Jan 02, 2020
35 min read
Look To The Future To Understand The Present
Welcome to the Unseen Unknown Podcast. I’m Jasmine Bina, and today, Jean-Louis and I are having a discussion about Thought Experiments in Brand Strategy. Thought experiments are an amazing tool you can use to do lots of things. They help you in understanding user behavior. They help you in understanding value systems and beliefs. You can use them as a tool for creating new narratives in a space and to start building a brand that will change a larger conversation.
We cover a lot of topics in this one, and it’s a little bit of a rollercoaster ride, but it demonstrates where this exercise can take you and your work and understanding people and cultures. We talk about the fact that maybe working and having a career aren’t actually ethical pursuits. And if that’s the case, how are people changing their perceptions around productivity and their place in society today. We also discuss our rapidly changing relationships to food and specifically animals and why, if we know the way we consume food is harmful, do we still do it.
In this conversation, we uncovered the mental triggers and emotions that allow us to act in such contradictory ways, which applies to any brand in any space, not just food. That led us to a discussion about the environment and social responsibility and how certain brands are playing the environmental card, but it may come back to haunt them later. And lastly, we talked about wellness and mental health, one of my favorite topics, because it reveals how our deepest values as a society are changing. We went to a lot of interesting places and I promise that something in this episode will apply to your own work and understanding of your users.
So thought experiments actually come from the world of science I think even before science, they came from the world of philosophy and they’re very simple. It’s the idea that we take a hypothesis or a belief or some sort of like projection and we ask ourselves, if this happens in X amount of time, what are all the other things that are going to happen. In brand strategy, which is a really interesting application for this kind of thing, it’s as simple as saying, if this number one player was taken out of the market, if we introduced a new audience, if we changed the product in this way, in two to three years, what are all the other things that are going to happen because of that one change?
So it’s taking hypothesis and playing it out over time. What’s interesting though, is when you take the idea of thought experiments and apply them to culture, when you apply thought experiments to culture, it reveals a lot about behavior and beliefs and mental models and value systems that you may not have seen otherwise that can help you in defining a better brand that’s more strategic and defensible. What’s even more interesting than that is when you create 100 year thought experiment that goes to the extreme. And Jean-Louis that’s something that you introduced to our agency three or four years ago that has been very beneficial to us.
Yeah. So there’s this question that’s sort of haunted me for the best part of a decade. And it’s a really simple question. I was asked by this philosopher Slavoj Žižek who’s, I think it’s Slovenian, very outspoken philosopher. But it was just the essence of this question, which was 100 years ago today we look back and we’re appalled by the things that we did. So 1919, you had an incredible amount of institutional racism, sexism, a lot of oppression at a society level, at a country level, just all sorts of pretty terrible things. I mean, it was not a fun time to be around.
The point is, is that we look back and it’s very clear that these things are completely unacceptable by today’s standards. But in a 100 years from now, that’s probably also going to be the case. We’re going to look back on today and say that the way things were is also unacceptable by tomorrow standards. And so the real question is, if we just take 100 year perspective on where we are today and ask, what are the sort of moral atrocities that we’re committing today that we don’t realize because it just seems normal to us?
Right. The thing about thought experiments is that they require a lot of imagination because sometimes you can’t even see the atrocities around you because it’s basically in your environment. It’s kind of like the air that you breathe, it’s not understanding that you’re efficient water. And there are some interesting ones that I think culturally we could explore that would cover a lot of ground. So I know I have some in mind, what are your big ones?
I think the big one that’s sort of become clear to me over time is this idea that right now we have to work to survive. Like for a lot of people their food and shelter is contingent on turning up at 9:00 AM on Monday morning. And that’s sort of that locked into this situation, whether there’s a very small cost for them potentially to move to a new place where there’s maybe a better job or even just quitting that job and trying to apply for something better, they can’t because they’re very much locked into a survival mechanic with their work. It’s quite possible in 100 years, that may truly be a thing of the past. So there’s a few different factors at play here. One of them is the fact that with AI, especially, it’s quite likely there simply will not be enough jobs to go around.
