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Author: Nathan Raffel

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Athletic Brands Should Sponsor eSports

Athletic Brands Should Sponsor eSports

Over the last few years the eSports industry started to grow from a novelty into a space of its own. For the unfamiliar, eSports is simply the moniker for the competitive video game space. Fast forward a couple of decades and this hobbyist community spawned of dial-up message boards is chasing the $1B revenue mark in 2018. Yet, even as sponsors flood the industry’s coffers with sponsorship revenue poised to grow 48% in 2018, traditional sports brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour still shy away from the digital fields of battle.

On the surface, it seems surprising. After all, the sports world has been sensationalizing the next big star even if they’re in high school for decades. Also many companies are targeting and incubating athletes at younger ages like PlayVS. To that tune, eSports athletes reach professional age much more soon and are poised to have much longer careers than traditional athletes. eSports athletes are also much less likely to fall victim to injury. Adidas, in particular, has had a long and troubled road losing athletes to injury from Derrick Rose to Reggie Bush. They have however recently dipped their toes into the foray. So, what is it exactly that stops the traditional sports sponsorship powerhouses from making a foray into the digital side of their world?

Physical presence. A long-time key component of the sports sponsorship world is the benefit of being automatically attached to high traffic, tangible real-estate. Maybe the corporate folks in sports advertising are clinging to a need to see their money at work in an arena. That’s fine. Companies like Activision-Blizzard are already bringing eSports to the big arenas and broadcasting through Disney and ESPN. While the executives wait and observe the price tags, eSports sponsorships will continue to rise. League of Legends, one of the more popular eSports games, draws more than 60M viewers to its championship event. For context, the Indian Premier League cricket finals only draws 55M viewers.

Okay, so eSports is already bigger than the national sport of one of the world’s largest countries. Still not enough for you Nike? Well, it’s enough for Toyota, Intel, HP and more. While several leagues like the NBA and NFL are sponsoring teams, it has yet to remain that apparel and athletic brands are following suit. Where are Gatorade, Under Armour, Lululemon etc? Some companies are still hesitant because the bulk of eSports viewers reside outside the US. Yet, we’ve entered into an era of global economy. Any company trying to attach its global brand to the next generation of youth would be a fool not to engage early. If you want to really grab a market you have to see 10 years into the future the way Red Bull did with American soccer.

The titans of sports apparel need to stick their toes in the pool this summer. Much is changing very quickly and the eSports industry has a huge upside. Maybe it’s about one CMO at one company making the first leap. We’ve seen Netflix beat out Blockbuster, have watched Amazon change the world and witnessed football’s fall from grace as parents fear for their children’s health. The bottom line is, if the sports brands don’t start sponsoring the gamers, then in a decade, the gamers will be sponsoring the sports brands.

The Takeaway:
  • eSports sponsorship revenue is poised to grow 48% in 2018, but traditional sports brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are slow to participate.
  • eSports athletes start young and mature their skills faster than traditional sports.
  • Companies like Activision-Blizzard are bringing eSports to big arenas and broadcasting through Disney and ESPN.
  • There’s a massive opportunity for athletic brands to affiliate with a unique “sport” that has high growth and resonates with their mission.
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Facebook’s Local News Problem

Facebook has been in the hot seat this year. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was such a debacle that it won Mark Zuckerberg a two day trip to testify before congress. Facebook’s admitted lack of oversight compromised millions of Americans’ data and spread fake news from big cities to the smallest of towns, and Uncle Sam still wants to know what happened. In the wake of this scandal, as Facebook tries to Humpty Dumpty their consumers’ trust, they’ve made a big to-do about their preemptive foray into local news and their new set of tools to support local publishers.

In February, Facebook created a Local News Accelerator. The program allots $3 million dollars for marketing to help newspapers get digital subscriptions. Publications from Boston, Dallas, San Francisco and other major news hubs will divide up Facebook’s ad dollars. The jury is still out on its success, as no reports from the companies in the accelerator have confirmed increased digital subscriptions. But there has been one study done that confirms a recent decrease in the reach of local news publishers on the Facebook platform.

