I recall somewhat fondly the era of capitalism in which moving your business online was an innovation. The direct to consumer phase of retail and packaged goods is forever tightly tied to interest rates in my mind. Direct to consumer failed as an ethos and a movement for better goods for consumers.
Facebook, Google and Apple are engaged in brutal turf warfare over who owns customer data and let me tell you it isn’t the brands or you as the buyer that benefit.
What was once efficient in reaching ever wider and more specific audiences, the consumer internet has smoothed your identity into some brand’s extremely specific Pyschographic. You know what I mean when I was Lululemon girl and Black Rifle Coffee guy. Don’t worry you think, I’m not a sucker. While typing this on an iPhone.
There was a vague optimism that merely by doing something like bypassing superfluous luxuries like brands (which only served to bamboozle with flash and expense) you could provide a better quality product at a lower cost to your ultimate customer. How naive that seems at the speed of global derivatives based financial products.
How fondly I remember thinking someone could design the Platonic ideal of the tee shirt or provide some basic ultimate end good without confusing merchandising tactics. I’ve never once in my life wanted to decide if the X or ultra version of something was better. Just sell me the one good thing damn it.
But they can’t. Markets compete. The differentiation gets competed away eventually. It began with the “one essential good thing” in a category and ended as a mess of optimization for margin & enshitification and selling new versions of the same audience to whatever sucker can pay the CPM. Remember when we used to pretend you could pay for performance in advertising? Sheryl Sandberg got us good.
There’s a weird thing with scale, where the market can raise the threshold for crappiness and then a truly scaled company can positively exploit those dynamics to provide a genuinely superior good. Amazon can have pretty great basics in the same way gas station chains can have decent coffee. Costco’s hotdog will remain an icon if their standards hold up.
Rory Sutherland an advertising executor has a concept called the “threshold for crappiness” that suggested your local chain sometimes had to up its game to compete when a chain comes in. But markets push downwards as well as upwards.
Venkatash Rao first coined premium mediocrity. Private equity excels at this category. It’s global cosmopolitan striver megabrand. It’s the pretty decent but in a big packaged good sort of way item you get at Whole Foods. Imagine the dreaded diffusion line of a once great luxury brand. Or Michael Kors.
Rao put words to a phenomena that drove me a bit nuts during the height of premium mediocrity in 20117. That was the tipping point for me when the shrinkflation of frothy times body slammed the aesthetic soul of branding.
Now the most mass market experience that is still tasteful and good can compete globally. But sometimes you just long to discover where a local market is genuinely better.
My favorite aspect of being abroad is finding markets where it’s not yet occurred & enjoying a significantly better product for it. It’s my most toxic millennial trait.
Legacy local businesses in small towns or secondary markets simply set a different standard for themselves occasionally from the premium mediocrity of the global markets. But times change. Business models change. Now we have ghost kitchens. And you two have probably purchased a premium mediocre brand and been fine with it.