A good analogy is you look at horses. I think at one point in the US in the early 1900s, there were more horses than people in this country and that’s definitely not the case now. And you can look at what a lawyer does, for example, it’s a great analogy. 80% of their workload is discovery, sifting through documents, finding patents, finding information that shouldn’t be there. That’s really the bulk of what they do. And that’s very easy to be automated and in a large part, it has. They’re already startups that are very successful at doing this at an equivalent level of a human being.
And so if you just take that simple analogy, 80% of lawyers could be replaced by AI without reducing the human presence. And I think that’s really the case for a lot of different fields. If you look at IBM’s Watson, they’re doing the exact same thing in medicine. Their goal is to develop an AI which can diagnose the human patients at an equal level to a board of doctors, and they’re getting pretty close.
And self-driving cars is sort of self-explanatory. You look at a state like Nebraska, 10% of the state’s whole economy is supportive infrastructure for trucking. So that’s the diners, it’s the motels, it’s the gas stations, all of these other jobs that are contingent on something, which is very likely going to disappear definitely within 100 years. And so the fact of the matter is that there could very likely not be enough jobs to go around.
And the other flip side of this is that there is enough money to support something like a universal basic income. You look at, I mean, really, taxes are a reflection of our priorities culturally speaking. One of the big things that people don’t realize is that right now, I think we’re at a multi-decade low in terms of internal migration in the United States. People just don’t move and they’re largely locked in. And the fact that health insurance is contingent on your job, creates huge incentives to stay put, and it really kind of limits people.
So you have this strange phenomenon where you have these big pools where there’s a lot of talent and not enough jobs, and then other cities where there’s tons of jobs and not enough talent. And we just don’t have enough sort of economic lubrication to free up that capital, and so having something like this can create a lot more wealth. But also, you look at AI and all these different platforms, and if we can tax these appropriately, and so some people are talking about a digital consumption tax, it’s very possible that this will be very reasonably affordable, at least in the kind of mid to long-term future. So the fact of the matter is that, it’s quite possible we end up with a scenario in 100 years where there’s a universal basic income that covers survival.
So, but we’re talking like we’re beyond Andrea Yang’s, a thousand a month. Like if we’re talking about taxing tech companies and there’s this huge glut of like immediate wealth, and if somehow that wealth was evenly distributed in the US, this isn’t about just surviving, it’s literally about not having to work. You’re not going to live like a king, but you can live without having to work.
And I think like, I mean, just think about the level of human suffering of just the pressure, the stress, all of these different-
The depression, the not realizing your potential.
I mean, a lot of people, think about how many people studied art and then had to get a job in a completely different field.
You know what? We had a client that was in the online education space and I did interviews with … they’re mostly baby boomers where their user base. Over and over again, when I kept hearing was these people felt that they were born artists, but they were living in a time where the story was, you’re either born with artistic talent or you’re not. Not that you can develop artistic talent, which is a story that us millennials grew up with.
So they basically quashed those real inclinations and passions that they had around art went on and lived a very different life in a very different field for 30 or 40 years, then they become empty-nesters and they return to art. It was a really tragic story, but I mean, literally culture had not given them permission to see their talents as something different than what they were being told. And so they completely lost on perhaps the most vital life experience that these people would have had. That’s what working to survive and cultural constructs in this kind of a narrative around what talent is, that’s what it does to a generation of people.
I mean, if you compare it to someone whose maybe at the start of that career on 100 years from now, and they look at the fact that they don’t have to compromise, they can afford to explore and experiment. I think really today’s paradigm of working to survive, it’s the definition of compromise.
Right. So I think the big question now is, if we’re in this future tense 100 years from now, what is going to be the emotional consequence of not having to work for a living? And let me tell you why I ask that. One, that’s I think the big, as far as brand strategy is concerned or storytelling, or being a creator in this world, that’s what will really be the knock-on effect that we’re going to have to deal with. Two, we had a dinner party recently, and we posed this very same question and it elicited such strong responses. You had this one camp that felt like, yes, it is immoral to have to work to survive because in a capitalist society, what that is, well, this was my opinion.