The Takeaway:
  • Facebook is a groundbreaking tech company with a global vision, but local journalism requires microscopic detail, not just global vision.
  • Facebook is still not sure how to tackle the news space and with Pew Research deducting that 44% of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, that’s not the best conundrum to be in.
  • The jury is still out on the success of Facebook’s News Accelerator, as no reports from the companies in the accelerator have confirmed increased digital subscriptions.

Which local publishers? Ironically, the very ones participating in the Local News Accelerator. In fact, only 2 of the 13 have seen a single digit percentage increase in reach on Facebook since their enrollment, while reach has actually decreased by double digits for 9 of those 13 participants. The Denver Post claims the unwanted crown with a staggering 56% decrease in reach since it entered the program. If Facebook is going to hurt more than it helps, then it needs to re-think its strategy. Communities need the localized information and journalistic accountability to connect them to their local ecosystem, and that connection is important.

Studies show that local newspaper closures are followed by rate hikes on the cities’ borrowing costs, sometimes as much as 11%. A pattern emerges where a few years after a local paper closure, people begin to take advantage of the lack of oversight, especially in revenue bonds. Revenue bonds are the instrument used to finance schools and hospitals, projects that generate ongoing revenue. This debt is then repaid to the city from the revenues generated by the project. Without hard-nosed, local journalists there to make sure no one dips their hand in the cookie jar and money starts to go missing.

Apart from an investment in local news, Facebook has also taken away their global trending feature and are testing ‘Breaking News’ features in the newsfeed and on the Watch platform. Nothing’s figured out and with Pew Research deducting that 44% of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, that’s not the best conundrum to be in.

Facebook is right. They do have a responsibility to help local news. All the big tech companies do. Google’s ad revenue grew $86.3B from 2004 – 2016. Companies in that same time frame spent $31.5B less on print ads. Organizations like Facebook are great and most people use them everyday. They’re a groundbreaking tech company with a global vision, but local journalism requires microscopic detail, not just global vision. We’ll wait and see if that’s a problem Facebook is equipped to solve.

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Fighting The News – Media Credibility

It’s no secret that Elon Musk is well loved. He’s been in the press since Peter Thiel’s Confinity bought Elon’s X.com and rebranded it as Paypal before taking it public in 2000. While most people vied for their fifteen minutes of fame, Elon had a solid 18 year press run. This spring, however, has been full of critical press coverage not only about Tesla but also Musk’s leadership of it. A contentious Elon took to Twitter to vent his newfound frustrations with the media. In typical Elon fashion, he made quite a stir in the process.

There’s been reported rumors of union-busting to Bloomberg’s lamentable Tesla progress charts. Some detractors call his visions tall tales and say his companies are teetering on the brink of collapse. ‘Haters gonna hate” though. It’s easy to say that when we see a company consistently operating at a loss, but look at Jeff Bezos who posted loss after loss for years. Now, Amazon is so ubiquitous with e-commerce that there is a self-penned Onion article about Bezos’ pending world domination and he is also the richest man in the world.

Angry, rich and retaliatory or not, Elon is on to something. There’s a problem with the media. Not one to be content with problems, Elon has a solution ready. He calls it Pravda, the Russian word for “truth.” His concept is a site where people can rate the “core truth” of any given article. Over time this would “track the credibility score of each journalist, editor & publication” then display it online for all to see. Crowd-sourced accountability is a viable option for oversight of publicly published information. Still, “core truth” isn’t a very strong attribute to base a credibility score on as truth is, by definition, subjective.  

Mark Twain famously said, “there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics.”  An early champion of informational distrust, Twain decries the manipulation of the context in which we are presented data. A political poll or a study done on a hot public health topic can easily be manipulated to control the perception of the issue in the public eye. The thing to remember about truth being subjective is that it’s always been this way. Throughout history facts have been what is societally accepted as true at the time.

The problem now is sifting through all of this information. Whereas our parents read the newspaper every day, we are bombarded with too much information every day via the internet. This is what Elon is talking about. There is simply so much content being released so quickly that it’s basically impossible to give it all a quality edit. We need some kind of system to discourage bad actors and reward quality content providers. While, I don’t think creating China’s social credit system for journalists is the answer, something needs to be done and soon.

