This is the Marketing BS weekly briefing. Moreso than most weeks, much of this briefing builds on yesterday’s essay, "Trump, Vegas and Plausible Deniability". You may get more out of this content if you read the essay first. The interview this week is with Rachel Porges, former CMO of Lavian bakery. Onto the briefing. It was a heck of a week…

Edward, Startup Curated

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Edward, Startup Curated

Direct Followup

Other News

Marketing to Employees

  • Banned from all Platforms: The invasion of Capitol Hill was an extreme event. It provided the impetus for Twitter and Facebook to ban the outgoing president from their platforms (and for many brands, tech and non-tech alike, to express outrage at the incident). But it also led to all the major tech companies to ban alternate methods for his followers to communicate. While I clearly fall on the side of “invading Capitol Hill was wrong”, removing hosting from Parler and kicking the social network off of both app stores due to “lack of moderation policies” is a lot more questionable. But from the point of view of companies marketing to their employees it makes a lot of sense. What happened last week was shocking, and it was particularly shocking to the types of young employees who are working at these tech companies. The revenue generated from Parler is insignificant, but the cost to have them on the platform from an employee retention perspective is significant. Parler’s moderation policies were unchanged from two days earlier, but the impact on employees changed dramatically - and so the tech companies acted (It helped that everyone else acted too - so no one company could take the heat for shutting the app down). This also explains why the Chinese Embassy has NOT been banned from Twitter. At least for now China’s treatment of its own citizens is not top of mind for young American professionals. The long term consequences of these actions are unclear, but they are very likely to be very significant. Here is how the ACLU responded. Here is the (poisoned by his rivals) leading opposition leader of Russia on why banning Trump from Twitter was a bad idea.


  • Re-branding: New logos are usually a sign of marketing teams who are out of ideas and want to do SOMETHING. There were a plethora of them last week - Pfizer, the CIA, Burger King, General Motors. All bad ideas. But Goldman’s choice to rebrand their small business lobbying conference, previously called “Storm the Hill” was likely the right choice.
  • Google Advertising: Melinda Byerley (CEOof a digital marketing agency) claimed that one of her clients was told that if they increased their paid search spend, they would get a lift in their organic listings. Danny Sullivan (Google’s search representative) claimed that this was not true and that the rep would be given a “very firm reminder” that is does not work that way. But in some ways the rep was right. Even if paid search advertising does not directly impact organic results, it will, if it works, lead to more brand awareness. More brand awareness generally leads to increased direct-type-in and branded searches. Stronger brands also have customers spend more time spent on site and have higher conversion rates. All of THOSE are signals that Google uses to determine organic search positioning. Non-Google marketing spend (i.e., television advertising) will do the same thing. It’s just a matter of direct vs indirect impact. When you are an effective monopoly you need to be careful with you “ambiguous claims”
  • Why doesn’t advertising work (more often): Great summary by Jenni Romaniu: (1) Failure to reach, (2) Failure to brand, (3) Failure to to be buyable. Most of time these failures are “self-owns”.


  • Netflix and Distribution: CobraKai was originally released on YouTube Red (the premium subscription component of YouTube) in 2018 and 2019. It was a huge hit for the platform at the time but interest had died off. Last August the first two seasons were released on Netflix, and its popularity spiked dramatically. It was as big on Netflix when it was 12-24 months old as it had been during its original release. And in media, popularity breeds more popularity as people want to watch what other people are watching. More context here. Season 3 was released on Netflix (NOT YouTube) on January 1st and is a top ten show in the country.
  • Bundling Bundles: Struum aims to do to video streaming what Apple News attempted to do to print media. Paying subscribers ($10/month) will get access to a selection of content from the long-tail streaming services. Instead of an “all you can eat plan” subscribers will get 100 credits/month to watch content (enough to watch ~1 program/day). Prediction: This will be a disaster…
  • Status Quo Bias: Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution shows how powerful the status quo is. Public Health Experts were upset about the idea of “first dose first” (the idea that we get out the doses we have to as many people as possible rather than holding back “2nd doses”), but then the Biden administration began to shift to exactly that plan and none of those who were fighting the idea days earlier protested. We have built a society that is very afraid to break from “this is the way we do things”. This is a far broader problem than just public health. So much of marketing is just doing exactly what we did last year.
  • Fitbit Metrics: A recent study used a Randomized Control Trials to estimate the impact of using a f\Fitbit step tracker. They found people who got the tracker, combined with "Interventions including text-messaging and personalisation features” increased set count significantly more than the control group without the trackers (~+1850 steps/day). This shows the power of having a metrics dashboard that tracks what your company cares about - and then pushing that dashboard in a daily email to everyone in the organization. Having the numbers you want to influence front and center MATTERS. Too few companies do this.
  • Tech Lawsuits: It seems so long ago this was the top news story… Axios has a nice summary of all the law suits in one place.

AI, Machine Learning and GPT-3

  • DALL-E: OpenAI, the team behind GPT-3, has released samples from their latest text-to-image tool and it is… mind blowing? Just tell the tool what image you want (i.e., “a clock that looks like a Pokemon wearing blue pants”) and it will create a grid of a variety of images that match your request. Among other things this will be the way most companies design their first logo… Examples (but really- go and play with it!):

A T-Shirt with the word “Hogwash” on it:

Edward, Startup Curated

A claymation eagle sitting on a mountain:

Edward, Startup Curated

A teapot in the form of a butterfly wing:

Edward, Startup Curated

COVID-19 and the new world order

  • Teamflow: A new company is trying to recreate the office experience in a virtual environment. You check in with an avatar, and slide it across your screen to your virtual desk. You can hear the sounds of people who are sitting near you. If you want to talk to someone, you get move your avatar to their desk, and ask them if they have time to chat, then the two of you move your avatars to an open conference room. Interesting idea, but I expect the final virtual work solution will not be a full recreation of the traditional office any more than film ended up being a recreation of traditional theater.
  • Hopin buys Streamyard: Hopin was founded in June 2019 as a platform for virtual events. This put it in a good place in March as one conference after another was forced to go virtual. In November they raised their Series B round at a $2B valuation. Last week they announced the acquisition of Steamyard - a tool for adding graphics on top of your live video streams. The future of virtual events is uncertain, so Hopin is using the valuation it has now to beef up its offering (it “paid” 203MM Euros for Steamyard but has only raised $171MM, suggesting most or all of the transaction was in equity, not cash).
  • Yale COVID arbitrage: Colleges are hurting now due to both inability to offer in person classes, and a dramatic drop in international demand. But for the most most prestigious schools even zero tuition revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to their endowments. Perhaps due to status quo bias these schools have still enacted austerity measures, but Yale is beginning to come around to the idea that there may be a short term opportunity to leverage their advantageous fiscal situation into a long term advantage by poaching key faculty from less well endowed institutions.
  • Long term effects: Latest study looks at symptoms 6 months post COVID hospital stay. 76% still had one or more issues, most common being fatigue and muscle weakness. 13% had abnormal kidney function.
  • Gorillas: Three gorillas in the San Diego Zoo have fallen ill with COVID symptoms and two have tested positive.



Stay Safe and Keep it Simple,


Edward, Startup Curated