Podcast

with Jasmine Bina

7: Cultural Constructs Are The Real Brand Opportunit‪y

insights in culture

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Brands like Ring and Billie leverage the uncertainty of our changing value systems to create new interest in old paradigms. In other words, they play with cultural constructs: arbitrary systems determined by our culture or our community, rather than a truth that stems from an immovable aspect of human nature. They prove that when constructs start to change, real brand opportunities start to emerge.

Podcast Transcript

Feb 27, 2020

50 min read

Cultural Constructs Are The Real Brand Opportunit‪y

00:00

Jasmine Bina:
This is Unseen Unknown, I’m Jasmine Bina. A little housekeeping before we get started on today’s episode. We have a lot of new listeners that are part of the Unseen Unknown community. And I wanted to let that we also have a newsletter run by our company Concept Bureau, that is everything brand strategy. So in the spirit of what we have here on the podcast, it is about connecting cultural insights to brand and business insights. You’re going to find articles. You’re going to find video content. You’re going to find the events that we host. And it’s a really great way of amplifying the knowledge that you get here with really smart insights and actionable ideas that you can use in your business day to day. In order to get on that list, just go to conceptbureau.com and click on the insights tab.

No matter who you are, you’ve likely washed one of the viral front porch videos published on YouTube by the smart home security company Ring. One of their more salient videos was published on November 22nd of last year. And in it, a young brother and sister leave daily messages for their dad who was deployed in the Middle East. It’s a super cut of their morning and afternoon passings as each kid pauses on their way to school to tell their dad they love him or comes up running to the camera at the end of the school day to tell their dad something that happened. This is a very specific scene. It’s the front porch of a seemingly suburban middle-class home an American flag waves in the background. There’s some greenery across the street that looks a park and the children look happy, thriving. And most importantly, they’re unintended by an adult, they are safe.

01:49

Child 1 (audio clip):
Hi dad, we got a new hair cut.

Child 2 (audio clip):
Dad I love so much, come home soon. I love you.

Child 1 (audio clip):
Dad, riding a bike now. All I need for help is to push then am going by myself, with no training wheels dad. How cool is that?

Child 2 (audio clip):
I hope you come back home.

Child 1 (audio clip):
Bye dad.

Child 2 (audio clip):
Bye dad… We have to learn a lot.

02:29

Jasmine Bina:
Ring is an incredible example of a company that has used a number of cultural constructs to blast their brand into millions of homes across the US. They understood how the unspoken rules and cores of our society could be used to retell an old story. The best definition of a cultural construct that we found was this, it’s anything that is determined arbitrarily by one’s cultural background rather than something universally rooted in biology or some other unyielding aspect of human nature.

So sexual reproduction is biological in origin. On the other hand, the gendered idea that male babies have blue toys and female babies have pink toys is actually a cultural construct. And we have other cultural constructs to, diamond rings for an engagement or a tipping culture, or perhaps even the whole notion of money itself.

03:20

The difference between a norm and a cultural construct is that constructs add a layer of meaning that wasn’t there before. Death and mortality are unyielding, but the fact that you wear black to a funeral in America versus white to a funeral in Japan is based on cultural constructs. And those constructs give us a way to sanctify and memorialized life and death. These constructs matter for branding because nearly all brands are playing within them. Some brands exploit them or strengthen them and others pick up on a sea change coming up within society and work to change them. Either way they can’t be ignored, constructs create the rules that brands either have to play along with or work to consciously break down.

Constructs are everywhere but I think one of the most interesting places to look for them right now is in the home. If you think about all of this startup capital and new companies and products, and the frontier of brand storytelling, a lot of stuff is happening at our doorstep. It’s about these brands trying to get into our home. A lot of the big breakout brands of the last few years and the whole wellness economy and the lifestyle brands that brought DTC to us, they were all targeting you in your bedroom, your bathroom, your kitchen, your living room, your home office. And the home is an interesting space because it comes kind of packaged with another cultural construct, which is privacy. I don’t think you can talk about one without the other. The home is a new war zone for the privacy topic.

05:02

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. That’s something interesting from an outside perspective. So I grew up in the UK and UK has always been considered the nanny state, right? There are more sort of CCT cameras per capita than anywhere else. And so everyone is kind of quite used to that, but it’s a cultural conversation in the UK, your privacy and how we’re being watched all over the place. In the US it hasn’t been historically, but now what’s strange is that people are opting into this. We are opting into having cameras in our homes, around us. And so it’s not the government that’s doing it. It’s the private sector and the consumers are choosing to do that. It’s a strange phenomenon.

05:35

Jasmine Bina:
And let’s just be clear. It’s not just cameras. It’s your Wi-Fi, it’s the personal technology that you use. It’s your personal assistance in the home. It’s letting the Amazon package come to your doorstep and take a picture of the package being there, even little innocuous things like that are always little encroachments on the privacy factor.

So in the US like you were saying, I don’t think you can talk about the home or about privacy without talking about a company like Ring, who has been such a breakout success, who has had some really interesting/questionable practices about how they’re not just branding the product, but also creating alliances with local law enforcement and local governments to kind of create this nanny state that you’re talking about and bring the technology into the homes where we are now actually surveilling ourselves. So here’s the interesting thing about Ring.

06:29

I asked some of my friends what is Ring, everybody thinks the doorbell camera, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that Ring is a whole suite of cameras that actually look inside of your home. So people may start with the doorbell camera, but then they get the camera that’s in their living room or in their bedroom watching their kids cribs or in the kitchen which is maybe as a sliding door to the outside. So maybe it’s an easy break in point, but Ring doesn’t just look at our neighbors, it allows us to look at ourselves.

There’s an interesting article I just want to mention by Caroline Haskins for Vice’s Motherboard, she wrote a three-part series called How Ring Transmits Fear to American Suburbs. It’s an amazing article, but here in this piece is where she talks about the fact that they’ve kind of positioned themselves as this omniscient, maybe almost benevolent third eye that’s watching over your family and keeping you safe.

07:25

Jean-Louis:
Yeah, I think when we’re talking about privacy it’s worth putting it in context, sort of privacy has always been a sliding scale, right? You can go all the way back to the printing press. And literally they thought that books were the under privacy because suddenly anyone can get ahold of your ideas. And so this is not in any way a new concept, but you can sort of see how it’s been sliding for a long time.

We wouldn’t have had smart home assistants in our home. We wouldn’t have allowed microphones in our home 10, 15 years ago. That just would be kind of unheard of, it would be culturally taboo or kind of very questionable at the least. And now I don’t know, with a camera and a microphone in your home really what’s left as far as privacy is concerned. And the same is in the digital realm, the point is that our construct, our perception of what it means to have privacy has been shifting for a long time. And so I think in that guys, if you could sort of see that happen, you could almost predict that this is where we would end up.

08:18

Jasmine Bina:
Why do you think it’s been shifting? Has it just been a gradual change where we’re just are a little more apathetic each time one of these new things weasels its way into our homes and into our private spaces? Or do you think there was a tipping point?

Jean-Louis:
Well, I think there’s sort of two forces definitely on the one hand look at where we’ve given up major privacy, right? So when Facebook became a big thing, we signed up, we liked all the things that we wanted to like.

Jasmine Bina:
Uploaded pictures of our babies.

08:44

Jean-Louis:
Right. We put our lives online and we knew to some extent that these were being monitored. We knew the news that came out about how it was all being tracked.

We were aware of this, but we gave it up. We chose to make the discretionary choice to give up that privacy and our digital lives so that we could have that utility of connecting with our friends, having the convenience of consolidating so much information in one place. So that’s the case there. And I think it’s the same kind of rules that apply with Alexa or Google Home. It’s the same sort of thing where there is a convenience factor and we’ve given up the privacy of not being listened to on our homes or certain rooms. And from a consumer point of view, it has been under the guise of utility.

09:25

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. I think maybe there’s another layer to it. I just feel it has to be more complicated than that. I don’t think it was just a matter of convenience. Although convenience was kind of the trojan horse that made this all happen. But do you remember in 2017 when Mark Zuckerberg made that pledge to visit all 50 States? Okay, so I’ll just take us back there. So he had had a pretty tumultuous year. There were a lot of questions around privacy and the way that Facebook was using our data at that time. And he went on this road show where he was going to visit all 50 States. And at the time he had also just announced that he was no longer an atheist and that he was going to work on himself more personally. And everybody in the media thought, oh, this is clearly him showing his ambitions to run for office.

But I don’t think it was that, I think what we were missing at the time was the fact that he knew that as a huge influential public figure, running one of the largest companies in the world, he was no longer just a CEO. He was acting more like a government leader. It was a signal of the fact that power had shifted from our governments to private citizens or people who are running big corporations, public or private corporations.

10:48

That’s one of the bellwethers I think of when privacy started to shift. I think because we decided that our governments were no longer our authorities and companies like Facebook and Apple and Amazon, these were the new authorities. And we had given them that authority willingly, that shift had started to happen but we didn’t have a chance to realize that we were also shifting the responsibility of privacy to private companies. So we still expected our governments to protect our privacy, but we were expecting these companies to act as our governments and that didn’t work. And I think this was the most visible when you would see Mark Zuckerberg at congressional hearings at the time, Scott Galloway talks about this. When you hear the line of questioning, you see how impotent our Congress was in protecting our privacy in the face of a behemoth like Facebook.

11:40

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I think what you have to kind of take out of that whole narrative is that if the private company is now our new governments who is defining what privacy is anymore? Right. It’s these companies, these companies that tell you that privacy has nothing to do with having a speaker or a smart assistant in your home. It’s kind of they are shaping that narrative. Maybe it’s very subversive, but it’s happening. And the bedrock was laid for this a long time ago.

