Consumers Aren't Buying It
After Bud Light's transgender misadventure when it partnered with homosexual female impersonator Dylan Mulvaney, the Anheuser Busch brand has tried to tack back to its traditional customer base with ads like this one, featuring normal-looking young people,
And this ill-advised one, portraying its blue collar customer base as a bunch of klutzes.
The problem is customers aren't buying it (figuratively or literally). Partly this is the brand being punished for its previous embrace of degeneracy, but our friend Isaac Simpson, who runs the Los Angeles based marketing agency WILL, suggests another cultural conflict is at play: corporatism versus authenticity. It has the virtue of explaining why Bud Light hasn't been able to climb out of the hole it dug for itself with new ads: no one finds them authentic. Simpson wrote a piece expanding on this, which I have shared below. Before that, though, a quick trading update.
Trading Update: Under The Radar
With everyone focused on AI names today, some small companies involved in the tangible economy have been quietly crushing it. We placed on options trade on one of them last week, a miner that's minting money, and we have trades teed up on a couple others for this week. If you want a heads up when we place those, feel free to subscribe to our trading Substack/occasional email list below.
Now on to Isaac Simpson's post about authentic versus corporate.
Welcome To The New Counter Culture
There’s authentic and there’s corporate. Not politics. Not morals. Not even aesthetics makes you a rebel these days. Today, the sole differentiator between the mainstream and the counterculture is corporatism; whether you do it or don’t it. Like many countercultures, its milieu arises from unexpected places: a new generation young Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) capitalists—all corporate defectors—driving an ingredients rebellion.
Behold a subtle shift among this new generation of entrepreneurs, almost undetectable for anyone outside the culture industries. Young elites are leaving hedge funds and private equity groups to found companies that stand directly opposed to the industrial pipelines that dominate global commerce.
These brands aren’t the dime-a-dozen white-label social media products; hipster brand logos pasted on top of lowest-bidder foreign products. Nor are they reactive “anti-woke” products, like Black Rifle Coffee or Ultra Right Beer, that paste right-leaning slogans on the same crappy underlying fodder.
Instead, this generation of products can be described as “anti-synthetic” or “pre-industrial.” The dissident capitalists who found them intimately understand existing supply chains and just how unconcerned they are with ultimate product quality. Their products, by design, are all things you could make yourself with simple ingredients. They refuse complex chemistries cooked up in the last century, and focus on simple, traditional products.
“Twenty-first century capitalism is profit-first, product last,” says Seth Goldstein, first investor in Ancient Crunch, the parent company of the wildly successful seed-oil free MASA tortilla chips. Goldstein calls himself an “anti-synthetic capitalist.” Early in his career, he consulted for Boston Consulting Group and led a prominent private equity group, where he learned that even “impact” capital struggles to achieve its desired ends due to the impetus to constantly reduce costs. Perhaps the best way a company can improve the world, he realized, is to prioritize the products themselves. “It is essential to me that the contents are better than the packaging, both in the people that I work with and the products that fill our world. My new mission in life is to support things that build a real, healthy, and beautiful society.”
David Sley, founder of Hestia Cigarettes, the first cigarette brand approved by the FDA in 15 years, is a similar sort of class defector from mainstream finance. He also became
obsessed with the notion of changing culture not by railing against capitalism, but by building a genuinely superior product to the most-hated sector in all commerce. With marijuana legalized and corporatized, New York Post featured Sley as an icon because “with marijuana legalized, tobacco is Gen Z’s taboo of choice.” Despite it being boring old business, it’s resonating with fashionable culture—Graydon Carter’s post-Vanity Fair project Airmail profiled Sley as “The Millennial Marlboro Man.”
Ultimately, these acts of capitalism are far more rebellious than anything to come out of the supposed left wing since Occupy Wall Street. Unlike AOC, they’re genuine threats to the international network of corporate brands.
Cigarettes, which have effectively been nationalized via the Master Settlement Agreement and predatory taxation schemes by local and federal governments, are the perfect example of a frozen, lowest-bidder supply chain that produces harmful products and refuses to innovate, simply because it hasn’t had to.