In a capitalist society, what that is saying is that, we all have the same social mobility and economic mobility to do whatever we feel that we should do. And you’re rewarded for the value that you create. So if you’re poor, you deserve to be poor because you didn’t do something with that ability. That completely falls apart when you look at hidden labor, like taking care of a parent or raising a family, or even being a teacher, which is just so lowly valued, but is so tremendously big in terms of the value that it truly creates, but it’s not being quantified that way.
All just the like the draw, you just happened to be born in the wrong neighborhood and those opportunities just don’t exist for you.
Yeah, let’s not forget that. So that was me and a couple of people. Then we had other people who, it really rubbed in the wrong way. They felt that without work, we would have no meaning really. That work and creating value is the ultimate meaning of being here and being a member of society. And without it, we are pulling on one of the most crucial levelers and kind of undermining what keeps our societies going. I’m paraphrasing what they said. They’re going to hear this and disagree with how I paraphrase it. But like, those are kind of the two camps, like when people hear this and they either get angry or they get it.
And I think, so Yuval Harari wrote a great article about this and really his kind of analogy for it is, is a game. If you look at the career, which is kind of so many articles, so much mind share right now about how work is the new religion. And really you can see this through the lens of a game. There is a lot of well-defined structures. Money is maybe the point system. The level that you’re at is the level of esteem you have in society. You really kind of, your self-worth is tied to how far along this career game you’re playing.
And that’s really the structure of how most people operate their lives. If you ask them who they are, they define themselves in this game of a career. And so getting rid of that, I think to a lot of people is kind of scary. But on the flip side, I think one interesting analogy that kind of escapes this discussion of career and money being defining yourself worth and meaning is, you look at influencers and you look at social media. We’ve started to create a new game. There is a new game around social influence, where now you’re defined by how many followers you have. And at a certain level you can start getting endorsements and deals and making a living out of this.
And this is, I mean, you could argue to some extent that it’s a career, but the mechanics are very different from how we typically define careers. And this is something that’s flexible, that’s accessible, that anyone can come in and play. And so I think there are alternatives that are starting to pop up, but it’s still to some extent an unproven model. And the other caveat, which is a big one to this, is that not everyone can be an influencer.
The thing about a career is I hear that word and that word has been kind of triggering for me because my definition of what my career is to me has been a big chasm between me and my parents. So I think a lot of listeners could probably relate to this. We work really hard as millennials. Work is our religion. It’s how we define ourselves. It’s like you said, very tied up in our self-worth, but our parents have a hard time understanding that. They really always felt that work was not who you were at all. Your work was just a job. It was something outside of your life. It’s something that you did to make money, to live your life.
And it points to the fact that a career is very much a cultural construct. It was something that was invented. And speaking of things that were invented, this discussion reminds me of, I don’t know if you saw this documentary recently that came out, I think on Amazon called Playing with Fire. Playing with Fire, so I’ll link to it in the show notes. But essentially, it’s this new movement that you’ve probably heard about in one way or another.
The acronym FIRE stands for Financially Independent Retire Early, and it’s super simple. You drastically reduce your spending costs. That means like moving in with your parents, not driving to work, cooking every single meal, super, super cheaply, like even like soaking your own beans and then radically increasing your savings rate so that you can retire in like five to 10 years. And in the course of all that obviously get out of debt. And it’s kind of like this backlash of the millennial generation to the consumerism that they were kind of spoon-fed while they were growing up.
What’s interesting about that documentary is not so much like what it’s trying to say with the movement, but it starts to uncover a lot of other cultural constructs around money. If you think about the retirement age being 65, that’s very new, that’s I believe after World War II, social security came out for its own reasons because now you had a whole class of people coming back from war and they were not employable, and the government needs to find a way to get them to retire. So they came up with a social security scheme, but it was actuarial analysts who came up with that 65 number and it was just about balancing a budget, it had nothing to do is the right time to retire or even defining what retirement should be.
And the other thing about this movement is that it’s really about decoupling money from happiness and treating it like a game, like you said. When you treat money like a game, your relationship to it changes and it doesn’t have that same emotional hold over you. And I think that’s what we’re talking about here. When suddenly you don’t have to work for that money, those controls disappear.
No, 100%. This is sort of, if we play this forward in a society where for most people don’t have to work for a living, obviously a lot of people are still going to work, but one of the big questions is what do you do with your time? And definitely content creation and consumption is probably going to become far more prevalent in that. And a good way to kind of relate this to brands today is that a lot of companies are taking their product and turning it into an experience and really focusing on the experience of that product.
