This issue: Roboinvestors, robot dogs, non-robot TikTok payouts, news-brands-as-depressants, advertiser kayfabe and more.
Content for humans, selected by a human. Mass communications-focused with a universal lens. Articles in midweek, links on the weekend. Not your thing? Unsubscribe below.
Hello there, internet (and IRL!) friends.
It’s a positively tropical 32°F in Chicago as I write this, which is a much-needed improvement on the -3° we had earlier this week. Chicago winter is no joke. Brr.
My friends at Sip of Hope, a wonderful neighborhood coffee shop where 100% of profits just happen to go to suicide prevention services, just made this coffee mug. It feels very, very seasonally appropriate.
Now onto the links.
SKILLED TRADES AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Axios’ Joann Muller on Ford’s efforts to market electric vans to skilled trades and delivery companies.
TOMORROW’S DEZINFORMATSIYA: Claire Berlinski runs down Russian-aligned talking points in what she calls a “kaleidoscope of disinformation.” She comes from a particular political POV that’s pretty evident in the article; at the same time, this is a great summary of some stuff that will likely be in the news cycle given the current geopolitical situation.
UBS BUYING WEALTHFRONT: Big news on the roboadvisor front: UBS is buying Wealthfront for $1.4 billion. As Benjamin Pimentel at Protocol puts it, “The acquisition would expand the Zurich-based bank's reach among millennial and Gen Z investors, who have favored automated investing services.” As well they should!
ROBOT DOGS ON HOMELESS DUTY: Motherboard’s Matthew Gault obtained public records indicating the Honolulu PD is using Boston Dynamic’s robot dogs to take the temperatures of homeless people. According to Gault, the dogs are being used “to take the temperatures of unhoused people living in encampments as an initial COVID-19 screening.”
M&M MAKEOVER KAYFABE: A great article by the Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Pisani looks at the green M&M’s new advertising makeover. The new look for M&M’s mascots—and this gives me a perfect excuse to plug our old post on brand mascots as modern mythological characters—is a damned wonderful case study in advertising kayfabe. M&M manufactures some outrage about revamping their beloved mascots, who become a tad more gender-neutral, and therefore gets way more media coverage (Hello, WSJ!) then they would otherwise. Maybe even an outraged talk show host or two giving them free coverage! Anyway, onwards and upwards.
STATE FARM SKIPPING SUPER BOWL: State Farm, which aired their first Super Bowl ad last year, is running a TikTok campaign instead of a Super Bowl ad this year (More advertising kayfabe!). State Farm is instead inviting TikTok creators to submit a duet with brand mascot Jake from State Farm during the playoffs. And stay tuned for another take on TikTok creatorship downstream in the newsletter…
AMAZON SPONSORING HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES, DISCONTINUING WAREHOUSE AMBASSADOR PROGRAM: According to the Financial Times, Amazon has discontinued their program where fullfilment center employees were paid to create positive content about their jobs for social media. Meanwhile, Vice’s Aaron Gordon looks at an Amazon-backed high school course in San Bernadino called “Amazon Logistics and Business Management Pathway.” It’s all logistics, people.
UPFRONTS GRADUALLY RETURNING TO IRL: One big trend to watch this year is that more and more of the spring upfronts are taking place in-person instead of online. Here are the deets for Discovery’s offerings. My cynical-but-probably-right-guess is that advertisers are betting on the COVID situation being much better this spring… and that the people with $$ want to go back to making deals in-person instead of over yet another video call.
JOURNALISM’S INFINITE DOOM: Top quote award for this edition of Context Collapse goes to Brian Morrissey, who writes that “Visiting a popular news site like The Atlantic these days is a bracing experience more akin to an orientation session for the apocalypse.”
HOW TO MAKE A LIVING AS AN OPINION WRITER: Freddy De Boer put together a nice PDF called “If You Absolutely Must…” which bills itself as “a brief guide to writing and selling short-form argumentative nonfiction from a somewhat reluctant professional writer.” It’s really good. (Also, thanks Zack for putting FDB back on my radar—Much appreciated.)
COCOMELON LAUNCHES PODCASTS: CoComelon and Spotify have launched a deal to make interactive podcasts for young children. Interesting!
TIKTOK AS BAD $$ DEAL FOR CONTENT CREATORS: OG YouTuber and NYT bestselling author Hank Green’s newest video rant alleges TikTok systematically underpays creators compared to other platforms. Lots to unpack here.
RIP DIEM?: Diem, formerly Libra aka Facebook’s-attempt-at-making-a-cryptocurrency, appears to weighing a sale of their assets. According to an extensively reported story by Bloomberg’s Liana Baker, Jesse Hamilton and Olga Kharif, “Diem is in discussions with investment bankers about how best to sell its intellectual property and find a new home for the engineers who developed the technology.”
NANOTECH IS AWESOME: Christopher Mims at the Wall Street Journal reports on some of the most exciting innovations in the nanotech space. Fans of crazy technology and making even more stuff from science fiction stories possible, this one is for you.
WHAT WAS WEB 2.0?: WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenweg wrote a very smart Twitter thread about what Web 2.0 was and wasn’t. Money quote = “Some of those businesses were great ideas who were too early.”
Brian Armstrong - barmstrong.eth @brian_armstrong3. I agree there is an overall move toward using platforms. But there is a big difference between using a platform that also owns all the data also (web2) and a platform that is merely a proxy to decentralized data (web3).
NEW DAVID HACKETT FISCHER BOOK: One of my favorite historians, Albion’s Seed author David Hackett Fischer, just announced his upcoming book. African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals will be out later this year—looking forward to it.
SINGAPORE’S LAST VILLAGES: Why is This Interesting looks at Singapore’s last rural villages and how old architecture can survive in megacities.
EXPLORING CHICAGO VIA FOOD: I’ve gotten hooked on the 77 Flavors of Chicago podcast, which explores each of Chicago’s officially-defined neighborhoods by eating at a local restaurant. Here’s the Albany Park episode—and man, Albany Park has good food.
AND THIS IS A GOOD TWITTER THREAD: