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Influencers, staged unboxing videos, paid posts — at this point, even people outside of the ecomm business know that most UGC isn’t actually user-generated. On this episode, Richard and Taylor go deep on the history of bullsh*t in advertising, the ethics of “fake UGC,” and Taylor’s barometer for determining how much BS is too much.

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This episode of the Ecommerce Playbook podcast is brought to you by Saral. Build your influencer marketing program on autopilot with a simple workflow. For everything from gifting to paid campaigns, try it out for free at or with the link in the show notes.

[00:00:19] Richard: hey everyone. Welcome to the Ecommerce Playbook podcast. I'm your host, Richard Gaffin, director of Digital Project Strategy here at Common Thread Collective, back after a two week hiatus in the wilderness while Taylor has been out reporter on the beat interviewing various guests.

I'm joined yet again, of course, by our CEO Taylor Holiday. Taylor, how you doing?

[00:00:36] Taylor: Doing well. Richard, were you with Aaron Rodgers in the dark retreat or where, where did you take this hiatus though?

[00:00:42] Richard: That's right. Yeah. Me and Aaron were uh, doing ayahuasca and talking about UFOs or whatever. Honestly, probably having conversations very similar to the one we're about to have, about the big picture, what's right and wrong,

[00:00:52] Taylor: That's right. So I'm hoping you've brought back some insight from that journey to help us solve this dilemma.

[00:01:04] Richard: The conversation we're having today is on a provocative new video we have coming out either depending on when this comes out, either last week or this week.

And the title of that particular video is the UGC Bullshit. and I think based on the title, you could all kind of guess what that's about already. Which is maybe another part of this conversation that's kind of interesting that we all sort of get that there's a lot of bullshit going on in UGC

Yeah, exactly. But I wanted to start out by saying, or, or rather defining bullshit there's a philosopher called Harry Frankfurt who in the eighties wrote an essay called On Bullshit where he decided to take an academic approach. To defining this word and Es Yeah, yeah, yeah. Essentially what it got to is this idea that like bullshit isn't lying per se.

It's not having much concern or not having a concern for the truth in the first place. You're communicating in such a way that whether or not the content of your communication is true. The purpose of it is a manipulation beyond whether or not you're communicating something that's directly true to a person.

And so obviously when it gets to UGC, we have a real ang of bullshit that we have to get through. So, Why don't we kick it off and just say, Taylor, what, what prompted you to create this video? Why? Why has it been on your mind

[00:02:14] Taylor: Man, Harry, I, I am, I'm a fan of that. That's gonna be a great setup for a Twitter thread someday, Richard. But look, the reality is if you are in Ecommerce and you're running Facebook ads, this is the topic, dejour, and it has been for six months. On the creative side, is that suddenly. Everybody on Twitter is a UGC creator.

If go read all their bios, every human, everybody with an Instagram account is a UGC creator. And brands all day want you to make them UGC. They want you to source them UGC, they want you to run UGC. They want you. And so there's this never ending topic about this acronym that has suddenly come to mean a lot of things.

And then the domino got tipped over for. Two weeks ago when I was having a conversation, it started with our AI conversation where I had, I got introduced to some people who were creating a Hi UGC that basically allowed you to make a fake person and make them say anything you want and make it look like it's a real person saying a real thing.

And I was just like, oh my goodness, we've just completely slipped off the edge here. And so I think that just led me. Sort of, okay, we, we need to discuss this. We all need to acknowledge what's happening here and decide if this is something really, really want for our industry, or where is the line that we, as a brand or as an agency, as a provider, look, we've been sucked into this.

Like, I'm not gonna say we haven't contributed to the bullshit at some point, but the question is like, where is our ethical line? And then how do I think about that? So like many things, it's my processing out loud.

[00:03:48] Richard: Yeah, no, that makes sense. So to that ethics question, maybe I think like a lot of, or we were discussing before we hit record here, a conversation that we had or rather a class that we put together. We've mentioned it before. It's an ad philosophy course, and the idea is partially it, it's just sort of, a way to frame all of the tactics that you'll get from our product and from our service and that kind of thing, starting from these big principles about what makes a good business and working down.

But the question that we started off with, In the very first class of that course was, what's the difference between capital G, good and lowercase? Good advertising. And this is sort of a, a kind of a liberal, artsy way to say like, what's the difference between advertising being good, is in good or evil?