And really what they’re doing there is they’re turning a commodity and they’re turning it into content. I think that’s a trajectory. I mean, if this thought experiment holds true that that’s going to be true for a very long time from now that we’re going to be trying to turn as much as we can into content as a, kind of almost a replacement for the value and the stories that we tell ourselves with money.
So just hearing you say that makes me realize that content is probably going to wildly change in the next 100 years. Like it’s obviously going to be more immersive. And I don’t think this again comes back to something that I don’t know if I’ve talked about this in this podcast, but it’s not the technology that’s going to change. The fact that content will become more immersive, it’s the fact that we are ready to accept more immersive content and that’s what this is pointing to.
That, but also the fact that this content is going to tell us who we are. There’s something, I think we mentioned this already in our podcast that, so many brands are starting to get to the level of identity where they’re becoming vehicles and proxies for us making decisions and kind of seeing who we are in the world. But content is kind of the leading era. I mean, this is already the voice and the medium most of these companies are doing. And if we look at this world view of how money and career in the large part have defined who we are now in the kind of vacuum of that, content and brand is going to do that for us.
This underscores something really important that I think is easy to miss in spaces like finance or career or work. I think when it comes to money or work, the stories are typically very practical and pragmatic. If you are a brand in that space trying to tell a story, you focus on features and benefits. But you should never lose sight of the fact that every decision that any human being ever makes, even if it’s like, which toothpaste to buy, is 100% emotional. And this is an emotional story that we’re talking about here. The way we relate to our work and to our wealth is emotional.
And I just want to point out, like you can even take it down to a scientific level. I’ve written about this before. So there was a study by a neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio, I did not remember that, I am reading it off of my screen right now. And this is a recent study, he discovered this a few years ago. He was studying patients that had lesions in the area of the brain where emotions are generated, right? So they were actually pretty normal people. Like you could have a conversation with them. You would never even know something was wrong.
Until you asked them to make a decision and they could not make a decision, and that doesn’t make sense. If you have all of your logical faculties and decisions are logical, these people should be super decision-makers, right? They can cut out all the noise, but the fact is they can’t. And the hypothesis is that logic and reasoning and information can help you get 90% of the way, but the fact is your brain knows you’re never going to have full, perfect information, so that last inch of decision-making has to be emotionally. It has to be an emotional journey that you have to take in order to make a choice.
And I just can’t underscore this enough. No matter what business you’re in or what industry, if you’re thinking about your brand, you have to start with the emotions. I don’t care if it’s like accounting software or you’re selling brooms or soap, whatever, the emotional piece is always going to be the deciding factor. Okay. So there’s so much more to talk about on that topic, but let’s move on. What’s another 100 year experiment that you think is revealing in terms of where our culture is now and what we value as a culture.
One thing is kind of interesting, the treatment of animals. So we know culturally speaking that, or at least on a society level, that the way we treat animals is, it’s not okay. That there’s a huge amount of suffering and it really doesn’t have to be this way. We know it’s barbaric, but there’s so much cognitive dissonance that we can’t fully reconcile that at a cultural level. If it was accessible to become a vegetarian at a low personal economic cost, in terms of time and effort and money, I think then we would kind of be able to say that like, okay, this is terrible we’re not going to do it anymore.
But we’re still reconciling with that cognitive dissonance where we know it’s wrong, but we’re not quite there yet to change our behaviors around that. In 100 years, it’s probably quite likely that we’ll have a very different mindset about this, about how we know it’s wrong and we have significantly changed our actions about it. And those cultural and economic incentives will create a very different landscape for how we look at food altogether.
So do you feel like right now there’re any brands that are helping us with this cognitive dissonance?
Well, I mean, of course you have all the kind of Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, all of these companies that are creating these new artificial meats. And it’s interesting, the terminology they’re using.
And artificial dairy too. There’s Perfect Day. There’s a million nut milks, and it’s not insignificant that both the meat lobby and the dairy lobbies have really pushed back legally on these brands being able to use words like milk or meat.
