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Tech & Marketing News 2.9.24

Welcome to the latest edition of Walrus Tech & Marketing where we’re talking A.I., TikTok, robot restaurants, and brands that crushed dry January! The days are short, and the skies are grey, what better time to sit back and relax with your favorite e-newsletter? 

Fake image by Justin Metz for the Financial Times

AI is in the news every day now and this is unlikely to change any time soon. The technology is permeating every level of society with major implications. Some of the latest:

– Last week, X (Twitter) had to suspend all searches of “Taylor Swift” as a pornographic deepfake bearing her likeness spread across the platform.

– Our election is only getting started, but Argentina’s has been a full blown AI image generated war thus far. Much of the content has been clearly fake with the candidates using AI image generation to make themselves look like Indiana Jones and their opponents look like movie villains. But a few creations have wandered into disinformation territory. One of the candidates produced a deepfake video in which his opponent explains how a market for human organs would work, something he has said philosophically fits in with his libertarian views. 

Above: A deepfake from the Argentina presidential election where one candidate put his opponent’s face into the movie A Clockwork Orange

– TikTok, which has increasingly become a source of news for younger Americans has been subject to a glut of political deepfakes including one of former President Barak Obama defending himself against allegations surrounding the death of his chef while paddle boarding (there is an internet conspiracy theory around this apparently).

– Robo-calls featuring a deepfake of President Joe Biden were making the rounds in New Hampshire ahead of the republican primary where a movement to write Biden onto the ballot was gaining traction. “We know the value of voting Democratic,” the robocall says. “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help electing Democrats up and down the ticket. Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”

It’s increasingly clear that some form of digital fingerprinting is needed to ensure the provenance of digital stills, video, and audio. Solutions are in the works, including one from Adobe. Whatever the eventual standard, blockchain will likely be central to the solution. A decentralized public ledger with an accounting of every alteration that’s been executed against a piece of media is maybe the only way we will be able to trust that what we’re seeing and hearing is real.

Universal music has pulled its catalog from TikTok after licensing negotiations with TikTok parent company ByteDance hit an impasse. Universal is the largest record label in the world, and the catalog freeze has caused millions of TikTok videos to go silent. It will be interesting to see who blinks first as Universal artists’ new releases lose a valuable promotion channel while TikTok creators lose the soundtracks to many of their most popular videos.

Above: Universal’s power will be put to the test against TikTok

To read the news, one would think that TikTok was GenZ’s social platform of choice, but in actuality its young user base is still a fraction of YouTube’s in the US. YouTube has quietly become the most used social media platform overall with almost 93% user adoption for Americans aged 18-29 and 30-49. By comparison TikTok’s top cohort (18-29 year olds) only sport around a 65% adoption rate.

Above: YouTube adoption reigns supreme

Of course YouTube has been around much longer than TikTok which was the fastest to reach a billion users. But TikTok is having issues monetizing that growth, and has been encouraging creators to develop making longer form (1+ minutes) horizontal video in hopes of attracting more ad dollars. 

The request has been met with skepticism by creators. “It’s interesting that a platform that reinvented how we consume content is now asking people to go back to the ‘legacy’ way of thinking,” said Sid Raskind, a content creator with over 4.4 million followers on TikTok. “Obviously, the only reason is ad dollars, but this means overall short-form vertical content may fizzle out and be a memory for a lot of career creators. I hope that people can still grow with vertical and not be shoehorned into only making horizontal.” Abandoning the horse that brought you is rarely successful in the world of social media (see the Metaverse). Time will tell.

Above: Kernel – lunch with an inhuman touch.

In food news, this month Chipotle founder Steve Ells will open his first Kernel restaurant – a vegan lunch spot that will utilize robots to assemble meals instead of people. Ells’ vision is to reduce costs and human error through automation.

“Skilled cooks at a central kitchen will prepare ingredients, which will be loaded into insulated totes and bicycled to perhaps a dozen small satellite restaurants within a close radius. Each of those locations will be staffed by just three employees and one robot, working together to cook and assemble orders.”

“Customers will place their orders ahead of time on Kernel’s app and, when the time comes, use an SMS code to unlock a metal cubby that contains their food.”Aspiring robot overlords rejoice as they inch one step closer to full control.

Above: Athletic Brewing is taking non-alcoholic beer to new heights.

Abstinence is having a moment. “Among 18- to 26-year-olds in the US and Japan, more than half claimed not to have consumed alcohol in the previous six months, according to data provider IWSR. In a separate Gallup Poll survey, 62% of American adults under age 35 said they drink, down from 72% a decade ago.” No brand has taken better advantage of this trend than Athletic Brewing Company. Just six years old, Athletic brewing had $90 million in sales last year and is now the #1 beer in Whole Foods. Not the #1 non-alcoholic beer. The #1 beer overall.

They’ve done it by opening up new usage occasions. “As it turns out, 80% of Athletic’s customers still drink, according to the company. Some of them choose Athletic when they don’t feel like raging. Some of them mix in Athletics to pace themselves and keep drinking without getting too drunk. They don’t buy Athletic instead of beer. They buy Athletic in addition to other beers.” Athletic Brewing’s earliest sampling events were held at marathons and triathlons – places where beer sponsorship felt incongruous.

The alcohol-reduction trend is also impacting spirits. Worth less than $1 billion in sales globally, nonalcoholic spirits make up only a sliver of the $650 billion spirits market, but they’re booming. They’re poised to grow around 30% annually in the coming years, versus 6% for conventional spirits.

Enter: The non-alcoholic psychoactive substances–Alcohol-free spirits that still claim to have the same relaxing qualities as alcohol. Sentia, from start-up Gaba Labs, is one such beverage.

“It promises to deliver “that two-drink feeling,” lifting a person’s mood and making them open and chatty, without the nasty anxiety spirals, headaches and nausea that booze can bring. And it contains only 9 calories per serving, plus vitamins.

Alcarelle’s formulation is shrouded in secrecy, but Sentia’s active ingredients are listed on the bottle and include botanical extracts, such as magnolia and linden, many of which are already known to have relaxing properties.”

This New Yorker profile on French graffiti artist, Invader, is worth a look. For over 30 years he’s been going out every night to glue pixelated tile mosaics in hard-to-reach nooks of the world’s urban centers. Tracking down Invader mosaics has become a way for people to meet friends, and see the world. His app “flash invaders” has gamified the act of photographing Invaders, giving points for each mosaic a user “flashes”. Now people plot entire trips around finding all the mosaics in a given city. 

Above: An Invader mosaic oversees the goings on in Marseilles

Awesome Instagram follow of the week: Steve Birnbaum who tracks down the locations of famous music photoshoots, and re-shoots them.

Tech & Marketing News 2.9.24