproportionately affects households of color: 17 percent of African American households have no bank account, and therefore no method of accessing cashless stores and services.

There are other arguments too. Privacy campaigners point out that a transition to electronic payments means yet more personal data being handed to corporations and governments – the latter a particular concern in China, which is well on its way to becoming the world’s first cashless society. It also increases the risk of potential exposure to identity and financial fraud.

As the option to pay with cash is disappearing from our streets, the ability to actually get hold of cash is also vanishing. In the UK, an average of 460 cash machines closed every month last year, while the number of bank branches is now less than 8,000, down from 18,000 in 1989. Here in the US, 6,008 branches closed between 2008 and 2016, resulting in ‘cash deserts’: areas with no banks and no access to ATMs.

Of course, times change – and as technology advances, the tech industry must find ways to include lower income and minority communities in the cashless revolution. For brands, while it is clearly important to embrace new and more efficient ways of working, they should do so in the most inclusive way possible too. As for Amazon Go, it is undoubtedly a futuristic and novel concept, but whether it is the future of retail, or an unnecessary pit-stop on the road to an e-commerce based future, is up for debate.

Crowd DNA New York's Eden Lauffer takes aim and explores which of this year's Super Bowl ads soared - and which ones flopped...

This year’s Super Bowl can be described in one word, ‘meh’. By halftime, the score was a whopping 3-0 Patriots-Rams. The game was the lowest scoring of all time and fans were less than impressed with the halftime show. While the much-hyped ads were mostly well-received, not many stood out particularly strongly. We’ve looked into a few ads that worked well – and some that didn’t work as well.

Amazon Alexa – “Not Everything Makes The Cut”

In the 2018 Super Bowl, Alexa lost her voice, allowing celebrities to step in to help answer user questions. This year, Amazon Alexa took a similar approach, leaning on celebrities to poke fun at the voice assistant device, reminiscing on fictitious failed Alexa products such as an electric toothbrush and a dog collar.

Both playing on a theme from last year and poking fun at itself, Amazon hit the mark with this ad. The celebrities chosen for this year’s spot appealed to a wider audience, with the likes of Harrison Ford and Forest Whitaker, but also Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City. With the final season of Broad City now airing – plus a pairing with Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now,’ tapping into the Golden Globe wins for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – this makes this ad deftly pop culture relevant.

Verizon – “Team That Wouldn’t Be Here”

Like in 2018, Verizon used the Super Bowl to comment on their link to first responders. This year, they tied in NFL players who had been rescued by first responders after near fatal accidents.

An improvement from last year’s ad, this year Verizon worked off of the link to the NFL rather than just reporting how they helped first responders do their jobs. However, as with last year’s spot, claiming to be responsible for part of the work first responders do feels to be a bit of a stretch for a telecom brand.

T-Mobile – “We’ll Keep This Brief,” “What’s For Dinner?,” “We’re Here For You,” and “Dad?!”

This year, T-Mobile ran a spot in every quarter of the game, playing off the same concept – text conversations. Each spot in the series showed a common text scenario most people have experienced, paired with a brand partnership for T-Mobile users at the end. For example, in “What’s For Dinner?,” a texter struggles with how to respond to a text from their friend about what to get for dinner. The offer at the end features free Taco Bell on Tuesdays for T-Mobile users. In the fourth quarter spot, “Dad?!,” a user deals with her not-so-tech-savvy father; the end card reading, “you can’t change your dad, but you can change your carrier,” offering non T-Mobile users a chance to switch.

With a recognisably similar spot in each quarter, viewers had a reason to pay attention to each ad, staying engaged. Further, each ad built up desire to be a T-Mobile user, so when the final spot played, non-users may have been curious as to how they could benefit from T-Mobile too. In past Super Bowls, T-Mobile has run several spots, but usually poke fun at competitors. This series was far less uptight and kept viewers engaged to see what came next.

Toyota RAV4 – “Toni”

Toyota used this 2019 spot to introduce its new hybrid RAV4. The spot features Toni Harris, the first woman to be offered a football scholarship with hopes of being in the NFL. The music and tone of the spot convey female empowerment. The ad finishes with Toni driving a RAV4 hybrid, the narrator stating that assumptions have been made about her, but Toyota doesn’t stand for assumptions.

While the bulk of the spot is empowering and relevant to the Super Bowl, the brand and product it’s pushing don’t match. The closing statement of the ad speaks to those who assume SUVs can’t be hybrids. It also compares Toni Harris to a car and further, to a hybrid, causing the ad to feel confusing, off base, and a little insulting.

Pepsi – “More Than OK”

No stranger to star-studded Super Bowl ads, Pepsi’s 2019 spot featured Steve Carell, Cardi B and Lil Jon. The ad plays on the common scenario of ordering a Coke in a restaurant and being asked if a Pepsi is okay instead. Using the humor of all three celebrities, Pepsi builds up that their brand is more than okay, poking fun at itself.

While previous Pepsi Super Bowl ads flaunted their heritage, this ad acknowledged that they have a strong and unforgettable competitor. Seeing an iconic brand poke fun at its downfalls makes Pepsi feel more human. This ad also plays directly into each celebrities’ own character, taking advantage of their catchphrases rather than just dropping them into the ad.

In total, this year’s ads felt a little tired, with several borrowing tactics from last year’s, such as brand partnerships (Bud Light and Game Of Thrones) and reoccurring series (T-Mobile). Let’s hope for better, on and off the field, next Super Bowl.

Moving The Goalposts

From streetwear ambitions to curated content platforms, Crowd DNA's Gabriel Noble spots five talking points in football...

With the season well underway in Europe’s high profile leagues, we’re getting to see the innovations and cultural connections that football is trailblazing, as it looks to compete with other major global sports – and indeed for a share of audience time versus other entertainment options more generally. Here’s what we’re seeing…

Football meets streetwear

When PSG played Liverpool earlier this season, you might have noticed something unusual. Rather than wearing jerseys with the Nike tick, they were emblazoned with the Jumpman logo of Air Jordan, a brand rooted in streetwear and basketball. The PSG x Air Jordan collab illustrates how football clubs are beginning to realise their potential as brands in popular culture and, as a response, building on their own merch capabilities. PSG have set the standard, but as lines between football and fashion continue to blur – Poet & Yinka’s collaboration with Puma on their LDN City pack boots, Virgil Abloh’s Off White kit, or Nigeria’s World Cup kit – other teams will surely follow suit.

We expect to see kit sponsorship deals balloon, as the likes of Nike and adidas capitalise on this development and integrate the clubs they sponsor into their lifestyle ranges. On the flipside, as streetwear continues its journey to the mainstream, more brands like Palace (see their adidas Wimbledon collab) and Air Jordan are likely to play in this space with limited edition ranges, or, at the very least, third kits, football apparel and boots.

PSG x Air Jordan
PSG x Air Jordan

Championing football’s new cultural angles

As football continues to secure its place outside of sports culture, so the media outlets diversify also – from the likes of Versus who ‘showcase the cultural convergence happening across the worlds of sport, music and style’; to Mundial, who build on football’s casual culture and produce a magazine filled with fashion features and untold stories of the game. Diverse voices are coming to the fore too. Through the likes of Caricom, which explores the space where football and the black experience intersect; and Season Zine: dedicated to empowering female fans. This year has also seen Eniola Aluko join the Guardian as their sports columnist, giving further credence to this progressive shift. In 2019, women’s place in football will no doubt rise, as the Women’s World Cup edges nearer. 

Season Zine
Season Zine

Owning the conversation

Over the last few years, clubs and players may have been asking themselves where they fit in the content landscape, and how they can own the conversation with their fans. Through Amazon’s partnership with Manchester City in their All Or Nothing doc, we might be getting a taste of what’s to come, as top clubs put out their own long-form content. The same goes for players, as we saw the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Raheem Sterling feature on Player’s Tribune, a platform that connects them directly with their fans. However, this trend doesn’t come without others losing out. Many commentators fear it might lead to less transparency and an exclusion of traditional media, with clubs and players looking to control their own message.

Player's Tribune
Player's Tribune

Integration of football and eSports continues

Football leagues and clubs have been getting more involved in the eSport space. The MLS introduced the eMLS Cup for the first time this year, with each club being represented by a Fifa gamer. Its success hasn’t gone unnoticed, and it has now been announced that the Premier League are doing something similar. In the past, eSports and traditional sports have seemed disparate and incompatible, as League Of Legends and Dota dominate. It’ll be interesting to see whether this push by top clubs and leagues can put Fifa at the same standing as eSport’s incumbents, giving the game a more meaningful place in the eSports category.

eMLS Cup
eMLS Cup

La Liga goes global

Probably the most controversial of developments, the 2018/19 La Liga season will potentially see Barcelona play Girona in a competitive game in Miami, at the Hard Rock Stadium. As clubs and leagues look to grow their fanbase across the world, it was only a matter of time before this was trialled. But the backlash to this demonstrates that there’s a way to go before football mimics American sports like the NFL, who have been present in the UK since 2007. In the meantime, we can continue to see pre-season as a way for clubs to connect with fans across the world, through the likes of the International Champions Cup, where the world’s top clubs play matches across the US, Europe and Singapore.