I think going all the way back to 9/11 and the Patriot act, we got this message from the government that we were going to give up a bit of our privacy for the collective security. And at the time we were kind of comfortable with that deal. And I think it made it very complex as a consumer to understand where does privacy sort of begin and end, right? Because the government with all these NSA leaks, that the government was listening to your phone, it was listening to your messages. It was reading your emails. It kind of became very confusing and so sort of going back to the story of how we chose convenience of a privacy, a lot of it was just the fact that that was a deal that we understood the terms of.

12:40

Jasmine Bina:
Well, I think it goes even further back. I think the reason we understood the terms of that deal was because of what was happening in the 90s, Faith Popcorn. I don’t know if people remember her still. She was an amazing futurist and thinker. And I mean, she would put out a huge report every year. I remember the tech industry was always waiting for it with bated breath. I’m sure she still writes, I don’t see her stuff surfaces often, but she said in the 90s, there was this phenomenon that was going to start to occur called cocooning. And I’m going to quote here, the internet, home entertainment, mobile phones, alarm systems, self-checkout, filters for our personal air and water, and all fair paraphernalia of cocooning are about a tendency towards more lonely solitary experiences in the last 30 years. So it’s interesting. The lonely and solitary piece is that could be a whole episode on its own, but in the 90s she was starting to see the trends that would make it possible for something like 9/11 and the Patriot Act to actually come into effect.

That would make it possible now today, for something like Ring to actually exist. You and I were talking earlier about what is privacy? Why is it construct and why do we care about it so much? I think you have to remember that everything always comes back to the American dream and the American ideal. When America was founded it was founded by people leaving what they felt were governments that were persecuting them. And it was all about finding your land and owning your land and it was between you and God. And nobody could interfere with that relationship between you God and your physical property. It’s kind of which you have in Texas, the whole shoot first ask later law. I don’t even know if that’s the law, but whatever that is, this idea that your rights are completely inalienable.

14:33

And if you think that that idea is dying, don’t be fooled because think of every immigrant that’s still comes to this country. I think of my own parents. They are escaping governments that are persecuting them. That gives them no sense of autonomy and no sense of privacy. Privacy and autonomy are kind of one in the same. There’s a huge overlap there. This idea of America owes you privacy in this sense is so deeply rooted, it’s not dying anytime soon. And any time you have a disconnect between the truth and what’s actually happening, you have a brand opportunity. And I think that’s where Ring comes in. So let’s talk about Ring a little bit, Ring was before called Door Bolt and it was positioned as a smart home device. And then in 2014, they repositioned it as Ring. And then it went from a smart home device to a security product. And that was a very, very significant move.

15:34

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I think you can see how that took place and sort of how they present themselves, right? And so there’s this sort of powerful juxtaposition. A lot of their marketing footages is kids at home on the front yard playing. It’s very joyful. It’s celebrating these happy moments and it’s the same camera footage. You understand it’s a Ring footage because it’s kind of warped. It’s very wide angle. You see people robbing packages, breaking into homes, you see very insidious and uncomfortable and really unpleasant things.

And I think part of what’s happening there is that’s sort of taking advantage of the availability heuristic, right? This idea that we as human beings we’re very hard at understanding kind of the rule of averages and statistics. And so we tend to set our expectations based on past experiences. So when we see a lot of this footage, we feel that it can happen all the time, it could happen anywhere. And we just over-index maybe on how often this could happen. And it creates this powerful friction between the idea of this perfect family, this perfect home, and then these terrible things that happen. And it’s all in the same camera footage. And so it feels it’s all happening in the same place. That’s very powerful because it sets a lot of emotional triggers that make you feel good and then they make you feel very afraid. And they’re part of the same narrative.

16:47

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. Nancy Duarte talks about this. When you tell a story, if you compare what is versus what could be, so the scary world versus this idyllic world, and you go back and forth, you create momentum in a story. And the world’s greatest speeches actually have this pattern of, this is what it is, this is what could be, this is what it is, this is what could be. And that’s effectively what’s happening in these videos. Nancy Duarte is an incredible speech writer that’s worked with the top minds in the world and has been the person behind some of the best presentations and the most famous talks that have ever been given. And that’s what she sees over and over again in actual, very formal straightforward storytelling. But let’s not forget that these brands are in the storytelling business. Now, what you described, it’s interesting.

If you compare it to a company like ADT, we all grew up with ADT commercials. Who can forget in the 90s of it was always in a darkened living room and it was a single white blonde woman. I mean, obviously a mother not single, but alone in a living room, reading a book. And then you hear a rock being thrown through a window and the alarm go off and she’s terrified. And there’s these two dark intruders. And by dark, I mean literally dark, probably minority intruders who hear the alarm and they’re scared away. And it’s all about they just show one half of this sensationalized story of protecting the vulnerable woman. But Ring knew that that wasn’t enough. And there was a cultural construct here at play that they could really mold and it was the idea of the nuclear family.