Speaking of context, we have to consider the context of the media companies themselves. They’re businesses operating in a capitalist economy. Their job is not only to police the facts but to generate revenue for their company and its shareholders. If we want better information the challenge lies on us.

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Spotify’s Mixed Bag of Censorship

Last year the #metoo campaign swept the film industry. Finally, after decades of terror, predator after predator was held accountable. Last week Spotify brought the fight to the music industry with its new “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy.” Banning hateful content is nothing new, but what’s new is punishing creators for ‘Hateful Conduct.’ To christen this precarious decision, Spotify removed R Kelly and XXXTentacion from it’s playlists with a few strokes of their corporate keys.  

So, what exactly does that mean for both Spotify and the artists? On Spotify’s end it means they’ve entered into risky territory. They’ve thrown their two cents into the age old debate about separating the art from the artist, and have done so in a particularly subjective manner. They’re teetering on the brink of censorship. R Kelly has never been convicted of a crime. While he has been party to a growing number of scandals, no court of law has found him guilty. This is a position shared by many musicians in both the urban and the pop space.  

It’s going to be interesting to see where Spotify draws the line.  XXXTentacion’s manager fired back with a high profile list of other musicians and their alleged crimes and asked for comment on how their cases would be addressed in the court of Spotify. Do XXXTentacion’s face tattoos make him more of a threat than fellow alleged abuser and former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter? Is R Kelly more of a danger to us than Tekashi69 who has been convicted of having sex with a minor?

Regardless, reality is that eventually someone has to address the widespread gross misuse of power and Spotify is up for the task. What they’re doing is certainly uncharted territory but it’s no different than the film industry pushing out Harvey Weinstein without a legal judgement. Our legal system has often failed us and the fact that R Kelly and many others remain legally innocent does not mean that they are truly innocent of their alleged crimes.

Spotify is operational because of its subscribers and in this day and age people have more of a voice than ever before because of social media. When Laura Ingraham from Fox made bullying comments toward one of the Parkland survivors, many corporations pulled their ads from Fox because people with buying power called them out on social media. Spotify is basically saying, our subscribers own us and we have to respect them.

While the first amendment is something we all hold dear, Spotify isn’t wholly censoring anyone. They’re removing the songs from their editorial playlists, not their platform. Spotify is simply choosing not to support these artists with their resources, not telling them what they can and can’t say or do. Censorship is scary, but so are men in power who wield it to abuse women and escape the law. Our actions have consequences, even if they aren’t always legal. In this situation Spotify is taking the role of the parent telling the children “you have free will, but if you choose to do A then we’re going to do B.”

While the move can be seen as commendable, is this how mass censorship starts? Maybe, but if this type of censorship bleeds into politics, that’s a different story, but right now, it seems like Spotify, among other corporations, is doing what they can do spread goodness through their platform.

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Is This America? Social Justice Pop Art

Last week “This Is America” took control of our screens. After Donald Glover’s initial SNL performance of his new single “This Is America,” he dropped the visual and the internet went wild. The video has reached over 130M views since it’s release on May 5th. Not too shabby for a week and half’s work. The views have been boosted by video embeds in almost every major news outlet one can conceivably think of as everyone and their grandmother rushes to breakdown the details of the symbolism and “hidden meaning” behind the visuals.

The real reason this video is setting the world on fire is most certainly not the nuanced details laid out across all major media outlets in the typical ‘listicle’ articles or explainer videos.  Everyone is watching because the message is both clear and socially relevant: America mistreats its black citizens. Donald Glover is making waves for creating an overtly black artistic masterpiece as a conversation starter with his size-able crossover white audience. He has access to powerful visual channels like SNL from his work on 30 Rock and Atlanta where he also tackles the modern American black experience. Yet, this time he chose to push the message through his Childish Gambino outlet because music can be a more resonant platform for speaking to the people.

Music has long been one of the vehicles through which our society has addressed and demanded solutions for our pain points. It has traditionally been more accessible as TV’s were cost prohibitive in their early years. Sam Cooke was instrumental in the 60’s as “A Change Is Gonna Come” became an anthem of the civil rights movement, Marvin Gaye spoke for the people of the 70s with  “What’s Going On?” and acts like NWA and Public Enemy carried this torch into the 90s. At a certain point these artists transcended their musical output and became a social force. With this release, Donald Glover has also crossed that line, very intentionally leveraging the power of his voice for social justice.