Good and bad and advertising being effective or ineffective. And almost always, I would say 99.9% of the time we're having a conversation about the latter, which is to say what makes advertising effective and what makes it not effective. And in this case, I think the primary conversation we're gonna be having today is around, the first question is like, what types of ad or ma, what makes an.

Good or bad in the sense of right or wrong. And so I think, like obviously you mentioned the impetus for creating this video in the first place, but Taylor, why is, why is this an ethical question that you think is worth tackling in a public way right now?

[00:05:06] Taylor: Yeah, so you're, you're tapping into sort of my personal deconstructionist worldview that I'm undoing here, but I actually don't know that I would frame it quite this way. I actually believe that there is an underlying connection between these things, between eth ethically good and effective, and.

Mainly because it represent, one represents reality. The idea that there are people out in the world saying good things about you, which will have a compounding word of mouth value for you, and one represents a false reality that there's not necessarily someone saying anything about you and it misleads you.

Into thinking your business is being more impactful than it is in some ways. And so it robs you of the actual obligation to create a thing worth talking about . And so in that way, I think there can be actually a connection between effectiveness and ethics. But let's assume that there isn't. Cause I think that's where if there really was a trade off where we could say the flat out lie is effective, should you run that ad?

Yes or no? And that's a question that I think that everybody has to answer for themselves and they have to decide. Both. As a creator, you have to decide if you're gonna make that content and you're gonna tell that representative narrative of your use of the product. And as a brand, if you wanna position to customers that there are other people having this testimonial style experience about your brand that you know is totally fake.

[00:06:26] Richard: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah, it's, it's interesting that question about, and maybe we can get into it a little bit later, but the, the difference between effectiveness and ethics, or rather the relationship between the two, is that often, let's say maybe for the sake of argument, that in the short term, often those things can be completely disconnected from one another, and you can do something that feels ethically maybe.

Uh, Not above board that is effective in the short term, but in the long run. One, one way to think about it is that if you have to lie about your product to get people to buy it, then maybe your product's not so great in the first place. And given all of our conversations about thinking about the long game and building an anti-fragile company, if your product isn't good enough to tell the truth about, then maybe you have a problem

[00:07:07] Taylor: Yeah, it's the, it's probably the latency of the consequences, right? In the same way that maybe eating sugar doesn't feel bad for you and may have very limited short-term effects, but you do it enough over time, you're gonna cause some real problems. And I think that's, that's sort of how I see this, which is that any individual ad unit.

It could be highly effective, there's no doubt about that. But if the promise that the person made in the video, and let's just say it's that they're having some incredible experience, that's life changing doesn't actually match the experience of the product. That's the fundamental problem. You can't fake the actual experience someone will have once they buy the thing.

And if someone eats the candy bar and is like, oh my God, this is so delicious and it's bitter and terrible. , there's gonna be an incongruence that causes a problem at some point. Now, most of it's not that stark. Most of it probably lives more in the gray, which is, this is my favorite, you know, skincare ever.

And you don't really know if it's doing anything. And maybe it is, but this person said it was, and so now I just keep trying and, but it's at the end of the day. Real key. The magic is developing experiences that genuinely elicit a reaction from people that authentically says, this is amazing. Because then they're not just gonna say it the one time they record the video, they're gonna say it to a bunch of people a bunch of times.

[00:08:25] Richard: Right. Okay, so well actually let's get into then the five types of UGC on the bullshit meter here, starting with the worst, let's say starting with the bullshit is and going to the cleanest smelling per se. So, yeah, let's start at the bottom. Work

[00:08:36] Taylor: Yeah, so I, I, I sort of categorize five different versions cuz we've taken this term user generated content and we have allowed the user in, in that equation to become wildly variable, right? In terms of what that you actually represents. And at the bottom is the thing that I said top to me over as a domino, which is that the bullshit of all the bullshit is that there is a, there's not actually a user at.

There's a computer generated person saying a computer generated thing on a camera. So literally no. There is no user, no one actually used the product at all, right? In fact, the person is made up. The message is made up, and you present it with no clarity. No declaration that it's an AI person, no declaration that it's fake, no declaration, that it's a paid advertisement.

