Eating, and Changing, Our Feelings

November 8, 2022


Do you need coffee to start your day? How about a “stick to your ribs” meal to comfort you on a cold evening? Or maybe a glass of red wine to soothe the nerves over dinner? We’ve long known how food can impact our moods (and vice versa) and that we seek out certain things at certain times to have specific effects on our bodies. For instance, intermittent fasting has been a trend since 2019 with the promise to decrease overall appetite by slowing the body’s metabolism down.


As our understanding of our bodies, internal chemistries and advances in nutritional science expand, the ways foods are developed and consumed and how they affect our moods is also changing. The US edibles market is exploding with 20% CAGR from 2020 to 2021 and as provinces legalize psychedelics, we can be even more deliberate with the relationship between what we consume and how we feel.


We recently wrote about the rise of snacking occasions and the decline of traditional meals – having a part of the overall snacking portfolio which targets not just occasions to be consumed, but emotions to elicit, would be the natural intersection of both these ideas. We’re not saying everything should be infused with THC, CBD or psilocybin, but using omega-3 fatty acids or selenium to fire your synapses in the mid-afternoon lull is an interesting and intriguing possibility.

Consumers are increasingly aware of, and interested in, achieving a particular end state – CPG brands who move past the occasion, and focus on the resulting mood or emotion, will find it easier to become into a habitual purchase and reap the rewards of this trend.

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I wrote this a few weeks back – to get it when it comes out, as well as all the great insights from my team mates, sign up at the bottom of the Venturepark home page.


Snack Time; All The Time

October 25, 2022
Young woman holding bowl with snacks


Whether it’s because there’s more WFH, the increased pace of the modern world or simply the changing consumer tastes, snacking is at an all-time high and shows no signs of abating. The category’s growth continues to accelerate and 57% of consumers report replacing meals with snacks…and maybe the same 57% saying they snack at least twice a day, with some super snackers snacking more than four times a day.

SO WHAT: When is a snack, not a snack?

As the category expands, the edges become more interesting – is a bowl of cereal with milk before bed a snack? How about a handful of almonds, a candy bar, a bag of chips or a sandwich? And, as the category expands, the number of snacking occasions are also expanding: the traditional 4pm tea and biscuits may evolve into a 3pm smoothie and protein brownie. Breakfast may be nothing more than a couple pieces of fruit, a hunk of cheese and a cup of coffee. Or, like Hobbits, we may be looking at a first, second and even third lunch scenario.


The more consumers snack, the more variety of things they will consider as a snack and the more distinct snacking occasions or needs will emerge. This presents a massive opportunity for CPG brands to rethink their offerings. A variety of higher-calorie, better for you snacks can now be better positioned as meal-replacements while other products may become smaller but far more decadent.

As new snacks are developed, they can become more focused on satisfying specific cravings around the main tastes – more salty, more bitter, more sour or more umami – while using more unusual, more distinct flavour profiles and ingredients. Whatever the craving, there is or will soon be a snack to satisfy it – so the question we’re asking is will it be from you or your competitors?

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I wrote this a few weeks back – to get it when it comes out, as well as all the great insights from my team mates, sign up at the bottom of the Venturepark home page.

The Problem with 1% Better Every Time

October 24, 2022

Like many new converts I’ve become somewhat of fervent lover of my Peloton. In the first few months last year, I was riding 2-3 times a week. 

When I found out there was a Google Sheets template to extract and then manipulate my Peloton data, I jumped in, learned to use pivot tables (better late than never) and created my own custom metric to see how I was progressing.

And I did see a pretty steep progression. At the start I was crushing PBs (personal bests) for fun. Every ride was a PB as I really pushed myself and thanks to a low base – less footy, less running and more running after kids!

Being the competitive guy I am, I wanted to see that line keep going up and to the right. But as I kept posting PB after PB, each ride was, naturally, harder. The opportunity to keep progressing got harder and harder and harder.

It got to the point where each ride really took it out of me. I didn’t get a lot of chances to jump on as work got busier so I wanted to make the best of each opportunity

As Jules says in Pulp FIction, “… I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard”

Just be 1% better every time. It seems really easy! I’m sure you’ve heard a podcast or a TV show or a motivational speaker or a TikToker exhort you to try 1% harder, be 1% better.

To get back to the Peloton. When your total output is in the 200s, 1% better is just 2kjs. When you in the last 300s, that becomes nearer to 4kjs and when it feel like you’re almost killing yourself to just equal your PB, let alone beat it, that 4kjs seems like it may as well be 100kj. Because of this, the bike started to look like a torture device rather than a fitness device.

Rather than think of 1% every time (which is, frankly innumerate considering how compounding works), a better model is to think like a marathoner.

For years, and thanks to an old boss, when I was building social and digital strategies for clients such as AT&T, McDonald’s Canada, Quaker Global, Canadian Tire and Manulife, I had a slide in my deck called “a marathon not a sprint”. It looked something like this:

It showed how a marathoner trains in order to peak at 26.2miles. The secret is incremental improvements and then scheduled recovery. You push yourself past your peak and then you retrench to secure your gains (gainz?).

Each week you push yourself further and then take it easier.

You don’t go our and blast 26.2miles each and every time unless you are a maniac…which some runners are.

As you can see from my Peloton data, the line is still going up and to the right but there are some dips in there. It’s ok to see some dips; it’s healthy to see the dips and embrace them for what they are: an essential part of sustained improvement.

Generational Guide: Understanding Gen Z Consumers  

October 4, 2022


Gen Z is the second fastest growing generation in Canada, growing 6.4% between 2016 and 2021 (millennials are growing the fastest at 8.6%). With this growth comes increased spending power so therefore it is increasingly important to understand Gen Z as consumers. Gen Z-ers are currently between the ages of 10 and 25 – some are still in primary school while others have already graduated with a master’s degree.

While some of the groups are already influential consumers with real money to spend, this group will become essential for brands within the next 5 to 10 years as they’ll have massive buying power and disposable incomes.


As marketers strive for growth over everything in this pre-recession environment, we counsel them to look to new markets, new innovations and, in this case, new people. What do we know (so far) about Gen Z? Well, one of their primary values is their desire for uniqueness, which means they’re more likely than any other generation to reject designer and big-name labels in favour of small, niche businesses. More than any other generation, they also care deeply about their social and environmental impact. And their shopping habits reflect this.


Brands cannot rely solely on their reputation to attract Gen-Z consumers. They must evolve their strategies to target this unique audience. Gen Z is also more likely than any other generation to boycott and protest a company if they don’t support its practices. Transparency, authenticity and responsibility are key traits that Gen Z seek out and hold brands accountable towards. It’s crucial to know your consumers inside out. Having a thorough understanding of this generation that will dominate spending power in the next ten years will give you a leg up in reaching this unique group.

It will also be vital to separate out what is truly unique to this generation and what are tried and true life-stage triggers – will moving out from their parents’ homes still lead to changing consumption patterns? Will being turned down for a car loan still lead to switching banks? How will parenthood effect Gen Z – will Gen Z even want children?

11 bullet points on awards

September 29, 2022

One week this summer, along with being trained by a new puppy, hosting a 5yr old’s birthday party and having a long over due vacation, I was lucky enough to judge the Strategy Awards. I had a bunch of cases to look through and evaluate – all of which represented fantastic work from agencies and brand marketers from some of the world’s most recognizable brands. The pride that people felt in their work and the effort that went into each submission really jumped off the page and it was an utter pleasure to read, let alone evaluate, them. When I clicked my last buttons, I felt inspired and refreshed and anxious to let the puppy out.

Obviously job number one is to write a compelling strategy as a springboard to come up with amazing ideas but, as I was going through the submissions, I made a few notes that may help someone else as they slave away at 10pm at night trying to write an award winning submission.

  1. Grab my attention – Dave Trott is right. In all of this stuff it’s about Impact -> Communication -> Persuasion. Having impact right from the off, in either a video or written submission is so important to telling the story you want, especially against a back drop of all the other cases being looked at at the same time
  2. Follow the format – there were some great cases which really made me work to find things like the problem, the insight and even the results. Most importantly, tell me what the problem you’re trying to solve is and show me how you solved the problem – not just the creative but the insight (especially for the strategy awards)
  3. In this creatively-led industry, it is very hard to communicate what your “strategy” is or was in a tangible or even comparative way. Was there really a strategy or was it a great creative idea that’s been backfilled or an immediate opportunity that was spotted and brilliantly executed? 
  4. Always include results…and show me how the business results mapped back from the problem to solve. If you don’t have business results it may be too early to submit. Don’t worry about timing – as I mentioned I went through a lot of cases and don’t remember seeing any of them in real life (I think this says more about the media support that many Canadian brands have to give than anything else) so it doesn’t matter if you got it in for this year or the next year
  5. If you’re going to include a BHAG to solve with your campaign, I definitely want to know that you solved it or you’re well on your way to solving it!
  6. Out of all the campaigns I saw, for the most part, the ones that really stood out were the Not-for-profit (NFP) ones – mainly because the business problems and results were clearer…and I’m usually more adverse to using NFP cases in pitches so this was a surprise for me!
  7. Judges have written, presented and sat through so many of these case videos that we can smell BS. Talk to us in plain English as if we’re your colleagues (we are) down the pub and you’ll get a much more receptive audience
  8. I love a good hack – but I saw a Spotify hack, a billboard hack and an Audible hack. Sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. The same with clothing drops – which seemed to be very popular – and to be brutally honest, I don’t really care if a clothing hack sold out if it didn’t move the needle on the actual product or brand
  9. COVID loomed large as you can imagine but the picture painted in the case studies about how brands have helped celebrate the end of the restrictions is in stark contrast to the role I, as a consumer, felt they played – we always have an outsized opinion of how brands can “help” in real life and there’s a credibility gap that came across in some of the cases
  10. I have always liked the one page image cases – quite often they were more useful and illuminating than the videos
  11. Watch what you name your files – calling something a Cannes submission sets a level of expectation that you have to meet!

Just a final note to say a huge congratulations to everyone who was able to produce something they were proud enough of, to enter into the awards in the first place. There were some amazing cases and very worthy winners who will understandably get the plaudits.

The Underwear Recession Indicator

August 31, 2022


There are no shortage of technical indicators that a recession is coming. From the inverted yield curve to the Federal Reserve’s probability model, financial wonks can dive into the minutiae to their hearts content but for those of us more focused on consumer behaviour than spreadsheets, there are other indicators to look at including…men’s underwear sales.


Leading up to and within recessionary periods, consumers are forced to make stricter choices on how to spend their resources. Not only are big purchases such as TVs, appliances and cars pushed off down the road (not cancelled, just postponed) but, in what’s known as the lipstick effect, people famously spend their money on small indulgences and affordable luxuries. In this case, as the name indicates, sales for men’s underwear have declined in each of the last two recessions – in the 2009 financial crisis and at the start of the 2020 pandemic (although that may be due to the working from home phenomenom).


When consumer behaviour is your currency, there are no shortage of cues to look for. In previous economic cycles, men’s neckties (remember them?) would become more muted in recessions, there would be more recruitment advertisements for the armed services as young people are less confident about their job prospects and incidents of petnapping would increase. Keep an eye on what consumers are doing in their everyday lives, not just as relates to your brand and industry, to predict their future behaviour.

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I wrote this a few weeks back – to get it when it comes out, as well as all the great insights from my team mates, sign up at the bottom of the Venturepark home page..