He’s made such a fuss that even his director and choreographer are getting famous.  Sherrie Silver, the video’s West African choreographer, has been covered in Vice, Fader, Glamour, Hypebeast and more. She also recently released a dance tutorial so you can dance just like the music video. The director Hiro Murai, one of Glover’s frequent collaborators, has been seen in the The New York Times, HighSnobiety and Vanity Fair amongst others. Perhaps some of the attention falling on the supporting cast this time around stems from Glover’s refusal to explain his art. Left with no answer or single clickbait headline from the man himself, the media has been grasping at straws in its attempt to make sense of the video.  

Well, if this is what the media wants they should be celebrating as 2018 is not poised to disappoint. From Black Panther in February to This Is America now, it’s looking like a year for activist art. Spike Lee’s latest piece, BlacKkKlansman is already making ripples at Cannes and is sure to make waves when it hits theatres. There are an ever increasing number of social injustices and art that tackles these issues thoughtfully will always have a welcome place. Art that tries and fails will be laughed off the stage. That’s why no one is toasting Donald Glover’s success with a Pepsi.

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The Yodeling Kid Is Famous

You’ve probably heard of Mason Ramsey. In March he let loose the yodel heard ‘round the world from the humble stage of a Walmart convenience store, dubbing himself “The Yodeling Kid.” Fast forward to May and Mason is still yodeling away, but on much larger stages. Having recently performed at Coachella, Stagecoach, and the famous Grand Ole Opry, Mason is in the midst of a meteoric rise to fame. And while the kid himself is a new face, the situation can’t help but feel familiar.  

Virality like this is nothing new. From Marquese Scott aka the “dubstep dancer” to Danielle Bregoli aka Bhad Bhabie, digital video virality has been spawning legitimate careers in entertainment since its inception. What’s new is the sheer speed of Mason’s rise. Scott’s famous video was his 53rd. He’d been posting for years and eventually one stuck. Even Bregoli had more than a year for her memedom to simmer after her initial outburst on TV with the infamous “cash me ousside, how bout dat?”

Mason is a different story, he yodeled some Hank Williams in a Walmart and then played Coachella 3 weeks later. This is what virality 3.0 looks like. When these internet sensations first hit the industry, they didn’t know how to properly leverage their digital stardom. Now, 15 years in there’s a blueprint. Both Bregoli and Mason are actually signed to Atlantic Records. Mason’s launch to the big time was a perfect storm. While we have seen this phenomenon in pop and urban genres, this country catapult to fame is a first.

One advantage Mason holds is the increasing number of internet connected devices. With the increasing number of digital platforms this allows artists to instantly intertwine their digital presence with their fans. Whatever the nexus of circumstance, Mason Ramsey is crushing it. His new single ‘Famous’ is written by the Florida Georgia Line team and it’s already done more than 10 million Spotify streams and charted on the Billboard hot 100. With so much adulation it begs the question, what makes it different with Mason than the others? How did he do it in 3 weeks? Even Bieber took longer than that. Speaking of Bieber, their chance encounter at Coachella was very fitting. There’s a new kid on the block and Justin is passing on the torch of youtube video, turned superstar.

Maybe people just like to see a kid make it. Perhaps it’s the convergence of the growing digital population and the need for hope of upward mobility to fight the despair of the widening income gap. The bottom line is that although internet virality has been around since the 1990s each individual case has its own je ne sais quoi. Shoveling marketing dollars across platforms can make a snowball but only the consumer can create an avalanche. Today, Mason Ramsey may be the Walmart crooning avalanche du jour, but lord knows what Taco Bell beatbox genius will claim the throne next.

future party med men

From Sack To Shelf – Marijuana’s Third Wave

Spring is here and weed is in the air. Literally and metaphorically speaking, cannabis is everywhere we turn. What was once an illegal and underground business has entered into a new era. While on a national level the conversation remains in the court of Jeff Sessions, on the state level we’re seeing a flex of sovereign rights to overrule the law of the land. Shipments still can’t cross state borders, but the merchandise from producers is no longer hurriedly stuffed into ziplocks, it’s on the shelves in dispensaries all over the country.

This transition from the sack to the shelf has started an entirely new race. The first wave came with the farming of marijuana, and the second was the medical modernization and distribution of the commodity. The third wave, occurring now, is the branding of the products that fuel cannabis consumption. Now that there are retail distribution centers, the territorial networks of drug dealers are no longer as effective. In turn, this encourages more vendors which fosters competition. In 29 states consumers aren’t forced to buy whatever they can get from a smoke filled apartment, they have options. Now the cannabis brands have to vie for their customers attention just like the rest of the corporate world, and they’re rolling out some pretty rad packaging to show off their market savvy.

San Francisco based Bloom Farms is playing to the boutique hipster market. They boast “single origin” oils, a classic value add from the coffee aficionado space. Bloom Farms doesn’t stop there, they employ word play for their pen products as well, calling them “highlighters.” Snoop Dogg, never to be left out of the cannabis conversation, has launched Leafs by Snoop.  The line boasts dazzling packaging and the name is a comedic nod to longtime collaborator Dr. Dre’s “Beats by Dre.” Marley Naturals have a built in brand awareness and a definite head start over many of their competitors. At the very sight of the name on the label they’re able to take advantage of the magnitude of the Marley brand.

This new market is not only for smoking. The edible market is a cresting green wave making up many of the thousands of cannabis brands flooding the nascent market. Prepare also to see tons of cannabis infused dining experiences. With any food products the interaction with the FDA adds an extra layer of regulation to the product, not unlike the alcohol industry’s return from prohibition under the watchful eye of  the ATU, the fromer moniker of the modern ATF. The variety of products is driving a booming legal marijuana industry. What began as a $9B annual business domestically in 2017 is projected to grow more than 400% to in excess of $47B by 2027.

So, what does the market look like at 5X the current size?  Who becomes the 800-pound gorilla in this market? MedMen, a multi-million dollar chain of dispensaries certainly has the potential. They are shaping the future of the cannabis space with their efforts to destigmatize the industry while simultaneously migrating the west coast centric industry to the east coast. They are experts at creating a great customer experience. They recently opened an Apple store-esque medical dispensary right on 5th Avenue in New York, their 4th in the state. It’s companies like this one who push the boundaries of how we will both perceive and interact with the cannabis industry that will win big as the green machine continues to overtake the country and the world.

High Times has long been a brand ubiquitous with weed but the list is growing. Now there are strong brands from flower tycoon Moon Rocks to Kandypens and Pax revolutionizing the vaporizer. There are even brands like Garden Society with a distinct focus on marketing to women, and this is just the beginning. Whether you smoke or not, be prepared for a future where grabbing a case of Bud Light or a bottle of wine at the grocery store is as commonplace as finding your favorite joints at the mall.

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Subscriptions – The Future Of Online Publishing

In 2018, online media publishers are competing for a dwindling share of advertiser revenue. Alphabet and Facebook continue to leverage their magnitude to take the lion’s share of digital ad revenue forcing both smaller and bigger publishers to get creative for their piece of the pie. Currently, most publishers rely on advertisers but many have either built or are starting to build direct relationships to their consumers through paid subscriptions. Already this year, there has been a growing swath of publishers falling into this trend.

The ad driven model is broken, that’s why Buzzfeed is selling spatulas in Walmart. It’s masked as innovation, however it’s preceded by necessity, especially considering their struggle to hit their numbers by almost 20% last year. Consumer behavior is adapting and quality is being demanded. Ironically, the idea of subscriptions for publishing businesses isn’t foreign. Newspapers have been around for centuries and subscriptions have been popular since the 1830’s. This is why companies like The New York Times are ahead of the digital media pack with a cool 2.6 million subscribers. At $120/year per subscription, they aren’t hurting for income. Their annual subscription revenue in 2017 was roughly a billion dollars and that’s more than half of their overall revenue. They transitioned successfully from their established print subscription business where others could not. This model represents the future of media, one where advertiser revenue is supplementary and not the fulcrum a publisher leverages for profitability.

The last few years, subscriptions have been revolutionizing everything. Equal parts convenience and the sanguine satisfaction of unboxing and this physical trend has made its way into the digital realm. We already know that music, TV & Film have been revolutionized by the likes of Apple, Spotify, Netflix and Amazon. These companies have been great examples as to what a content business can offer to their consumer through the power of subscriptions. We’ve even started to notice gaming move in this direction via programs like Twitch subscriptions, where fans support their favorite streamers art with a small monthly fee.

At the dawn of the world wide web, the concept of “the free internet” gained steam. When websites began competing for eyeballs robust ad systems were born and became very profitable, very fast. As the value of that content became more about turning heads, and less about creating substance, online subscriptions created opportunity.

It’s in this space that the consumers win as our dollars, no longer those of advertisers, dictate what content the platform will publish. This is a renewed opportunity for publishers to strengthen their trust with their consumers. The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, has even discussed giving its subscribers direct access to communicate with writers and staff. While they’re only tallying about 40% of the Times’ digital subs, they have the ability to bundle their perks with Amazon and its other subsidiaries.  

Recently, Bloomberg announced its new subscription model. Financial Times makes most of its revenue through this method. Conde Nast owned Vanity Fair is giving a $20/year offering to its readers. The Information, a new publisher for the tech elite, publishes high quality content that holds its own against more popular ad driven tech publications. They recently held a media summit and there, New York Times COO, Meredith Kopit Levien stated to the audience, that “a rising tide lifts all boats” speaking to their passion to help media businesses everywhere move into subscriptions, knowing if most or all publishers can show that subscriptions are the most valuable for their customer, everyone wins. As glorious as it sounds, it also makes it more difficult to compete and show value. Subscription content has to be premium and it has to create an experience for the customer. Google and Facebook see this as well, both giants are creating tools for publishers to create and support subscription platforms and Apple is actually creating its own platform for news. These companies recognize the new upward trend and how it could change large aspects of their businesses.

Publishers across various fields big and small will thrive in this coming time. Strong brands creating content for passionate niche’s are finding each other, and the customers are paying for exactly what they want and value. We’re seeing this in sports with The Athletic, hype fashion culture through Maekan, and even newsletter darling, The Skimm. There’s a host more of new and established companies moving in this direction.

At its core the subscription is recurring revenue, a business model that’s been around since 1440 with the advent of the printing press. And here we are in 2018 as our modern media tycoons return to their 15th century roots while simultaneously guiding their businesses into the future. If you’re the customer, get excited and ready to pay for what you love and need. If you’re the publisher, be prepared, maybe even a little scared.

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Fakes On IG Are Changing “Identity”

The concept of social “identity” has been the center of many discussions over the last few years. Half of the world has an online extension of themselves via the internet. This is shifting the paradigm of how people behave and see themselves. It’s also changing how we relate to our favorite things like brands and characters. Engaging with fake people has been made real by things like twitter parody accounts several years ago. Lately, people have been seeing and interacting with fake characters made to feel real visually. One example is Instagram sensation Lil Mayo’s meteoric rise to fame. His account currently boasts 1.6 million fans who follow his every move as he lives it up in LA. Lil Mayo parties with Rihanna, Dillon Francis and Rich the Kid, but he isn’t the next big rapper. He’s actually a vintage alien doll manned by a guy named Alex Martyn.

Getting his start as an instagram account making memes of existing alien pictures, Martyn quickly ran out of subject matter. Then, as he told VICE, “one day I thought, If I just had my own alien, I could take my own photos and make more dank memes.”  Then things really changed. People gobbled up the documentation of Mayo’s lifestyle and a robust community quickly sprung around him. His public presence has grown since those early days of 2015 until now; where Mayo commands a brand that has powered the mostly sold out launch of its own clothing line, SUCC.

While fans from all walks of life are descending upon Zumiez for merchandise or inviting him to lavish hollywood parties to show their adulation for Mayo’s more tangible presence, another influencer is building her empire behind the scenes. Lil Miquela is pushing the boundaries of identity at the intersection of tech, fashion and entertainment. The creator behind the wildly popular Instagram account is still a mystery woman. However, the CGI face and body she’s generated stays adorned by an increasingly wide spectrum of brands. The very interaction from the brands is a nod to the growing social clout of the world’s first computer generated influencer.

