3_Trends_Vol.11: Mat Zucker: Micro Passive Income, Velvet Rope Networks + Prepping


3_TRENDS is an interview series with experts who have their ear to culture, identifying the overlooked ripples turning into swells.

Mat Zucker (MZ) is Senior Partner and co-lead of Prophet’s Marketing & Sales practice. Previously Chief Creative Officer at OgilvyOne NY and Executive Creative Director at R/GA, Razorfish, and Agency.com, Mat is the author oBronze Seeks Silver: Lessons from a Creative Career in Marketing and host of two podcasts: Cidiot and Rising.

MK: Mat, what’s on your mind?

Micro Passive Income

MZ: Every week for years, I would buy a scratch-off lottery ticket on Friday hoping to change my life on Monday. The game I’d play was $2,000/Week for Life. For me, that prize would still mean working but with an additional and predictable bonus. Today there are side hustles — pursuits which bring in extra cash to supplement one’s income. It’s part of a growing movement made possible by new platforms, gig culture, and the changing nature of full-time employment.

Side hustles, writes Tom Denning, are experiments and a form of self expression. In a world where our full-time jobs may not be what we want to do, side hustles are “content that lets you tell your story.” From renting out a property, investing in a fund, to setting up an online class or store.

Market investing and real estate are the parents of passive income. Studying a company’s track record, dividends can offer predictable support, and one or two reliable long-term renters can cover a host of monthly expenses. But it’s these new creative platforms are the ones getting most of the attention. What class would you create if you could? Is your code good enough to earn royalties? Is your photography interesting enough to garner side revenue?

MK: Passive income is symbolic of financial freedom. During a moment in which middle fingers are pointed towards The Man, side income takes power away from the institution. Autonomy is freeing.

This is also tied to the rise of r/AntiWork, a movement calling out the anti-human system that is employment.

With lottery tickets, there’s a preoccupation with the big payout. But winning isn’t just about the billions — or millions. Winning (or side income) can be $100 every few months. That’s perfectly fine too.

Unicorns, hype, and VC checks have hypnotized. Not every pursuit has to be a Silicon Valley garage story. It’s this dizzying spell that convinces so many that they’ve failed.

Financial FOMO is very real. Robinhood account screenshots and NFT bids are making many question their fruits.

This “Financial FOMO” also applies to conversations around Creators. You can be a Creator without devoting your livelihood to it. Overlook the clichés and recalibrate your definition of success.

There’s a cultural opportunity to invest in and celebrate these small plays...

Bunts also win games.

Velvet Rope Networks

MZ: As millions, then billions, joined Facebook and Instagram, it was predictable that many would start to slink off to more private corners of the internet. Velvet Rope Networks or online communities and platforms in which you have to earn your way into, are different than the open web we know of. With Velvet Rope Networks, someone (real or bot) has to let you in. Privacy, and its cousin, exclusivity, crave a doorman.

There are five types of communities: Interest, Action, Practice, Circumstance, and Place.

Interest is a hobby like a running club. Action is a group bringing change like a political movement. Practice can be your professional industry. Circumstance is more ad-hoc, such as when you’re brought together by an outside event. And Place, of course, is about geography. 

According to GWI, members of community sites prefer online communities in comparison to social media sites because of the following:

– Meaningful conversation (+36% higher)
– Getting respect from others (+28% higher)
– Being appreciated (+21% higher)

Not everything is rosy in the dark though. As The Tilt has pointed out, “particularly vexing for marketers, Velvet Rope Communities discourage any kind of URL tracking, so traffic coming from these networks appear in analytics platforms as if the user directly typed it in.”

MK: Tribes aren’t going anywhere.

It’s Evolutionary Psych 101. We crave belonging as there’s power in numbers (i.e. protection), and reject those who are different (i.e. potential threats). Community diminishes the fear and anxiety of the “others.”

So, social media comes along and we’ve gotten into the habit (or have been conditioned?) to promote these ties. Who doesn’t remember racking up Facebook friends circa 2008 as if it were a high score? Or farther back, MySpace’s diabolic Top 8 (as in publicly rank your friends 1-9 for others to see). In both cases, opportunities to flash our fangs or promote our tribe. Flaunting our protection.

These Velvet Rope Networks are just the next step. Protection... but exclusive. Or simply, only for us, and not for you. Flagrant organization. It’s the cause of drool over exclusive DAO’s, or the historical abhoration over fraternities. “Buying friends? Gross.”

The exciting stretch here though is from Velvet Rope Networks to Hush Clubs. From private, to truly private. How about a group that no one actually knows about? Don’t dangle the exclusivity, which only hurts more people than makes feel good.

This sounds like a challenge as we’re so inclined to promote. But it’s an invaluable exercise in real confidentiality and curbing mysterious FOMO.

Secrets in the digital age. How novel?


MZ: Harsh weather and the ongoing pandemic means more prep and bunker consumption habits. People continue to prepare for more at-home time, and patterns show this happening on three levels: Supplies, Comfort, and Financial

Supplies are what we hear the most about — paper towels, toilet paper, canned goods, alcohol, and increasingly, tinned fish. The cascading result is the infrastructure around it.

“We bought an extra freezer to store all of this and outfitted our garage shelves into an extended pantry.”

With the energy grid under duress, infrastructure is challenging our idea of responsibility for Comfort. If batteries and flashlights were to help us temporarily, the new wave is around not just short-term survival, but longer term self-reliance.

While millions are facing economic hardship, trying to Financially survive the month, many are taking a long view. Savings rates for some are up. According to A. Lee Smith, a research and policy advisor in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City,

“The desire to save during recessions reflects a natural response to the fact that employment opportunities are scarcer in recessions and the value of investments like stocks and housing tend to fall in recessions. This leads households to desire greater savings buffers to lean against should they find themselves unemployed.”

MK: Survivalism is everlasting, but only when it’s so omnipresent do we get sexy, D2C, branded prepper packs. Survive the EndHoliday Sale. Fight the apocalypse... in $tyle.

Prepping is the easiest path to obtain control when our lack of control feels so unbearable. In 2013, +3.7M Americans self-identified as “Survivalists.” This number has obviously ballooned since this little thing called COVID-19.

But there’s a spectrum of preparedness. Some wish away the present moment and desire the apocalyptic collapses just so they can feel right. “I told you so!” But...

Self-righteousness doesn’t mean anything when so few survive.

Why spend the money or time preparing for the end when we can be working to prevent it?

Doing both is also an option.