You present this entirely artificial creation from beginning to end as if it's a real customer saying a real thing. This is right up there with, might as well get an AI bot to go leave 10,000 reviews on your website. Right? There's, it's the same premise. You've completely artificially manufactured all of this such that none of it is real and to your, you know, The, the hairy bullshit meter that you described earlier, like, they're not even interested in the truth.

There's not even an attempt to represent the truth at all. That, to me is a world that we might be headed towards, and it is problematic at the very least.

[00:09:58] Richard: All right. Okay, so then let's move into the next tier, which while the first tier is maybe a new level that we haven't quite sunk to on mass yet. The second level is something that we've been guilty of, of, of probably a couple of times. But and that would be studio created, let's call it. UGC. So the person is not a real user, but also the setting is not a natural one.

Let's say somebody's home or whatever. So talk about

[00:10:23] Taylor: So let's call this AGC actor generated

[00:10:26] Richard: There

[00:10:27] Taylor: This is you have paid a person to show up to say a thing that you wrote in a stat or studio that's intended to represent a relocation, but it's not real either. So the location's not real, the person's not real, and their opinion's not real. But yet you put it out in the world as if it were, and again, you make no declaration that it's a paid actor.

You make no declaration that the testimonial's fake is entirely from beginning to end a manufactured process. Of a user generated piece. Now, this has actually become quite prevalent in our industry because you can control the quality of the video. You can make them say anything that you want, and it becomes a very scripted process that can feel and be shot to look.

This is another thing. The way you choose to shoot the the videography is as if the user is shooting it themselves or. Misrepresenting the production mechanism in the process. That's the like fourth lowest level. These are all below the ethical line, Taylor's ethical line, but this is the, this is not quite as bad as the AI in my mind, but this is pretty close.

[00:11:27] Richard: Okay. All right. So then let's move up one level then to the, the sort of last one, the one that's closest to the ethical line without actually being over it, or rather the one that's still, let's say, unethical according to this, but closest to being like almost there, which is the most common also, which is paid influencer, UGC.

I mean, this is a whole massive industry of people who just do this. So speak to that

[00:11:48] Taylor: Yeah, so this is, this is like right below the ethical line. It teases it because I guarantee you, someone's gonna make the argument to me that what the influencer's saying is not directed. It's totally up to them. They get to decide for themselves. So you're not writing the script. Maybe you're giving 'em some talking points, but you're not, you're not giving 'em a full script, but they are paid.

They may or may not have ever actually used the product before, and it's not revealed to the customer in the delivery of the ad. So no one knows the terms of the relationship. It's not revealed that it's paid, and it's a real person on a real phone. So in this case, you have a user, they're doing their own production.

In theory, their words are their own, right. So again, we're teetering up closer to that line. But ultimately what they're saying may or not may not be true and actually probably isn't interested in being true. They're interested in providing a service to the brand who is compensating them, and that's actually their interest, not the truth.

[00:12:45] Richard: Regardless of whether or not the, the content of what they say is actually true, the fact that it's being, they have to say it or they're obligated to actually kind of undercuts that pretty

[00:12:55] Taylor: That's right. 

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[00:13:41] Richard: Okay, so then we sort of rise above the line into the light a little bit here. And so tier four is product seating.

So talk to me, how about how that's different than what we just talked

[00:13:52] Taylor: Yeah, so product seating is just the idea that you're gonna send your product to a bunch of people and you are going to allow them to do with it whatever they want. There's no financial exchange, there's no pretense that I'm sending you this product because you have already agreed to make something on be my behalf.

And so in this way, there's an opt-in that seemingly reflect. A genuine interest or expression in the thing that you've sent me such that I am providing unsolicited or unobligated feedback about the product. And a lot of times you'll see something like literally genuine people saying like, Hey, I just got this.

Let's open it up and check it out together. And so they're actually being. More honest about what the interaction of receipt of the product is, and again, there's no financial obligation or incentive for them to say anything. Now, the reason it's kind of close to the line is because there is an inferred desire of why I'm sending you this.

And as a person receiving this, I could infer that if I say good things, you might send me more stuff and I might get some money from you eventually if I do this well enough. And so there's still, it get can get pretty gray in this area. , but at least it gives the opportunity for people to do this at their own volition with no financial immediate obligation.