Brands and the Metaverse…a Primer

August 24, 2022


Technologists and futurists talk about it daily. The markets couldn’t fund it fast enough. Facebook changed its name to it. It’s supposed to be worth almost a trillion (with a “T”) dollars in the next eight years. But what exactly is the metaverse? The dictionary definition is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. In colloquial use, a metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. To many of us, it’s people in Silicon Valley wearing silly Occulus headsets looking like the Lawnmower Man.


The metaverse is nothing new – anyone who plays Fortnite or Minecraft or any number of open world map games are participating on a regular basis. And those of us who remember Second Life still bear the scars of getting overly excited about an emergent medium. Indeed, many of the concepts on which it is being built such as social connection, identity and self-expression, are all foundational to the Internet itself, for better or for worse. This particular delivery system is new and, like the concept of mobile, may need a killer piece of hardware, like the iPhone, to really take off in the way many of its evangelists believe it will.


In Gartner Hype-cycle terms, the metaverse is on its the way up to the “peak of inflated expectations” (NFTs, BTC and crypto may have peaked and be headed into the “trough of disillusionment”) so you’ll see many new and interesting use cases over the next year or so. Companies have started to play in this space but non-endemic brands are yet to see much business success, so we are very much in a “wait and see” phase. Meta (previously Facebook) is all in on the metaverse, including the name change, as it builds out the foundational elements of the future it envisions. But it is early days – Meta’s metaverse division posted an eye watering $2.81bn loss in Q2 and current renderings aren’t exactly inspiring yet.

But with backers like, well, Meta and Microsoft and the big gaming producers, the metaverse isn’t something to bet against…but we wouldn’t bet the house on it, just yet.

Bigger than the metaverse, and something we’ll get into in future Signposts, is the concept of Web 3.0 – and that’s where more immediate, more useful and more tangible innovation will come from.

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I wrote this a few weeks back – to get it when it comes out, as well as all the great insights from my team mates, sign up at the bottom of the Venturepark home page.

What Marketers Need to Know About…Inflation

August 4, 2022

The strategy team at Venture Play has started writing a weekly newsletter focusing in on things our clients and companies in the District Ventures Fund may want to know about, which I’ll start to publish here. We’ve settled on the classic journalism structure of What // So What // Now What as a way to get this information, analysis and implication over as quickly and as easily as possible. Let us know what you think and let me know if you want to sign up to get them all, not just the one’s I write.

Photo by Keenan Constance on


Inflation is on the minds of almost everyone in Canada and for good reason. Just last week, Statscan revealed that inflation in May rose 7.7% compared to the previous year representing the fastest pace of increase since January 1983. Things seem to be coming to a head as we move into summer and the key Back to School retail season – searches for “inflation” in Canada have almost doubled since the start of June. Our consumers’ dollars aren’t going as far or buying as much and this is being primarily driven by energy costs (up 48%, year over year) and of course food costs (9.7%), in particular fresh vegetables (10.3%) and pasta (20%). 


Whether this is transitory or permanent, inflation is having a severe impact on how Canadians spend their money, particularly in the grocery store. NielsenIQ released a study showing that it is effecting different shoppers in different ways – some are fortunately unaffected while others are being faced with some tough choices such as keeping the overall costs down by cutting out, cutting down or choosing from the lowest price brand from a preferred repertoire, which increasingly includes private label.


With all the empathy in the world to our fellow Canadians going through a tough time of it right now, any moment of change is an opportunity to be there for customers and enhance your brand in the process, especially in something as habitual as the grocery store. As a business growth ecosystem, here are three things we’re thinking about:

Add value – whether it’s a coupon, a promotion, a multi-pack discount or even pushing your local credentials, there are ways to make your consumers’ lives that little bit easier or to make increases a little easier to swallow

Communicate transparently – there’s nothing people hate more than the feeling they are having the wool pulled over their eyes and finding the same products they enjoy at the same price, just in a smaller size. If you are going to make changes, be clear to your consumers as to why and don’t try to just slip it past them…they will notice (and they will post about it on Reddit)

Retain switching consumers – Canadians are switching brands now more than ever. That means you’ll be seeing a bunch of new folks trying your product for the first time but also dropping some. Can you convert those switchers in the long term through subscription, through multi-pack formats or multi-purchase promotions?