More pervasive than unhealthy cigarettes are toxic seed oils. The anti-seed oil craze—sparked center left urbanites like Nina Teicholz, and later by Malcom Gladwell, who discussed that estrogen-promoting soybean oil was in virtually every CPG item at the grocery store—has gone firmly mainstream. Followers see themselves as dissident consumers reacting to product-last companies that have laced their offerings with extremely-low quality oils, some of which were originally developed as engine lubricants and oil paints. As seed oil companies (literally every single large CPG brand) promote socially approved platitudes, they’re poisoning us with every box and bag they ship.
Anti-synthetic capitalists replace harmful ingredients—likely responsible for massive increases in obesity and allergies—with traditional ingredients like beef tallow and eggshells. Founders say they want their products to be things you can make without industrial machines; you should be able to prepare them using just rudimentary tools around a fire. MASA Chips, for example, has only three ingredients—traditional masa harina, beef tallow, and salt.
But making and distributing such simple products in today’s globalized world is a lot harder than it looks; it requires actively working against the economic status quo. This is why “anti-synthetic capitalists” like Goldstein and Sley, alongside brands like MASA and Hestia, are seen not just as investors and founders, but as culture figures. Meme accounts share memes about them. Art parties proudly feature their products. Lifestyle accounts known for cool vibes integrate their brands without being paid. They’ve been covered by GQ and Airmail. This kind of coverage happens traditionally with fashion brands, sure, but when’s the last time you could say that about CPG? Never in the age of social media. That’s why these founders are seen as genuine rebels, perhaps standing where edgy artists—now corporate and well-behaved—are supposed be.
“Rebellion and revolution is fundamentally an intergenerational conflict,” says Goldstein. “Rituals are definitionally Schelling points for revolution, and one of the key rituals for Boomers is their junk food. 20% of American calories today are seed oils, meaning Boomers are composed of literally 1/5 seed oils by mass.” Anti-synthetic brands are the same sort of reaction as “Ok Boomer,” only the capitalist version.
Many other brands are waging similar sorts of battles, with varying degrees of cultural buy-in.
Van Man re-thinks toiletry products with healthier ingredients like eggshells and tallow. It’s become a huge hit among the newly anti-establishment audiences, despite its hippie-ish brand vibes. Farrow uses lard from ultra-healthy pigs as a skincare product. Toups and Co offers skin products made with tallow and olive oil. Modern Mammals advertises with the slogan Shampoo is a Hoax; they make shampoo bars that don’t lather (although still rely on chemical ingredients). Soonish Beer—also founded by a defector from high-finance—re-thinks light beer, by using a mixture of bananas and honey. Rhizal makes traditional “barefoot” shoes that exist completely outside of normal supply chains—”Earth has a natural charge which your ancestors were in sync with 24/7. When you spend all day indoors or wear rubber soled shoes, you are almost never grounded (in sync with the earth’s charge).”
Unlike the hippie and hipster brands of the past—e.g. Patagonia or craft beer companies—that hijacked “whole earth” and DIY vibes respectively to optimize their marketing while still making their products out of corporate-friendly (see cheap) ingredients, these new companies are building a new earthiness into the products themselves.
Hence why they traffic in earth metaphors—variations on the themes of “based” and “grounded,”—necessarily composed of pre-industrial ingredients and materials. While the notion of “whole foods” is nothing new, the Boomer versions of these products have been utterly hollowed out by the index-funds, consulting groups, private equity groups, hedge funds, and development banks that dominate the global supply chain: the perfect example being perhaps Whole Foods itself, where you have to spend hours looking at labels to avoid seed oils.
So, in a way, what this new crop of entrepreneurs is doing is carrying the dream of the naive hippies to actual fruition, by creating products that are, by-design, decentralized and deceptively simple. When you create something so simple, you return the power to people to oversee and understand their health in ways that connect with the environment and re-emphasize the genuine quality of the product itself; not just its packaging.