[00:15:09] Richard: Mm-hmm. , right? Yeah. I mean there's still like the law of reciprocity still applies, which is where it'd be sort of a faux pie if I gave you a bunch of stuff and then I said, actually, I hate all of this. And then you posted that about it. Although it'd be kind of a baller move if you did do that. But at the same time it's like there's still way more potential for somebody to receive and organically enjoy something, and they didn't say something that feels authentic

[00:15:29] Taylor: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

[00:15:31] Richard: Okay. Then finally, the, the, the peak of the meter, let's say. So, which is in fact, sort of the least bullshit, so maybe this is the most empty, the meter

[00:15:38] Taylor: This is the highest standard.

[00:15:40] Richard: customer generated content or c g c, a brand new acronym from us. So Taylor, talk about

[00:15:44] Taylor: Yeah. So here the idea is that a customer, independent, any re interaction with the brand has chosen themselves to go out to their social audience and declare how amazing the product is on the basis that they paid for it, and that they had an experience so amazing that they had to tell the world about it.

Right. And then in light of you discovering that you reach out to them and say, Hey, thank you so much for sharing this story. Could we distribute it further in a paid medium? Well, now I think that this is an amplification of a truth more than it is a manufacturing of one right. Now, again, could you argue that some influencers do that in hopes that the brand does reach out and pay them?

Yes. There's always opportunity to sort of, obfuscate the, the, the goodness in this, I guess in, in lots of different ways, but to me, this is the purest form. I would even argue that. Just below this in CGC is for you. There used to be, and I don't know why Carro got right, got rid of this feature, but there there's an app called Get Carro.

They're based here in Orange County and they used to allow you to upload your customer list. And see who of all your followers were good content creators. See which product that they had ordered and reach out to them and say, Hey, I noticed you bought, you know, our you know, our, our lotion. Did you have a good experience?

If so, would you be willing to share that experience on camera? Which again, to me still has this authentic prerequisite, which is that you bought the product of your own volition and I'm reaching out for you for an opportunity to share a story about what you've experienced with that. To me, this is the purest form of the customer testimonial, which is intended to represent what someone's experience of your product was.

And I think that that's the that's the gold standard.

[00:17:26] Richard: Yeah. Well, what's so interesting about this is like, the reason it's become so widespread and has a reputation for being such an effective form of advertising is what we're trying to do here is create a simulation of the most effective advertising technique there is, which is a recommendation

from a friend. 

[00:17:41] Taylor: right. That's right.

[00:17:42] Richard: so, like any way, yeah, I, it's, it's too bad that Carro doesn't offer that anymore because it gets close to being what I think would be the, the best version of this is where you could monitor for people. Just telling their friends about this stuff. Completely unsolicited with no ex expectation of getting anything in return other than this sort of like good feeling you get from telling your friend about something really awesome that they then get to use themselves.

And the more that you can tap into that and pull that into your advertising, I think the more effective it's gonna

[00:18:12] Taylor: That's right. And we can see this very directly when you think about the quantification of word of mouth. So word of mouth is a phrase that is really powerful, but we don't always know how to know if it's happening. Right. Well, it's actually a very simple thing, which is if you can determine. How many people are organically posting content about your brand?

Like that is functionally modern. Word of mouth. That's how we communicate. That's the medium that we use now, and so we have some brands that like very naturally and organically, , they get a ton of organic social posts from their customers, and I can tell you, it creates a flywheel. It's highly, highly effective, and they don't actually have to pay for it at all.

And that to me is a signal that they've created a product that's so beautiful and awesome that it actually makes me look good when I share about it, or that the restaurant was so great, or the vacation was so cool that I just had to tell people about it because I wanted to be that voice that brought something cool into my friend's reality.

I wanna be a hero for my audience.

[00:19:07] Richard: right. Yeah. It goes to that idea that the, the best advertising is a good product. And although there's some nuance to that, I guess that that's still sort of, I think fundamentally true that if you have a product that just like people will want to talk about, then that's free. You don't have to pay for that, you know?

[00:19:21] Taylor: So one thing, so one area though that I think we need to address here is sort of the classic. Old school sort of celebrity advertisement. And we used to always talk about Michael Jordan for McDonald's, right? And, and here's where I would put this. I actually put this above the line. Okay? Now you'd be like, Taylor, what?