It’s fascinating, but this is the direction we’re sort of headed in. And I think it just sort of underscores the cultural aspect of this, that like so much about meat. I mean, not to beat a dead horse, but it’s about identity, especially kind of this masculine male narrative-
… you’re a meat eater, and this defines you as a man.
Or a meat and potatoes kind of guy, for sure.
And so, obviously you can see how the big goal right now is to create a good enough substitute that you can feel like you’re not compromising when you don’t eat meat. And this is really to address the most fundamental layer of just cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to sacrifice anything, but I know what I’m doing is wrong.
I think what these brands … first of all, I don’t think that there is a really good example of a brand that’s easing the cognitive dissonance, because I think the cognitive dissonance comes when the way you act is different than the way you see yourself, right? So there’s that kind of discomfort. And I think the fact is, a lot of people don’t want to look at the inhumane treatment of animals because they’re not ready to face the fact that they are part of that terrible system. That’s the first level of cognitive dissonance that needs to be traversed.
The other thing is the emotional side of things. So right now, Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, all of these other dairy alternatives, the story they’re telling is that this is healthier for you. This is better for the planet. Here’s the problem with stories that always have to, first of all, there are better stories and I’ve talked about this a million times, saying your better is always a losing game because better is relative. But also you’re really just talking about features. You have to emotionally deconstruct your relationship with food in order to start eating what people call Frankenfoods.
I know Impossible and Beyond Meat have both gotten this huge rash of pushback recently about people saying that these foods are actually really over-processed, and a lot of times the nutritional profile is not better for you than regular meat. Or the fact that they are really not solving any problems when it comes to waste and resources in the supply chain. Part of that is because foods, alternative meats and dairies have been lumped in with environmentally responsible stories. So people are expecting that from all these brands now. And I think that these brands we’re failing to see that.
But something about food is emotional because when you start to put things on your body or in your body, the rules start to change. I think part of it has to come from this idea that food, there’s a sanctity around food. And let me explain this. There’s a great article in Vox that I’ve cited many times called, why natural food has become a secular stand-in for goodness and purity. And they spoke with a religious scholar at a university somewhere. And he was talking about the fact that why is there suddenly this use of natural, the word natural or pure or clean around foods? I eat clean or these are natural ingredients or pure ingredients.
And I think the point that he was making was that natural has become this kind of like secular stand-in for a generalized idea of goodness. And goodness, the idea of goodness, being good and being bad, that’s religious. That is the fundamental starting point for all religions. And we’ve started applying it to food because food has become our new religion. If food is a ritualistic, subconsciously religious experience, and it isn’t a lot of cultures, by the way. There are rules for what you can and cannot eat in Judaism, in Islam and in a number of different cultures that stem from religion.
How repositioning these new Frankenfoods in that context, and I think that’s where they’re missing like the emotional context around this. What was really interesting to me was the word organic never came up. And we actually saw this in some user research for one of our clients too. People are much more prone to say, I buy natural foods or I go shop at the farmer’s market rather than shopping for organic. And that’s crazy because organic is a much more functional descriptor of food that is clean and pure. That’s a label, which means that brand has gone through certain hurdles to get that organic certification. But people are not applying this religious veneer to the word organic. I think that’s very telling
There’s an incredible amount of gravity about this culturally. What I’m kind of excited about is when we got over this first generation and we stopped telling these better stories and we start telling a different story, I can imagine a world where we have, let’s just call them meat alternatives that can be functional in a way. Like things that have, and engineered to have like tumor egg and omegas, and all these sort of functional ingredients that can start to explore what food can do.
One thing I’m very curious about in the context of sort of, not just the treatment of animals, but kind of the way we think and talk about diet is sort of blows my mind is that one of the most fundamental questions humans need to ask is what is a healthy diet, has actually still to a large extent, not fully been honest.
There’s no real science that can prove anything.
I know, it’s mind-blowing and everyone for a long time thought it was a Mediterranean diet. And then it turned out that there was that study. That kind of proved that actually, it wasn’t quite as good as we thought. Some of the numbers may have been forged.
Honestly, in this space for every study, there is a study that proves that study wrong. So you can say that with the Mediterranean diet, you can say that with a vegetarian or a vegan diet, with a Western diet, everything.