Miami's Hard Rock Stadium
Miami's Hard Rock Stadium

As well as these five areas, other interesting developments include the way tech is being used to produce immersive fan-focussed experiences as Siemens, The Economist and Bayern Munich provide the opportunity to track a game’s big moments through the voices of fans. Amazon have also finally made a break into Premier League rights, while OTT service DAZN continues to expand and grow in size across the globe, most recently setting up shop in Italy. From the pitch upwards, a lot is changing in football.

We're ten years old, so we're taking a journey back to where it all started...

We’re all about culture here at Crowd DNA, so we wanted to celebrate our ten years by flashing back on the good, the bad and the random (we’re looking at you mannequin challengers).

We’ve created ten videos, each covering a year of the last decade, highlighting key moments – from the news stories that shook the world to the fads that became viral. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and then you’ll remember that in 2008 Katy Perry kissed a girl and Barak Obama became president…

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

Taking notes at Brandalism in Singapore...

We headed along to The Drum’s Brandalism event, held in partnership with HP, when in Singapore this week, where a panel session at the ArtScience Museum had those agency and client-side rubbing shoulders with artists, seeking a shared view on the role of art (specifically street art) in advertising. Inevitably, this was not easy to find, and much of the challenge centred around if the value exchange between creativity and commerce could ever really be set right.

Art and advertising have in fact been dancing around each other for over a century (Toulouse-Lautrec, Rockwell, Warhol etc), but some new perspectives never hurt. Here’s a few quick notes from the session –

It was suggested that a brand’s values must match with those of the artist – easy to say, seriously tricky to deliver against, we’d suggest.

Alternatively, and likely a more realistic exchange, that the secret lies in the brand creating an opportunity that the artist would not otherwise have had; as a modern-day patronage of the arts, you could say, with Coke, or UBS, or Beck’s, taking the role once occupied by Renaissance-era establishment.

Most on the panel cautioned against brands thinking that collaborating with artists could function as a kind of shortcut to cultural relevancy. And Didier ‘Jaba’ Mathieu, the street artist on the panel, said that it often wouldn’t help an artist’s credibility within the scene if they’d notched up a track record of working with brands

Shaky ground all round, then. Though some examples (not specifically current, admittedly) were put forwards of art/brand collaborations that had appealed:

Art House: an Airbnb initiative at Art Basel Hong Kong a couple of years ago, that saw 11 artists given a disused store to set up studio in. The scary, but ultimately rewarding part, explained panellist Matthias Schuecking (consultant and former Airbnb marketer) was just allowing them to do whatever they wanted.

Art House
Art House

Favela Painting/Let’s Color: AkzoNobel-backed initiative with Dutch artists Haas&Hahn which turned 34 houses of a hillside favela into a huge community art project. For the month of painting, community members ‘received an education as well as a paycheck’.

Favela Painting
Favela Painting

eL Seed: the French/Tunisian artist is known as a ‘calligraffiti’ pioneer, working on everything from Arabic script art in New York proclaiming ‘The only thing people have in common is the fact that they are different’, to painting across 50 buildings in Cairo. He collaborated with Louis Vuitton, creating designs over the classic monogram scarf and LV trunk cases (ok, so not advertising really).

Coca-Cola: their quest for personalisation went into overdrive when they set a target of producing two million unique bottles of Diet Coke. Physical pieces of art were first created that, though abstract, featured brand relevancy in the form of bubbles and visual interpretations of fizz. HP then digitised the designs, creating an algorithm that could generate infinite new variations of each design to adorn bottles.

From original art to two million bottle variations
From original art to two million bottle variations

The common ground here? Perhaps a higher than normal level of investment in the cause by the brand and/or surrender of control. Commitment and humility, then – two factors for brands to bear in mind when engaging with art; though there’s a tension in this space that, we imagine, won’t be solved anytime soon.

Brand Beef

How Burger King takes curious pops at its (golden) arch rival...


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Competitor brands normally do a good job of completely ignoring each other in their communications, but it’s intriguing when that’s not the case. Burger King has quite a history of beef (flame grilled, natch) with McDonald’s, and their latest swipe is one of strangest yet.

American agency David Miami has crafted a print campaign which features real pics of rather large homes owned by former McDonald’s big cheeses (so many burger puns on offer in this post), each boasting a patio grill and the assertion that “flame grilling is hard to resist” – flame grilling, of course, being Burger King’s point of difference.