You know Michael Jordan didn't eat McDonald's. Well, there is no commercial where you can find Michael Jordan pretending to shoot on a iPhone, that he eats three Big Macs before every game. And that's what makes him jump. What you did see was Michael Jordan and Larry Bird doing a famous game of horse, and then on the sidelines associating themselves at McDonald's by grabbing a Big Mac.

But the idea that. Michael Jordan w like got good at basketball because he ate chicken nuggets was not the message of the advertising, right? Like it wasn't about the efficacy, it was about aspiration. It was about association. And there's no illusion that Michael Jordan is not paid. That is well documented and public and anyone is aware of that reality.

And so for me, that kind of endorsement LeBron James for Nike, Matthew McConaughey for Chrysler, whatever it is. You know, Ryan Reynolds from Mint Mobile, like these are about association of brands to one another in a way that the, just like I was listening to, there's a, if, if you've never listened to the acquisition podcast, it's, it's awesome.

It's like three hour narratives of brands and they just did L V M H and they talked about that Beyonce and Jay-Z's decision to partner with Tiffany for a massive new ad campaign. They're the face of the, you know, the newest Tiffany campaign since L V M H acquired Tiffany. Says something about both brands.

Despite the fact that it is a monetary exchange in both directions, someone like Jay-Z and Beyonce care so much about their brand that their willingness to endorse Tiffany elevates Tiffany in a way that isn't just about this idea that they're representing, that their users or the product or their something.

It's that the association of the brand identity, even in a paid exchange, says something about one another that's valuable in the market to both parties. And in that case, everybody's. Of something happening, and it can be really powerful and effective in a way that I would put above Taylor's ethical light.

[00:21:33] Richard: Right. . Yeah. Yeah. So that, that's a good point that you bring up sort of like historical examples because one thing that came to mind as we were having the conversation about the different levels of the meter is that. All advertising is, has a relationship with this idea for sure and has since the very, very beginning.

And in our ad philosophy course, the second lesson is around ad history and what you discover is that a lot, like, a lot of. Advertising back in the day was built on very, very clever acts of

[00:21:59] Taylor: Yes. Yeah.

[00:22:00] Richard: associating the idea of eating eggs and bacon with breakfast, which never really happened before.

And now we all do it just because marketers sort of told us to. But one difference I think between, and, and one thing that you bring up in the video a bunch that we haven't mentioned yet, the difference between, let's say the Michael Jordan McDonald's ads or any of the ad campaigns again behind me about driving a bigger car.

Drinking vermouth or whatever, all of those, at least probably posts, maybe 1960s or seventies, have some element of disclosure. And that's one of the big differences between what we're seeing in the UGC world right now. And those classic examples of advertising being sort of Bs, e but still above the line is that there's no mechanism for saying like, Hey, this is a paid advertisement.

So maybe speak to that. Like what, what do you think that would look

[00:22:43] Taylor: yeah, like, like the reality is that there, there's a, there's laws that govern this, right? Like, so we can discuss it philosophically, but there's a legal matter here. So the ftc, like the rule says this. It says, under the law, claims and advertisement must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidenced based.

Right, so there's actually a really high bar here for what you can and can't do, and I promise you, under any scru scrutiny, 90% of the stuff in our industry will not hold up to that standard. It just hasn't been big enough for the FTC to to matter. Like going back to this idea of like it being truthful.

Or evidence-based, like this idea. I think we fail miserably in most cases. And so I think there's a real legal question here that if there was a group that wanted to put together a class action lawsuit against whoever, like it's, it's there for some hungry law firm to go after it. Now I'm not advocating for that cause that's a it's own set of predatory behaviors, but there's a real question about whether we are attempt.

To sort of deceive the world into thinking we have lots of happy customers when maybe we don't.

[00:23:49] Richard: Interesting. Yeah. Okay. So, so that, that's, that's kinda like the other, the other place we could take this as we sort of spiral into the philosophical wormhole here, which is, so in each one of the cases, the, the five levels of the bullshit meter, let's say an argument can be made and probably is often made that the actual content of the thing being say, said is evidence-based or is evidence-based enough to, let's.

Pass the, pass the tab, the FTC test or whatever, which is to say that like maybe I say, this is a great way to shave your face and it doesn't leave. Razor burn or something like that. And an AI is reading that to me on a script. And what we're deceiving people about is, let's say who the person is. Like, this is a real customer, but the actual claim is perhaps true.