And there’s a lot of incentive right now to sort of muddy the waters and say, “Well, if don’t know, you might as well just keep doing what you’re doing.” And I think that’s what a lot of these lobbies are trying to get to.
Now, this makes me think of something interesting that I had never actually considered before. You need to apply a personal set of values on top of food, because when there’s no science to tell you what to do, you have to create a framework that will help you decide what to eat. And if it’s not going to come from science and facts, then it’s probably going to come from lifestyle, beliefs and value systems, or maybe even like some version of like a religious belief.
I think where this is kind of showing as a thought experiment, is that the way we eat is probably going to go through a lot of transitions in the next 100 years. Not just kind of on the science and kind of what we eat, but how we eat it, our values around it. There’s going to be a lot of negotiation and kind of going back to the fact that food is also really powerful vehicle for identity. It’s going to be a whole renegotiation. I don’t know if we know where it’s going to end up. We just know that it’s going to be a very long and convoluted journey.
I write about food brands a lot because I feel like that’s one of the leading indicators of where people are. It’s also where people have the most resistance I think to change. Okay. So we can’t really talk about food and responsible eating without talking about environmentalism as well.
I think this is something that gets very interesting is that you look at a lot of these companies, as their hallmark, they’re really defining themselves as environmentally responsible companies. And they kind of bring their supply chain to the forefront. And I think of a recent startup, I think it was called Naadam. They’re all about affordable cashmere sweaters. And their whole shtick is that they’re talking about the supply chain, how everyone is happy at every stage. It’s the people they work with, the materials-
How they treat the animals.
-it’s clean. It’s good for the world. It’s good for the people. And you can’t underestimate that what this is doing is it’s educating their customers away from their competitors. Now, if you look at this at a macro level, if companies keep doing this, which there’s a very good reason to believe they will, consumers are going to start getting much more sophisticated. And if we start buying, being mindful of the supply chain and all the kind of greater consequences of these products, it’s going to create a very different landscape for brands. It’s you really have to support these beliefs with your actions, and it’s not enough to kind of sell localized benefits. They have to be put in a global context.
That’s a good point, but I think there’s actually a much bigger problem than that. And what comes to mind is what recently happened with Allbirds. So Allbirds, they’ve got that quintessential Silicon Valley shoe. I think the peak hype has probably passed us, but you could argue that we’re still like peak Allbirds right now. And people are buying like the romance of what it means to have like clothing and apparel like this. The thing about them is when you lead with features like they have like being a super comfortable shoe, it can create a lot of distraction from what the real brand is about.
And Allbirds actually has some really compelling social and environmental missions behind the brand that people aren’t so aware of that. And here’s where the problem comes in. So Amazon has created a complete rip off of their shoes, completely and I think at a much more competitive price point. And of course it’s going to be a huge blow to their top line. Now, I think it was either Mark Jacobs or Steve Madden that did the same thing Amazon did to Allbirds like a while back. Allbirds sued them. But Allbirds can’t Sue Amazon. That’s just dangerous territory and Amazon would sink them in legal costs.
So instead what they did was the CEO wrote an open letter to Amazon saying, “Hey, if you’re going to copy us, that’s great, but you should copy our supply chain too. You should copy all of our responsible practices. You should buy from the same manufacturer that we do for like,” I think it was like the, the material in the soles of their shoes, “So that the cost can come down for all of us and everybody can get access to great shoes that are actually really great for the environment is a really genius PR move.”
And it got a lot of traction, but it underscored a huge problem that Allbirds brand in that nobody really knew their social mission or their environmental commitments and their product is their brand, which is such a dangerous place to be in, because now that their product is not just theirs anymore, what’s left.
I mean, if you look at the trajectory of all these things, the customer base, that’s getting more aware of everything is getting kind of buying in a great or wider context. You have to be careful because as this consumer constantly evolves, there’s a good chance and companies do this. They educate that customer beyond their own products even, to the point where they’re like, well, there’s a better alternative than even you, even though you educated me in getting that.
And so this is something … well, there’s two things here. One is that the consumer is constantly evolving. Education is now becoming a key part in so many brands. And two is that everything matters in a way that it didn’t before. Before it was just really consuming for what it meant to me, or this solves a problem, excellent. And you didn’t really care about anything else.