18:26

You know what’s interesting? The nuclear family is truly a construct. So historically the family has been multi-generational. It has a lot of close ties and distant ties, but then when our economics and our culture started changing in the 50s and 60s, we got this new picture painted of the nuclear family, which was two parents and two kids. And that was very different, although it was the truth. And for a while, that really worked from 1950 to 1965, according to a really amazing article in the Atlantic that just came out recently by David Brooks called The Nuclear Family. It was a mistake which we’ll also put in the show notes. It was a very stable kind of family. They call him is growing and that family worked. But soon after that, it started to fall apart. The nuclear family itself is a cultural construct, but let’s talk about what the nuclear family really points to.

And it’s this idea of the children, protecting the children. I’m going to go so far as to say that childhood is even a cultural construct. And this is why. So before the 17th and 18th centuries the word childhood, the concept of childhood didn’t even exist. And the only reason we started thinking about what childhood is in this span of time where you’re a child and you’re growing and going through certain developmental processes that don’t happen in adulthood is because of people like John Locke and John Jacques Rousseau philosophers who started talking about this stuff. But before that, as a society around the world even we’ve thought that children were just tiny adults, they were just half formed adults. Even if you look back at Renaissance paintings, the kids have adult faces, they’re just tiny bodies. And that just shows you how profound a construct can be.

20:11

It can literally change the way you see yourself and your offspring. Can you imagine being of the mindset where childhood wasn’t a thing? Can you imagine being a parent and you don’t see your child as a child, you see them as a small adult that is just on their way to becoming an adult, that childhood is not a phase that they’re going through? So because there was no sense of childhood, there were no norms or rules or beliefs about this newly segmented time in your life. And that begs the bigger question, what makes a good childhood? And that’s where you started to see a whole flourishing of theories and ideas, and then later products and brands that would help you figure out what a good childhood is.

20:53

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. And I think especially now, because the world around these kids is changing so rapidly, the roles of what it means to have a childhood and really what that is, is the roles of parenthood. Those roles themselves are changing so aggressively. And it’s quite incredible to see, there is this very powerful rhetoric and Ring absolutely plays into this, that you as a parent need to protect your child. It’s something that so many companies do. It is the exact same thing that honest company does, right? They tell you that there are these scary chemicals, they’re going to harm your kids. And so you need to do everything to protect them. It’s the same reason why SUV sales are skyrocketing in the US because parents, they want to feel safe, they want to feel like they’re protecting their kids. They want to be higher in the road. And this comes at the actual literal cost of pedestrian safety. It’s much more lethal when there were more SUV’s on the road, but it’s this mindset as a parent that I must protect my child.

Jasmine Bina:
It’s a whole flood of brands, again, because this is a construct that they’re playing within. And there’s so much uncertainty here. What actually makes a good childhood happen? You have food brands like Yumi and Cerebelly, both of which I have used and bought for my kids. You have organic clothing and toys like the Tod. You have toys that come from a whole theory about how to create a beneficial and educational childhood like the Montessori method, they use only natural colors and natural materials because they feel like artificial colors and materials don’t set the kid up for a good relationship with their physical world. There’s a whole resurgence of natural birth and breastfeeding. And if you live in LA like we do, it’s almost embarrassing to tell people that you had a C-section or that your kid is on formula.

22:37

Jean-Louis:
I think kind of the subtext of this, and again, kind of going back to this idea of this is the cultural construct of parenting, right? It comes down to how the social interactions play out. They play out on largely on social media. That’s how people get that norms, right? That’s how people discover, oh, this is what I should do. And what’s interesting about parenthood is it’s all learned, right?

When you become a parent, you have to suddenly learn this entire new world, an entirely new language. And so, because it’s so quickly acquired and kind of, you have that interesting process. Unlike things like gender, which is something, it’s a construct that you’re exposed to from birth parenthood is a very new thing. I think because of that, it’s able to change maybe quicker in terms of the social dynamics, but it creates these powerful echo chambers because you hear the loudest voices. You don’t hear the average again, it’s the availability heuristic. You hear the people screaming that this is dangerous, and this is going to harm your child. That’s kind of what you’re exposed to. And I think we have a kind of a tendency to over skew and kind of that’s the norm. And so we’ve kind of over time, thanks mostly to social media gone into this very, almost frightened norm about parenthood.

23:48

Jasmine Bina:
You know what’s interesting about these brands that’s just occurring to me too, is that there’s no gray area with these brands. If you look at the Tot or Cerebelly or Montessori, or Ring even, there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way, there’s no in between, you’re not given a choice, either do it, or you’re a good parent, or you don’t do it or you’re bad parent.

Jean-Louis:
And the irony is I was reading Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, and he was talking all these statistics about how the world is getting better. There was one that really surprised me is that if you look at a stay-at-home mother from the 1950s and compare them to a single working mother today, that single working mother actually on average spends more time with her kids than the stay at home mother did.

23:40

There’s a lot of reasons, chores were more labor intensive. A lot of things took more time. But the fact of the matter is what we perceive as normal is not in any way, it’s very much a cultural construct. And it’s just these perceptions of what defines this, not the material objective reality. So I think something that we touched on how parenting is very new and we mentioned gender, right?