On the surface Miquela is a new breed. When investigated deeper, with more context Mayo and Miquela are just updated iterations of classic concepts such as the monster and the doll. This time however they interact with fans in DM’s and comments creating a loyal base of followers. There is sticker shock at just how real Miquela looks but beyond that she is no different than anyone. Even if the only filter we use on instagram is what we choose to show people, all of us are still curating our digital presence. In the end how are Miquela and Mayo any different? It’s just a person on the internet showing us what they want us to see.

There are inherent risks. Perhaps some little girl will see Miquela and think she is real.  Perhaps that same girl will have some issues from attempting to match an unnatural standard of beauty. Or perhaps we’re overreacting. Are these “fake” people co-opting cool and selling it to brands? Maybe, but that’s no different than brands hiring celebrities. This is just the beginning of this concept of “virtual celebrities”, where we see influencers commanding large audiences when they aren’t even real. It’s definitely not the last time we’ll ask ourselves who we want to tell people we are on the internet.

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Fashion Chooses Diversity To Influence Pop Culture (And Profits)

In the 1990s and 2000s luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci enjoyed their presence on the public pedestal as the status symbols of fashion couture. Yet the luxury brands of years past were unable to connect with the rebellious millennial spirit influenced heavily by hip hop culture. Recently Louis Vuitton hired Ghanaian-American fashion designer and Kanye west muse, Virgil Abloh to be the Director of Men’s Wear and their cultural savant. This is Louis Vuitton’s first African American artistic director, but not a shocking move when looking at the industry at large. The trend began its upswing when classic French fashion house Balmain had a bright idea: hire a brilliant young black man to guide them into the future.

Olivier Rousteing came on board as the creative director for Balmain in 2011 at the young age of 25. He was the first black creative director of a major French fashion house and as such he came on the scene under a degree of scrutiny for both his age and his skin color. Last year, he told LA times, “Sometimes I feel that racism is something that is not obviously obvious in fashion, but you feel it. You have to prove [yourself] more than the others.” He immediately began to modernize both the aesthetic of the brand and the way Balmain communicated with its consumers. His social media presence aka the ‘Balmain Army’ put the brand at the forefront of a younger audience and his vision has gracefully ushered them into a new era of importance, power, and revenue.

After Balmain’s success other fashion giants began to take notice. Most notably Adidas and its partnership with Kanye West, a mentor and collaborator of Virgil. The Adidas partnership no doubt paved the way for Virgil’s position at Louis Vuitton. As Adidas sales began to languish behind perennial favorite Nike, they were searching for a way to better connect with their customer since their shell toed-heyday in the late 80s and early 90s. As they looked to close the more than $10B annual revenue gap between their brand and Nike, the Yeezy line by West became their catalyst for growth. Soon Yeezy’s were ruling the secondary sneaker market that had long been controlled by the resale of Jordans. A telltale sign that Adidas had yet again become culturally relevant.

Even still, when Rousteing, West and Abloh weren’t even in the game, Harlem’s Dapper Dan was defining the boldness that still embodies streetwear to this day. More than 30 years ago Dap began adorning the VIPs of Harlem from rappers to dope-boys and their style defined an era. After quite the hiatus from the limelight, last year Dap, born Daniel Day, was embroiled in a twitter controversy as Gucci’s current creative director Alessandro Michele unveiled a piece very closely mimicking one that Dap made for olympian Diane Dixon. Whereas once upon a time Dap’s store was raided by lawyer’s seizing his equipment, a young Sonia Sotomayor among them, now he is opening a boutique with Gucci in Harlem.

Streetwear has been at the forefront of the fashion conversation for decades. It even took center stage at Louis Vuitton before Virgil’s arrival with their highly successful LV X Supreme collaboration in spring 2017. In reality, these appointments for West at Adidas, Virgil at Louis Vuitton, Rousteing at Balmain and Dapper Dan at Gucci are only news in the fashion industry. For the rest of millennials, this generation has always looked up to musicians and artists for culture and will continue to do so. The blossoming diversity in positions of power is just proof that the consumer does have the final say. The people have spoken and we want culture, not homogenized luxury. This mindset expands beyond the doors of fashion, diversity influences pop culture in outsized ways. Culture molds brands and brands define our world, so diversity makes good business sense.

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