And I think what this speaks to is that when you buy a pair of jeans and it’s produced in India and it’s producing all this pollution and it’s making a lot of the rivers toxic. Or you buy produce from Chile and you’re supporting a lot of human rights abuses around water, this is now becoming an important piece of the products and the brands you buy. Maybe not so much now, but in the very foreseeable future, you have to play on a global level. And I think it’s going to really change the landscape of who wins and who doesn’t by acknowledging these things, because it’s hard to do that.
But I’m going to argue that all of these things being social responsible, having a great supply chain, solving problems, resource wise and economically and stuff like that. These are benefits right now, but they’re quickly turning into features. They’re quickly going to become something that is attainable for every other brand that wants to tell the same story. So you need to move beyond what this product is about and move to whatever the lifestyle or the ideal or the larger future vision of that brand is about.
Okay. There’s one more thing I want to bring up. Another 100 year experiment that I think about oftentimes in our work is having to do with mental health. What are we going to look back on in a 100 years when it comes to mental health and think like, damn, we were crazy. I believe that in a 100 years, we’re going to look back and think of how immoral it was that mental health was secondary to physical health. And more than that, the fact that it was denied to so many people, either through the system, which I think we’re all aware of or because of gendered stereotypes.
This is a really good analogy I heard a while back, which is that if you went for a run in the ’40s, someone would ask you who you’re running from. The idea that you could go for a run for leisure and fitness was kind of an unfamiliar idea to a lot of people. And the same could be said today of mental health and therapy. You go to a therapist and say, Oh, is everything okay?
What’s wrong with you?
Exactly. And it’s just our mindset is so far behind the way we think about physical health. Like the fact that we have to talk about it as the mental health conversation. Like it’s its own thing, and it’s just now emerging that we’re like, oh yeah, I never really thought about mental health before. It’s kind of remarkable.
But here’s why I think that this experiment is a really interesting one to run. It’s because I think we’re starting to see some major changes and here’s what I see. So mental health, just like you described has always been very, very siloed. It happens in a therapist office, or it happens with drugs, but that’s what mental health is. And I think now mental health is becoming a lot more diffuse and it’s coming by way of wellness and self-care, which I could talk about for hours, but I’m not going to do here.
But we’re moving to this new truth that in health, in general, everything is connected. So people are starting to think that health is hiding in the connections. For example, the gut brain connection, the brain body connection. The fact that we could be in toxic environments and not just physically, but like emotionally toxic environments. All the memes around toxic friendships and toxic people, health and spirituality. Health is so connected to so many other things. It’s about transcending, just the physical side of it.
What’s fascinating about that is, it reminds me of a real truth and brand strategy and it’s this. When the definition of something changes, the stigma changes. This is a big pillar of brand strategy. If you don’t want people to bring their baggage and biases to your door, meaning if you don’t want people to come with biases from another user experience to your product, then you need to change the door. You need to redefine what it is that people are doing.
And that’s happening in mental health. We’re not calling it the therapist’s office anymore, we’re calling it meditation or we’re calling it bath soaks. We’re calling it goop and moon juice. We’re calling it so many other things that when it has a different definition, you forget what you know about the space, because you’re thinking this is something different and you are open to a wholly new experience. If this is abstract, I’m going to give you an example, Noom, the weight-loss app Noom. Here in California, it’s advertised all over TV to us. I’ve checked it out. It’s amazing. It’s one of our case studies that we use in our speaking engagements and in our workshops for clients.
Noom is actually not a weight loss app. Once you dig into it, it is 100% a mental health app wrapped up in weight loss. They have redefined it so you come to it with a different set of expectations. You’re a much more open to having a very raw, emotional, personal experience. Like there are questions and UX moments and spark points and little delightful experiences within this app that force you to have a mental health conversation with yourself. And that’s how they’re approaching food and body image and it’s fascinating. I would really recommend that anybody that wants to see how a brand changes definition and changes the stigmas does it, it’s Noom. This is the experiment that I think will play … I think it’s playing out right now in our lives.