Gender is a huge cultural construct, which society to society. And you go through history, they’re perceived in such different ways. I was really surprised when I found out about how native Americans, some tribes had people who were considered too spirit and they would actively switch between identifying as one gender than the other. And they were in some societies deemed as sort of shams as wise people that you would go to for advice and that was revered. That was culturally a very respected role in society.

25:19

Now juxtapose that against today and it’s very different. And so the point is that gender has also been shifting and what’s fascinating is that what we’ve seen with parenting, and we’ve seen with privacy when a cultural norm starts to shift, it creates an incredible amount of white space for new brands to come in and sort of own that conversation.

I mean, very meaningfully the brand that’s really interesting from my point of view and that’s the company Billy. So it’s a women’s razor brand and Georgina Gooley, the founder her story, her position on the brand is that the brand is really all about inviting the idea of choice that women shaving their bodies is a choice. Now you compare that to the fact that in 1915, before then body hair was normal. And then suddenly Gillette came along in 1915, and they told all these women that you have to be shaved, to be a proper woman you have to shave your armpits. Right?

26:11

Jasmine Bina:
And this was through ad campaigns.

Jean-Louis:
Yes. They really created this story. And it’s interesting, a lot of these myths around the same time. Debaters coming out with a diamond engagement ring before then you would get engaged with a bouquet of flowers, right? And so a lot of these things were because of marketing campaigns that they created these social norms everyone was expected to adhere to. And so here you have a company coming along and they have advertisements, imagery, that’s very specific. You have women wearing bikinis and you can see pubic hair on the sides. You can see women with hairy armpits.

Jasmine Bina:
You’re talking about Billy now.

26:43

Jean-Louis:
Billy. Yeah. Even they were supporting Movember for women, right? The women could grow mustaches. And the point wasn’t that every woman should do this. The point was it was a choice. And you can see how we’re now at a point where that is a comfortable for most people, a comfortable conversation to have. 20 years ago they might’ve had a very hard time telling the same story and that the audience is mostly, they do really, really well with gen Z. That’s the bulk of that audience. And it’s a very specific aesthetic, but make no mistake they exist because the definitions in the binary around gender is starting to dissolve.

Jasmine Bina:
So it’s worth seeing how Ring was actually playing into a very cemented construct. So they were taking the construct that already existed and created a lot more gravity around it. Whereas Billy took a construct and realized that maybe it was starting to erode from underneath. So they created a brand that was working to change or fly in the face of a construct, two totally different approaches. What made them both successful was the fact that they identified what it was and they used it to their advantage.

Jean-Louis:
They were having a very specific conversation and it was crafted that way.

27:48

Jasmine Bina:
We always say that the brands that win are the ones that are willing to have a very specific point of view and that’s what’s happening here. The thing about gender too is it’s not too hard to read the tea leaves and see that this is happening and that it’s been happening for at least the last decade. So the growth of streetwear and the sneaker market, the fact that men’s sneakers were projected, I think last year to have surpassed woman’s shoe sales this year. The fact that men have a very unique and pronounced form of impulse shopping that women don’t have, even though women are believed to be impulse shoppers. Also the fact that men buy to collect, women buy to actually use and wear. But a lot of times, if you think about streetwear brands, especially men buy to collect, and when you collect something, you have a lot less price sensitivity, you’re willing to pay more and more of a premium as you become more invested in the collection and there’s always a new reason to buy.

It’s not that you need to wait until you have a special occasion or the shoes you’re wearing need to be replaced. The reason to buy never goes away. I mean, that is a huge shift in how men are shopping that I think is another indicator of how the gender binary is becoming less and less relevant at least the way that we know it. Also not just through streetwear, but through a lot of different trends in men’s fashion. I think men have been given a lot more permission to kind of express themselves through their style. So a lot more bright colors, a lot more flamboyant, a lot more statement pieces. I see a lot of men wearing jewelry now, or wearing hats, things that I definitely didn’t see 10 or 15 years ago, but that’s because the gender norm is shifting.

29:33

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. That gap between sort of women’s consumption really and men’s consumption is starting to shrink and they’re becoming much closer. And you can see this across sort of if you just imagine this cultural construct, right. Gender and how it’s moved it should be unsurprising that you have milk makeup and cosmetics kind of defining a whole new landscape of sort of gender neutral cosmetics that largely can reach men in a way that they haven’t before.

You have gender neutral clothing too good. And a lot of companies that exist around the periphery, there’s a new sort of style language. You have toys even, Mattel have come out with a gender neutral doll now, and you’re starting to get even the toy landscape at a very young age is starting to be affected by the changing cultural construct here. And then even pharmaceuticals. So going back to hymns that we love to use as an example, they are very successful because they’re repackaging pharmaceuticals that have existed for a long time, hair loss and ed medication. These things, but they’re wrapping it into this new conversation around. In that case what then this sort of new form of masculinity is, but that exists because this binary is starting to dissolve.