Previous Burger King pops at their rival include dressing a Queens, New York, outlet up as the ghost of McDonald’s on Halloween. There’s a fine line in getting this type of stuff right – if you’re not careful, you can come across as bitter, twisted and perhaps a little overshadowed. But we reckon the rather random, and unexpected, nature of these executions sees them coming out well.

 

 

From launching an NYC office to unveiling our thought leadership study for Spotify, we’ve had an amazing year at Crowd…

At this time of year, everyone’s waistbands expand a little. At Crowd, we’ve been happily growing all year. Of course we can’t talk about all the incredible projects that have seen our team travel from South Korea to Argentina and back again (several times). What we can say is that we’re happy to welcome several weighty global clients to the roster.

January kicked off with the release of the Power of Audio project on Spotify for Brands. The study, which saw us travel to US, Brazil, Japan and Manchester, investigates and celebrates the role of sound in our lives, as well as looking at what the future of audio holds for brands and consumers. It’s a great example of the power of socialising insights: the trailer has been viewed 326,000 times on Twitter and counting.

At Crowd we believe that understanding visual culture is essential for getting to grips with consumer culture. In February, Matilda Andersson, head of insight and innovation, shared our thinking when she presented ‘A picture paints: understanding visual culture’ at Atlantic Monday, a Festival Of NewMR webinar.

March saw us proudly open an office in New York, headed by former Flamingo Kiosk NYC lead Hollie Jones. The move to Cooper Square consolidates existing US client relationships and has already resulted in building several new ones. We’re off to a great start, with Hollie joined by Isabelle Kage of the Insight Strategy Group and senior consultant Tom Eccles from London’s Socialise team joining them both in January.

Our first Rise breakfast event in London took place in March. ‘Superfans’ saw Anna Chapman, Socialise director, map the journey of fandom, drawing on our work around influencers and passions.

Gender empowerment has been a huge theme this year both within Crowd and in wider culture. In May, associate director Jake Goretzki discussed the changing face of masculinity in ‘How to speak man’. His session explored changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials.

In June, products and services expert, Tom Morgan teamed up with our service designer Essi Mikkola to discuss how we tackle consumer journeys at Crowd, combining a cultural, behavioural science and visual approach.

At Crowd, we’re well known for our work researching millennials and increasingly Gen Z, so it might seem a little odd to debunk traditional demographics with an event called ‘Agelessness’. But as an insights and innovation agency, we know that as the world changes, so do our beloved cohorts. In September, our brand and communications expert, Eleanor Sankey tackled this delicate subject by exploring the idea that understanding consumers by age traits can be a little limiting at times.

Over the year we hosted a number of Rise events in London and Amsterdam. Each one, supported by Crowd content, including downloadable PDFs. Please email hello@crowddna.com if you’d like to be sent these.

What better time than the summer to make a short film about what we do? Edited by our head of film, Tom Eccles, it’s definitely worth just over one minute of your time.

September saw the launch of CrowdStars our global network of thinkers, influencers, creators and culture-shapers. We work with them to shake up conventional thinking within businesses in areas including immersive workshops and co-creation sessions, expert interviews and forecasting.

Huge congratulations to our head of insight and innovation Matilda Andersson who became a doctor this year. In September she appeared on a panel at the Jaguar Land Rover TechFest where she spoke about millennials and mobility. Have we reached the end of car ownership? Not yet it seems.

In October Sabrina Qureshi joined us as online communities director. We’re not actually new to online communities. We’ve been running them for years for the likes of IKEA, Booking.com, Sony Music and Channel 4. But now we’re giving the offer an even stronger position within our business – recognising the value of online communities in developing deep and continuous relationships with target audiences for our clients.

And as the year draws to a close, we can unveil another great piece of insights work for Facebook, which this time saw our team travelling across Canada on an icy road trip.

Thanks to all of you who made 2017 our best year yet. If you want the opportunity to join our journey into 2018, we’re recruiting for this and various roles so please do get in touch.

Facebook asked us to find out what makes Canadian millennials tick. This is what we learnt...

We’re delighted to post some recent insights work for Facebook about Canadian millennials.

The research involved a road trip across Canada where we conducted in-depth interviews with generational experts and Canadians aged 18-34, as well as a quant survey.

We learned that millennials rely on mobile, find strength in online communities and take pride in their country’s multicultural identity. We also found that when it comes to defining success and spending money, they hold surprisingly different views than older generations.

Read more here.