I mean, it’s quite easy to imagine in 100 years just looking back and thinking like how primitive of us to not even consider mental health, kind of going back to the big picture again. One thing that I find very interesting is if you look at suicide rates, suicide is a huge issue. According to the crisis, it’s now that I think the 10th highest cause of death in this country. It’s three and a half times more common for men than women to commit suicide. And probably a big part of this is this kind of toxic masculinity. And that comes down to how we relate to one another.
And to your point, Jasmine, I think this is something where mental health is not a concrete problem, is sort of, is adjacent to all these other aspects, your diet, your relationships, even your work to a large extent is definitive of your mental health. And so this isn’t something you solve with kind of taking one pill. I think, it’s a much more abstract problem to solve than maybe physical health is. With physical health, there are a lot of roots and you can see kind of like cause and effect much more transparently.
And so this point about toxic masculinity and the suicide rate, one of the things that stands out to me, that’s kind of interesting is this value we have on isolation and space. There was this article I read a while ago, how everyone’s moving out of New York to have more space, so each of their kids can have a room for themselves. And it just kind of shocked me, like when did we place so much cultural value on being alone? And I wonder in 100 years we look back and quite possibly, hopefully I really hope that we see relationships very differently. That we have many more tools to relate and connect to one another. There isn’t this kind of binary and how we see masculinity, where you can’t be vulnerable. If you’re vulnerable, then it says something about you.
Now, let’s just say what it is. Like, there’s this huge unspoken dichotomy or maybe spoken where like you’re either a tough straight guy and if you’re anything different than that, then you’re gay. Like I don’t think I’m exaggerating and in fact people have written about this. It’s this really unnecessary cultural construct, here’s our race again, that just drives this hard line between being a man and being something else.
And what’s interesting, I think we’re starting to see a lot of economic incentives where, like if you look at gaming for example, there was some report recently, 70% of gaming is now a social activity. It’s done with friends as a kind of communal experience, that’s a big change. And I think it sort of shows that we’re starting to get a lot of economic incentives around facilitating these new kinds of relationships.
Yeah, I don’t know, gaming still has a lot of like toxic male stuff in it.
For sure, but it’s just this one dynamic where we’re starting to use this medium as a way of socializing. And there’s a lot of questions because again, with social media. Social media in large part replaced part of our social discourse and it wasn’t healthy. It clearly wasn’t healthy, and it kind of remains to be seen how this sort of plays out. If this is actually the sign of something good, or if this is going to replace yet another kind of aspect of how we relate to one another and replace it with something that’s even worse.
I feel like culturally, this is so much more insidious. There was a great episode on the Hidden Brain podcast. I think it was a series of episodes, but they talked to social researchers about when, boys when they grow up are actually very emotional, very touchy and huggy, very close to their friends. And they talk about their friends the same way girls do. They love their friends and they giggled together and they were rough house.
And then around the age of like, I think somewhere between 11 and 14, they start to become very solitary. They don’t talk about those same things. They’re not physically intimate at all anymore, and they kind of become these islands and I think culturally conditioned within them. And I’m going to link to this in the show notes too. Like it was a fantastic podcast. People should listen to this.
And that’s where like the discussion of like, that’s when kids start saying like, oh, that’s gay. That’s when like those kinds of words start getting used and young boys who are so effusive, suddenly turn into these different animals and they are denied such basic fundamental human rights like being touched, being connective, being relational, being emotional. People are going to disagree with me, but come at me, it’s fine. But like, there are a lot of studies around this and it goes back to what we were saying that there’s a larger mental health discussion happening here and I think it covers the entire span of our lives, not just adulthood.
Like it could really be, if we think about how much energy goes into wellness in the context of physical health, it could very well be not even in 100 years, and maybe even within a decade, a lot of that attention will be on our own mental well-being instead. Like that will be one of the primary drivers of new consumption.
Mental health is the new physical health.
Okay. We covered a lot. I would recommend anybody who’s listening to this right now, you do your own thought experiments within your own work. You don’t have to push it out to 100 years, but even pushing out to five to 10 years is going to, I think reveal some interesting things for you about human behavior, the stories that people are willing to accept, how much people are willing to change. It’s all great stuff to work with. Great conversation. Thanks, we’re going to talk again soon.