30:44

Jasmine Bina:
I think it’s easy for people to look at this stuff and say, ah, it’s just PC. It’s just people at the fringes kind of creating the mainstream, it’s easy to point to extreme communities like LGBT communities and maybe even some minority communities that are forcing this story, but that’s absolutely untrue. This is people electing with their dollars a new format for understanding their gender identity. And then it’s the longer spectrum. And why wouldn’t they, it’s so freeing to be able to do that. And I think women have been limited in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways men have been extremely limited as well.

Jean-Louis:
I think an interesting way to look at this is that if you look at the cultural constructs of sort of, let’s say, 50 to 100 years ago, and then you look at how the new cultural constructs around gender are changing. You see that it used to be these authorities that would define it. These big companies would tell you, this is how you get engaged, right? These are the colors that you buy for your child. This is how you should do things. Whereas now it’s bottom up. It’s the consumers that are really defining this. And even going back to privacy, the government doesn’t tell you what privacy is anymore. The consumer is electing to define what it means for themselves. And so I think just this radical shift in who the stakeholder is, and the consumers becoming much more in control and empowered. And I think you kind of underestimate the power of social media to create a bed for that conversation to evolve and move, it’s very powerful.

32:14

Jasmine Bina:
I don’t know if I would call it power in terms of what’s in the consumer’s hands, but let’s just say they have more choice.

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. Well control. But I think when you look at gender and you look at how it’s evolving, you kind of look at where it is today. You have to look at sort of where it’s going to, because this is the thing. These constructs are constantly moving. They’re constantly evolving, kind of every construct that we interface with is in itself dynamic.

32:37

And so the real question is if you’re a brand, what is it going to look like in the future, the near future? What can you target? And so a lot of these things are starting to shift and around gender was starting to get to a point we’re talking about masculinity more. I think it wouldn’t be unsurprising in the next five to 10 years for aspects of toxic masculinity or the kind of the social components of what it means to be male specifically start to radically shift. We maybe we’ll see companies that are normalizing much more intimate friendships. And this may be on media too, but I would imagine that we should start seeing these kinds of things, whether it’s new formats for male social connections and the kind of new norms.

Jasmine Bina:
You said friendships. So I think what you’re trying to say is that women are afforded the kind of fluidity and freedom in moving between spaces with their friendships and their relationships with other women that men don’t have. Men are oftentimes siloed. And again, that’s not our opinion. We’ve talked about this in previous podcasts, there’s plenty of studies behind this, but you think those welds are starting to break down and give men more room to relate to one another in a free intimate way.

33:47

Jean-Louis:
And it shouldn’t be surprising because men have started to fall into types of consumption that have historically been kind of defined by women’s consumption. And so this is a trend that you should expect if gender really is a cultural construct that is shifting, it should be absolutely unsurprising that that’s the trajectory we’re headed on. And we’re starting to see early signals of this. And so in your industry, wherever you work, you can probably start to kind of build up a picture of what is the cultural construct at play here. What is sort of defining behavior and perception and start to make a prediction on where it’s going and that white space, that leading edge, that’s where the conversation is up for grabs.

34:25

Jasmine Bina:
I want to say something here about execution too this isn’t just about good words and a good website and a product that facilitates whatever statement you’re trying to make about gender. Billy, every little thing they did was a private signal to people, even in one of their more viral video campaigns or video ads, they had Princess Nokia, one of her songs in the background. If you know Princess Nokia you know exactly what she stands for, you know that she stands for a very specific kind of subculture. And if you know her you know that for a long time until recently she was partnered with the poet Hood Profet. I think he’s renamed himself to Mike Davis. A man who since the beginning of his poetry has constantly been exploring gender and going further and further in that conversation, not just by what he observed but by his own life experience.

If you don’t follow him, I’ve talked about him in the past. One of my absolute all time favorite poets ever, who I think is doing important work here in LA, I’ve gone to some of his porch poetry shows, his handle is @theyDavis. But I was able to infer three levels of meaning, just because of song choice that they had in that ad. That shows you that they’re here weaving all the different elements of this subculture into their brand, not just giving it lip service. That’s not an easy thing to do. That’s why more and more, I’m starting to become with a mindset that if you’re not of the culture that you’re trying to sell to, I don’t think you can effectively sell to that culture. We’ll talk about that in another podcast, it’s an important topic to cover, but I’m starting to grapple with what the rules are with who gets to tell a story.

36:10

And I think gender is one of those spaces where maybe the stories you get to tell are the ones that you’ve lived, compare that to historically where every major woman’s fashion houses is founded by a man, let’s say, or run by a man. Anyways, I’m getting a little off topic. But another thing I wanted to add here is that I feel personal hygiene is a hotbed for cultural constructs. The fact that I don’t know if people remember it, but I would say maybe seven or eight years ago, hyperhidrosis, which is a disorder of sweating too much. It wasn’t really on people’s minds. I don’t know if it was even really named, but it certainly wasn’t classified as a problem. If you went to your doc and you’re like, I sweat a lot, he wouldn’t give you a prescription.