Maybe you have a great product that does that, but, and here's the effectiveness. Conversation comes into play. Getting people, getting customer generated content, let's say takes. Getting paid influencers. The other sort of levels of this tier or, or the other tiers of the meter take time and money. Just generating, let's say just generating AI content is free and easy, so why not do something free and easy if the content is itself actually true?

[00:24:57] Taylor: Well, it sounds like Richard, you've got your own line. And I think that that's, that's, that's part of the opportunity here. And I, what I'll say is that I think what you're describing exactly what's driving this is that the decision making framework for most brands is not, doesn't begin with ethics, it begins with viability and survival, right?

It begins with necessity. And I think in many cases, Brands are dying for great content. Content is expensive to produce. UGC has provided an affordable medium that happens to also be often effective. And so that is actually the motivating premise here is it's cheap, effective content that I can get access to that may help me survive as a business.

And so ethics be damned. I need that roas. And so I think that that's in many cases where people exist. There's also a lot of brands where you won't see that kind of content because one, they may not need it. They may have their own sense of it, but otherwise it wouldn't actually align with who they're attempting to position themselves in the world to be.

[00:25:57] Richard: All right. So actually then let, let's talk about a little bit about The, let's talk about the effectiveness of UGC, because I think that's, we've alluded to that a number of times. We haven't really dug into it. And there's this idea that UGC is the best bang for your buck that you can get out of an ad.

And so in a sense, you can make the argument that this sort of like, The bullshit meter conversation is a little bit of a privileged one. If you have the ability to make this, sort of have these sort of ethical considerations without losing your business or missing a revenue target to the extent that you get fired or whatever the case might be for the people who are listening right now.

So speak to that a little bit, because like if hey, U bullshit, UGC doesn't really work long term and it's a bad idea, well that's one thing, but what if it's actually effective? Then what's the argument you

[00:26:42] Taylor: Well, the, the argument I would make is imagine this brand X that would say this to me, telling me it's a privileged conversation. Imagine you come to hire CTC and I say to you, Hey, great, and it's part of the sales process. You're like, can I speak with three customers? And I'm like, absolutely. I think that's a fair request.

And I send you to AI generated robot Rick. Who proceeds to on the phone call lie to you AB in a just totally made up thing about how amazing CTC is, and you decide to commit to a contract with me and pay me lots and lots of money. How do you feel on the other side of that exchange? And so the question is like, what are you actually building if you're building customers that are deceived into the use of your product now?

If I do an amazing job for you, maybe it doesn't matter, like maybe at the end of the day I've won and you never find out. And it's a, it's a, it all works out in the end. That's certainly possible. But I think that there's and this is what ethics is. I think ethics is a subjective determination in the, by the, the determines the parameters under which you're willing to win the game.

Is a simple, sort of boiled down of ethics. It's like what line? Are you willing and are you not willing to cross in the name of winning profit, victory, survival growth, et cetera? And everybody gets to sort of determine that for themselves. And so I understand, I, I understand the very human motivation for the action.

But I don't actually think it serves, you know, I think it's a shortcut to actually maybe solving the bigger problem that would actually have a better business impact. And there's that, setting that aside, there's the whole sort of Seth Godden purple cow princip. Which is this idea that like the value of the ad form in in itself is on a permanent de deter, deteriorating value curve.

Which is, which is that like from the moment it was first introduced was the most valuable it was ever gonna be. And it's only gonna move backwards as it becomes more proliferated. So the more it's used, the less impactful it becomes, the less novel it is, the, it's likely it is to cut through the noise in the feed, the less differentiated your brand becomes.

The less leverage you get and all those things. And so the question is like, which slope do you want to jump onto? The one that's like on a deteriorating down to zero value as it proliferates to infinity, or do you want to go out and seek some novel outcome that will produce novel returns?

[00:28:58] Richard: So, so the other, the other kind of piece of this here is the idea that well, it's kind of like it's, people make this argument about climate change sometimes if we proactively address climate change, and it turns out that it was fake. The end result Will, will have an awesome world where everything is more sustainable and better and more beautiful and the environment will be healthier, whatever, right?

If you spend your time on making the best possible product that you can make, if you move your focus away from, let's say, generating UGC and towards creating things that are gonna have. Great long-term impact then if after all, maybe UGC would've been really effective for you, but what you're left with is a better business, a better product, and maybe better ways of thinking about how to communicate it and more of that novelty.