Some Interesting Trends for 2022 and Beyond

December 17, 2021

It is December so it’s time for a lot of looking for guidance into how the next year or so will go.

There are lots of good one’s out there. I sent Pinterest’s 35 trends and 175+ predictions to a client just last week. I love the TikTok made me buy it curated page of products and there are surely going to be a tonne more coming out in the next few days.

However, these consumer trends (via a survey of 3,000 Americans) from Fred Wilson’s blog caught my eye for a few reasons, some of which for the dichotomies in our natures and in our worlds that they revealed. Download and read the whole thing at The New Consumer (and its worth it) but for some highlights which provoked my own thoughts, read on!

First, E-comm (or eComm or ecommerce) is seeing its share of sales continue to grow, but has retrenched a little since the 2020 lock down. It’s still growing but not quite as aggressively as when we couldn’t leave our houses

Secondly however, the cost of online advertising, as observed by Coefficient Capital’s portfolio has increased 200% since the start of this year and 250% since the start of the pandemic. Profitability is leaving the system and the company’s that are benefitting the most aren’t the retailers or producers but Facebook and Google.

This is not a new story by any means but seeing it in stark black and red reminded me of an old client who tied brand strength to cost per conversion (both online and off). The stronger the brand, the lower the acquisition cost – again, something we intuitively understand but sometimes fail to quantify when looking so closely at the trees of online marketing metrics. If you didn’t know it already, b uild a strong brand for lasting benefits.

This was an interesting to see – the prevailing wisdom is that younger consumers are more drawn to brands. That they (are more likely to) gravitate to brands they feel a personal connection to…yet Gen Z, the youngest cohort here, is showing a downward trend – 25% down from the Millennial group. Were Millennials peak consumerists or is that life stage drawn to brands as they make choices that inform the rest of their lives? Something to look at as we all attempt to build/refresh long lasting brands.

One thing that does follow my intuition is that younger generations are more willing to do something they believe will aid the environment, whether its eating a plant-based diet, choosing an electric/hybrid vehicle, and purchasing carbon credits. They’re also more like to rent things vs buying them – but that could be due to their disposable income levels. I was, however surprised to see older respondents being much more likely to recycle.

When it comes to regular purchases, online grocery has not retrenched the boost it got during the lockdown:

And this poses a huge threat to large established brands who see their share of market shrink (in the aggregate) when folks are buying online – product discovery is easier online, especially when DTC brands are more experienced in buying, targeting and optimising digital media (see the FB/Google slide above), and once smaller brands get into a shopping basket, its easy to become a habitual repeat purchase.

…and this trend will be even more important as online grocery adoption increases apace.

This was an incredible stat – more people invested in Ethereum last year than stocks, bonds, options or even Bitcoin…perhaps ETH looks like a bargain at ~$4k CAD compared to BTC at ~$50k CAD. Or perhaps the environment/sustainability concerns continued into investment behaviour.

Or, maybe its a hedge agains the dreaded “i” word which looms large over all our lives.

Going to work

May 19, 2021

Or to borrow a phrase from Heat,

Is the action the juice or is the juice the action?

When watching sports these days, its common to hear a commentator talk about one of the players “doing their work” and it got me thinking. When we see athletes performing at an elite level, this isn’t work in the sense you or I would understand it.

When we see athletes, it’s their job, but it’s not their work. It’s their evaluation. How they’ll be remembered. Stacked up against their peers. Given raises or contracts. Traded or cut.

The work is being done far away from prying eyes. In the gym. In the weights room. In front of their laptop, watching film. Only the athlete knows if they’ve done the work and they’re about to find out if they’ve done the right work.

The same can be said of agencies. Meetings, presentations and pitches are the evaluation. If you’ve put in the work, the right work, there’s nothing to worry about.

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