It wasn’t seen as an issue. It’s just your body, until some medical brands started creating actual products for hyperhidrosis. And it just shows you the power of framing something. If a condition, a normal non constructs part of the part of your human condition is repackaged as a problem let’s say, that’s how brands create opportunities. That’s how Gillette created the opportunity for shaving. It’s still happening today. So if you heard John [inaudible 00:37:34] give that example and think man, people are so unsophisticated. No, people are still pretty unsophisticated. It’s very subversive when brands tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way, or they create a black and a white. You either have it, or you don’t, you’re either a good parent or not parent. You’re either sweat too much, or you don’t sweat too much. You either protect your family and surveil them or you don’t. It’s really hard to say you’re somewhere in between the two.

38:01

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. It’s incredible how you can very easily and almost cheaply try and create the perception of a new social norm that sweating is this huge-

Jasmine Bina:
Let’s just be clear, not norms because norms are different. We were talking about constructs, right?

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I think norms are sort of the consequence of constructs, right? Is that you have this kind of bigger idea and the norms is sort of how they’re expressed in behavior.

So I think talking about how cultural constructs is shifting, I think one of the very powerful conversations that is very core, especially in Americans [inaudible 00:38:32] is this idea of success and what defines success. I think in the United States, it’s very, very strongly correlated with wealth, but there’s a lot of subtext to that. And it’s very important to understand. And so when we were traveling, I went to Vasai and you saw this palace and you have to understand kind of the context of old wealth, right? Old wealth existed in a time before capitalism, before stock market, before the idea that wealth was something that could be invested. And so the more money that you had, essentially the more things got covered in gold, the more you embellished your home, you had a large amount with more sevens and more beautiful things from imported from around the world.

39:12

That truly wasn’t anything to do with your wealth, other than really in some way or another embellish your life, right? You had more properties and it was very material because that’s all that you could do. And so success in that regard was a very different phenomenon. And then you had the emergence of capitalism, right? Where suddenly success, you could invest your money. So success became much more correlated with wealth and assets. And with that sort of became influence and power, right? You had, I think for a long time, the East India trading company had one of the largest armies in the world. It was a private company, they could take over entire islands in the Philippines and Indonesia because they had that kind of muscle. And that was a company, that was private wealth that did that. And so success has gone through a lot of transitions just like a lot of these constructs. It is very much a modern phenomenon.

So you can look at 100 to 150 years ago, these big figures like Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie, when they were wealthy, they did a lot of philanthropy. They envisioned the idea of public libraries and public utilities in these services. Henry Ford tried to create utopian society is in South America for their rubber farms. And so there was a mindset that they were sort of custodians of society, that they were benefactors and they were trying to kind of shape how the world works. And sure there was a very decent amount of ego involved in that. But the idea was that there was a role that they had to play as a consequence of their success. And then you compare that to today, right?

40:45

Or let’s say yesterday with the app boom, and the internet boom, you had a lot of these people that became billionaires overnight. Mark Zuckerberg is the prototypical example there and you had all this wealth. And for a long time, we sort of revered these people, these mavericks that could create the new world, that could really define what a billion plus people did every single day. And we look to these people like gods, right? And now we’re starting to enter this new cultural rhetoric where we don’t like the billionaires, where they are sort of dragons sitting on a pile of gold where they’re sort of villains of society that are taking away our autonomy and that are defining our lives unfairly.

And so you can see how success has started to shift. And so if we’re sort of vilifying these billionaires, like where is this new definition of success going? I think there’s a few different things there. One of them has to be time. This is something I think we’ve touched on in the past that these influences who have these incredible lives that everyone aspires to have, what they have in abundance is time. Whether it’s showing themselves, traveling at these resorts, doing these experiences the luxury of time really is becoming, I think, synonymous with success.

41:58

Jasmine Bina:
Can I just throw something in here? So there’s something really interesting about the connection between time and money and by relationship success as well, that’s specific to American culture or probably most of Western cultures. There’s a great book that I’m looking at right now called Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, which I’ll also link to in the show notes. One of my favorite books that talks about how a lot of our cultural values are actually hidden in the language that we use. So he explains how time in our culture is a valuable commodity. And if you just look at the phrases we use, it kind of reveals that such as I don’t have the time to give you, how do you spend your time these days? That flat tire costs me an hour. I’ve invested a lot of time in her. I don’t have enough time to spare for that.

You’re running out of time. These are all phrases that we use in one way or another that show that the idea of spending or like some sort of currency is the vehicle through which we express whether we have time, whether we don’t have time, how much time is left and inevitably what time means to us. I don’t think you necessarily see this in all cultures. And there’s a reason why this happened. He says, in our culture, time is money in many ways. Telephone messages, units, hourly wages, hotel room rates, yearly budgets, interest on loans, paying your debt to society by “serving your time.” These practices are relatively new in the history of the human race and by no means they exist in all cultures. They have arisen in modern industrialized societies and structure our basic everyday activities in a very profound way, corresponding to the fact that we act as if time is a valuable commodity and we conceive of time that way. So it’s because we have basically monetized time in America. We speak about time in terms of like an asset that’s being spent.