[00:29:47] Taylor: there's a great, there's a, there's a, there's an awesome YouTube video from Helena Hambrecht who was the founder of House. Okay. The, the drink company, and let's set aside. The fact that that business ended in not the ideal way, cuz there's lots of complexities around distribution and capitalization as it relates to beverage.

I think Helena is a, a brilliant brand thinker. Okay. And in this video where if you look up Helena Hamburg brand. Talk or something like that. You'll find it. Maybe we'll put it in the show notes. But she talks about how she thought a lot about designing the brand for word of mouth. What does that mean?

How do you design it? She said that we wanted house to be not drunk alone. We wanted it to be the, the beverage of the dinner party. So what we did is we did two things. One, it's a stark white bottle that stands out amidst any background. So they designed the product so that it would be visually compelling in any setting.

Two, we wanted it to be served with multiple people in attendance such that the person hosting the event would likely have to explain what it was, and so they, you would never see product photography of one person drinking the product. They wouldn't shoot it because that's not what they wanted the experience to be.

They wanted it to be something that would be passed around amongst a group of friends from like the cool person throwing the house parties out to all of their friends. Cause they knew they were the influencer and if they could get them to talk about it in their space. that would actually influence the brand and help it grow.

And to me, that's where I go. Okay, now we're actually thinking about how product informs advertising informs every messaging informs production to actually create a mechanism that's a lot closer to me, to making people think that you should be, eat bacon and eggs for breakfast than it is lying and saying, everybody eats bacon and eggs for breakfast, and here's 10 fake people pretending they eat bacon and eggs for breakfast.

You know? And, and going from there.

[00:31:35] Richard: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, cool. I, is there anything else you wanna hit on

[00:31:39] Taylor: What are some other good examples? Cause I think you have a few of these of things that are entirely marketing creations that people wouldn't realize. So I know one I'll, I'll, I'll do one more. I know toothpaste, right? Is it sort of a classic one that like the idea that you have bad breath and need minty fresh breath is a total marketing creation right.

[00:31:58] Richard: Yeah. Right, right. Yeah. So, so a list of, of American cultural norms that are essentially creations of

[00:32:04] Taylor: Yes.

[00:32:05] Richard: Like as you mentioned, yes. The idea that you need toothpaste to brush your teeth. That's one thing that sort of started out as bs and then sort of as they developed the product into something that was actually effective.

Now it's like, That's kind of okay. Uh, The other thing is like the idea that like you should eat Corn Flakes and cereal for breakfast is a, essentially a marketing ploy. Similarly with the idea that um, this is a, a really famous one because it's more recent, which is the idea that like, milk is good for your bones and kids should drink milk.

That's, that's just advertising. There's not a scientific basis to that at all. There's a couple of

[00:32:37] Taylor: Another one isn't, isn't there one about the color green? Like, what's the story

[00:32:41] Richard: yeah,

[00:32:42] Taylor: it's a, it's like a cigarette company. What? Tell that one.

[00:32:45] Richard: Yeah, so, so this is an interesting example of, this is not something that really persists anymore, but originally , Uh, lucky. Strike this.

This is, this is the perfect example of reversing exactly what we think you shouldn't do, which is to say Lucky Strike re released a bunch of packs of cigarettes that were green. There was some sort of mishap where the cigarettes were all printed. Green and Lucky Strike cigarettes generally are in like a white package, and so of course, Everybody at Lucky Strike was kind of freaking out.

And there was maybe a perception too, and, and maybe an actual drop off in sales that happened because people didn't recognize what the product was. They weren't sure why it had changed, all that kind of thing. So they hired a PR firm or an advertising firm at the time. This was in the 1920s maybe. That created a series of events and one particular one called The Green Ball.

And what they did with the Green Ball, they took all of Manhattan's socialites, the wealthiest, the elite, the cream of the crop, and they invited them all to a. And everybody had to wear green. And so what happens is every famous person in the United States came to this event wearing green. All the women were dressed in green.

All the men had some sort of green accoutrement or whatever, and all of a sudden green became very cool. and Lucky Strikes Green Pack cigarettes started flying off of the shelves. So instead of fixing the product problem, which in this case isn't necessarily a product problem per se, but instead of fixing the product problem, they created an advertising world around the product to Mo to move that, which is, you know, it's a lot of effort to move some Lucky

[00:34:12] Taylor: But, but it actually influences things at a level that's very different than like the CTR on an ad. And this is to me, like much more interesting. So like, I'll give you an example. There's, there's a brand that you guys will hear me talk a lot about cuz I, I, maybe for those of you that. Hang out with me, but because I think it's one of the most incredible Ecommerce businesses in the world and, and it's a company called Heart and Soil.

Okay. And one of the things that they care about and talk about is that one of the metrics that they actually measure is the relationship with carnivore diet versus keto diet. Now, their products aren't specifically. Products like our meat. It's not like part of the convo diet by default, but cultural movement towards that idea is closely related to their products.

Whereas keto is about fat-based products. It's just like a different diet. And so there's this, the more that one, the cultural trend moves towards that, the better it is for them. And so they actually are interested in influencing culture in this direction, such that their products become part of that norm.

Right? And so those kinds of things of thinking about. , and this is why when I, when I talk about the biggest influences on your ad account being the marketing calendar or culture broadly, It's just so obvious, like I think about the outdoor industry and how much, when people were locked in their houses, it was the most obvious way to make people, or when, when you couldn't go anywhere, and so people could only go outside distance from each other.

All of a sudden, all these outdoor activities exploded. Now, I'm not saying go C cause a global pandemic to sell more standup paddle boards, but you get the idea of how you like. Golf is a great example right now. If you're a golf brand, you are benefiting from the release of Netflix, full swing golf documentary in a way that you are reaping the benefit of a cultural narrative that had nothing to do with your ad content.

And that is actually the most powerful thing that could happen, is that culture, the zeitgeist could move towards you. And I think a lot of marketers back in the day that they didn't have the CTR lever. They didn't have this lever, they had to move culture towards a thing in a way to actually impact.

So the winds were bigger. They were probably harder to come by, but when you did it, you could really, really move

[00:36:21] Richard: Yeah. Right. And that's of course where like ethical conversations can become massive because you know, there's like, hey, smoking is fine for you. is like an example of the way the culture can be moved in the wrong direction in order to move product. But I think maybe to your point about Heart and soil and how it taps into an existing cultural movement.

I think that's something that's really, really interesting. The example that came to mind for me, we've had a conversation a, a while ago about this, but I'm obsessed with chess right now as coincidentally are many, many millions of other people over the last two, three months, and. That's all because the Queen's gambit came out in 2020 and, which is, you know, the most used chess site or whatever, had like 500,000 people before that.

After it came out, they had like 5 million. At this point, they have about 10 to 15 million, somewhere in that, that user range. And it's just because something happened that they weren't expecting, that they were actually really, really good at hooking into and turning themselves into the hub of chess on the internet

[00:37:20] Taylor: That's right. And

[00:37:21] Richard: that's the kind of thing that you have to be

[00:37:23] Taylor: Exactly. And then, then so suddenly what they, and the whole downstream effect of that, of like all of the TikTok clips that come out of and then the Magnus Carlson scandal of is somebody cheating? Like it all develops into this cultural wave where if you're selling chessboards, , like, nothing you could do on an ad basis could mimic that industry movement towards your thing, you know?

And so I think there's this, there's always this question of like, yeah, what, what should we be spending our energy to try and accomplish in order to make a business work? And is it paying actors to show up to a studio to say a fake thing? You know, it's just, it feels like the shallowest version of us that, that we could aspire to more maybe, I guess is.

[00:38:07] Richard: Makes sense. 

All right, well that'll do it for us. You know, everybody, if you have thoughts about what your ethical line is, how you think about this, we would love to hear them. You can always tweet at us or email podcast common thread to sort of sound off about this issue. We'll link the video and the show notes as well so you can interact with it there.

Taylor, anything else you wanna plug?

[00:38:27] Taylor: No, that's it. What's your ethical line? Actually, I'd love to. No, I don't mean you, Richard. I mean, leave it in the comments if you're on YouTube or anywhere else, or, I'm sure I'll put this out on Twitter. Where's your line? Am I off? Am I too stringent? Am I some sort of old left behind Luddite here that needs to get with the times of that AI is gonna be everything in any distinguishable, and I just need to accept it.

Like, what do you think? Where's the line?

[00:38:50] Richard: Cool. All right. Take care everyone.