43:53

Jean-Louis:
Yeah, I think that’s profoundly insightful. And it shows that this raising of the perception of value of time, how suddenly we’ve always had time. We’ve always kind of spoken in this way, but we’ve had a mindset that time has a correlation there. Yeah, I think it kind of proves that there is a foundation for this, that the time is at least a part of this new definition of success. I think another aspect of this is health and wellbeing, right? They say, what is it? Health is a new handbag. I think we spoke about that before that health and wellbeing is becoming a big part of what success is and status. There was a lot of status to be had at being healthy in the perception of healthy. The reason why people will spend so much money on all these fitness, athleisure brands, and kind of go to all these classes and things you can’t mistake that a big part of that is the signal, right?

You send the sig in a way that… Back in the day you might have rented a sports car, today you will show that you have the time and the health that you can really kind of do these fitness activities. And you can be part of that world, that is becoming a new part of the success.

44:59

And part of this is that if we talk about work being the new religion, right, then I think the question is like, where is this going? Why do we work? And you can see this, how there are a lot of statistics that show millennials are choosing lower paying jobs that have a higher degree of meaning in their lives. They are literally choosing that. If work is the new religion than what successes because success and work are very closely aligned. Success is different. And success they’re saying is in part due to meaning, right. And how they create kind of an impact in the world. And so I don’t think we have a kind of concrete summary of what success is becoming, but we can see that the language and the vehicles that we define it by a starting to shift significantly.

Jasmine Bina:
I think I disagree. I think if wellness is really just a display of the time that you have, if being healthy takes time, if people are trying to find jobs that give them meaning because they want to spend their time wisely. I think that’s no different than this story that we’ve always told ourselves, which is time equals success. If you have time, if you have a space for time, that’s the ultimate indicator of success. Maybe not back to like the Carnegie and Ford days, but the fact that we’ve been talking about time in terms of currency shows that maybe this is a new iteration or a new interpretation of it, but this has always been the same story.

46:28

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think you’re right that it is becoming that key currency and you can see that we used to show off things that were expensive and now we show things that were expensive in time. And that’s kind of the new metric that maybe we display this by, but this is incredibly powerful. And I think we’re just starting to enter this new zeitgeist around success. And you can very clearly imagine a lot of companies starting to build off the back of that, of adding value and giving you vehicles to express your time in different ways. It’s a very powerful thing.

And I think it shows that cultural constructs are incredibly powerful at capturing our attention and leading a lot of behavior. So success is just one of many cultural constructs that affect us. We’ve touched on a few, but it’s an incredibly powerful device to sort of understand the world around you and really kind of build up a model of where it might be headed. And it really is definitive of where we see a lot of new brands finding success is following the trajectory of those cultural constructs.

47:35

Jasmine Bina:
Or working against them.

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. So in the tradition of our podcast, I want to ask a slightly more personal question, Jasmine, what’s a cultural construct that has personally affected you?

47:46

Jasmine Bina:
Many constructs come to mind that I think I’ve fallen victim to and kind of had to rise out of, but there was one that I think about all the time that I think many people will argue with me on. But a few years ago I went on a five day silent retreat to just meditate in the Ohio Valley for the better part of a week. And during that time we got some kind of discussions and lectures from the groups that were there to talk to us. And I remember somebody introducing the notion that unworthiness is a cultural construct and that’s for two reasons, one unworthiness isn’t really an emotion. It’s a label that’s applied to us by our society, our media, our religion, our peers, our parents. And when it’s applied to us, then we feel things like guilt or shame or fear. But in and of itself it’s not an inalienable feeling, it’s a constructed identity.

And then two, if we didn’t have these frameworks and these norms to tell us that unworthiness is a thing, we may never experience it. If you were a child that grew up without a notion of unworthiness, would it ever cross your mind, would you ever feel it as an identity? And that kind of blew my mind open. I realized on the spectrum of what you can feel as an individual, all the things that come along with this idea of being unworthy, which I think many of us feel if you really dig deep down into our histories or the things that hold us back today, I’m willing to bet unworthiness is underneath a lot of that. It is truly the most useless, the most constructed meaningless thing that we’ve created for ourselves, and the most destructive.

49:48

And maybe it’s not even really a thing. And when I realized that it just kind of freed me up, like even to this day, sometimes when I’m feeling bad, I ask myself is there a sense of unworthiness underneath all of this? And when I realized that, and when I can kind of, now that I’m out of that paradigm mentally, it’s a lot easier for me to springboard out of those feelings and just move forward with whatever it is I’m doing or wherever I am in life. That was a big one for me that I think I fell victim to in a lot of different places. And that that was an important moment.

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