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Huge Brews Beer Club Off-brand IPA

Beer plays an important part of employee culture at Huge. So it only made sense for us to brew our own. The catch – it had to be data-informed in order be the objectively best beer for our employees.

Huge Brews.

Beer plays an important part of employee culture at Huge. Our office fridges are stocked with both globally distributed brands and local crafts. Company-wide meetings include multiple ice tubs of bottles and cans. Employees often crack open cold ones when brainstorming strategy. And our kegerator has replaced the water cooler as the jumping-off point for spontaneous collaboration.

For the truly adventurous, Huge is also home to a longstanding social group named Huge Brews, which has existed since 2013. Every Wednesday, Huge Brews hosts its famous “Beer Club”, wherein the goal is to make rare or unique beers more accessible to drinkers of every level, and to discover new favorites. Since its inception, the club has sampled 1,819 individual beers. For each beer, we have an aggregate score based on club votes (on a scale of 1 to 5), which allows us to determine what types of beers our employees prefer, and it provides a macro trend of where the beer category is going as a whole.

Beers have advanced significantly since 2013. Looking back at the start of our historical data, a standard hoppy IPA or pilsner could win the week. However, as more complex ingredients and flavor combinations have been introduced, so too have our palettes advanced. For instance, a sample of victorious brews in 2019 include: a sour ale with fennel pollen, wildflower honey, and milk sugar; a spicy farmhouse ale brewed with 7 types of grains and 7 types of peppercorns; an aged stout with pistachio, cacao nibs, and vanilla; and even an imperial stout brewed with Butterfingers candy.

Another key objective of Huge Brews is to learn about how the brewing process works, and to foster experimentation. In the past, individual members have created and shared “home brews” with the company. However, as our social group matured, we decided that it was time for Huge to have its first official beer.

In conjunction with our spring company event, several Huge Brews faithfuls undertook a passion project to devise a custom recipe and then to partner with local experts at Bitter & Esters in Brooklyn to bring that vision to life.

Brewing beers at Bitter and Esters in Brooklyn

Our approach.

Within an accelerated 6 week schedule, we integrated the strengths of individuals across multiple disciplines in order to streamline the process. With our Analytics team, we standardized our ratings data in order to determine the core attributes of our “ideal” beer. In conjunction with our creative and branding teams, we designed label for our custom brew and named it.

Our beer.

For the purposes of this endeavor, we considered our past two years of data (408 beers total), in order to account for changes in employee preferences. Based on our ratings data, we determined that our favorite type of beer is a juicy IPA (India pale ale) with notes of sour fruit.

“You are the first customers to send us data visualizations. They were fancy.” -Jack Misner of Bitter & Esters

A common issue we encounter whenever buying or tasting beers is that brewery descriptions are not always qualitatively substantive (or even provided, in some cases). To reinforce our data integrity, we layered in text classifications based on online user reviews from two different UGC databases. We also leveraged wine aroma charts to inform how these descriptors would be grouped, in terms of tasting notes and fruit flavors.

With all this data, we were able to determine:

  • the body of our beer
  • preferred tasting notes
  • types of fruit to include
  • the color (based on the Standard Reference Method scale)
  • the desired turbidity (opacity)
  • the desired alcohol by volume (ABV)

The result was the Huge Brews Off-brand IPA. It is a smooth-tasting juicy IPA with a slight tartness and notes of citrus. It clocks in at 5.9% ABV.

However, we were not content with just the base. We created two variations with the most highly rated fruits – one with blackberry, and one with raspberry and lactose (milk sugar).

Beers bottled and capped (with custom tops) at Bitter and Esters

What we learned.

Taste is very subjective, but starting with data is always a good way to inform our choices. For years, we kept track of beer scores out of habit, without actioning on them in any meaningful way. It seemed a fortunate happenstance that we were able to use our troves of data in creating our beer. As Jack Misner of Bitter & Esters told us, “The one thing we try to instill in our customers is that note taking is the single greatest tool you can use to improve your beer brewing.”

We also learned that data quality is paramount for gleaning meaningful insights. We had to undertake the task of standardizing brewery and beer names on our lists (e.g. is it “Other Half” or “Other Half Brewing” or “Other Half Brewery”?). This goes doubly so with user-generated content. Misspellings were common, so we had to modify a lot of our text classification logic in order to factor these in.

Physical packaging also brought its own unique challenges. We had to design and produce labels for bottles that would likely change temperature and accumulate condensation. Since this was an internal product not for sale, we had some leeway with our branding; however, along the way, we did learn a lot about design standards for beer (regulated by the TTB rather than FDA).

Huge Beer Club hard at work
September 6th, 2018
according to

So I kinda went viral last night.

Who knew that Tweeting at the President of the United States would be a goldmine for impressions and social engagement?

I saw a bunch of replies to this Tweet in my timeline:

I saw that nobody made the obvious joke. And I had a few minutes to spare, so I whipped up this image and hit “reply”:

Donald Trump Treason Tweet Jeopardy Clue
Link to Tweet

Didn’t expect much from it, but by the end of the night, the Tweet got pretty good engagement:

That’s 71k impressions in a few hours. Not bad for 10 minutes’ work.

I decided to do some sentiment analysis for the replies, and came up with these figures:

  • 36% were positive (mostly variations of “LOL”).
  • 17% were neutral (replies that didn’t make sense, or could’ve been either positive or negative depending on how you read them).
  • 26% were negative.
  • 8% were spam.
  • And 13% were people elaborating or correcting me joke, mostly with the addition of how “Treason?” wasn’t in the correct form of question by Jeopardy standards.

For only 26% negative sentiment, I’d do it again. And you know what? Only one person called me a child molester.

Who knew Twitter could be so civil?

Pride Balloons in NYC for Pride Month 2018
A NYC storefront decked out with rainbow balloons for Pride Month
(taken by Instagram user lovekinsdesigns)

Pride Month 2018 has now come and gone, and I think it’s safe to say that public support for the LGBTQIA+ community is at an all-time high. But being the skeptic that I am, I’ve begun to view the mainstreaming of this movement through a more cynical perspective. In order to better understand where this feeling stems from, please bear with me as I recount two anecdotes:

1) The Prideful Gym Bro
A few weeks ago, I forgot to charge my workout headphones and as a result, was forced to listen to top 40 music blared over the gym speakers along with the ambient conversations of fellow sports club patrons. It was the week before the Manhattan Pride parade, and I overheard a “bro” telling his workout partner that he was planning on going to the parade because his friends (a straight couple) were allies, and invited him last year with the promise of a lot of single straight women that he could hit on.

2) Hateful Accusations
My group of friends and I were at a backyard bar in Gowanus on the same day as the Brooklyn Pride parade. We were having normal conversation over cigars within earshot of a presumably gay twosome (one man and one woman) who had just left the parade. Halfway into our stay, the bartender came to the yard and informed us there was a complaint against us for using homophobic slurs. We had said no such things, and figured the two individuals were upset that the wind was carrying some smoke into their general direction, so they made up an accusation to the bartender. They ended up leaving and we had several follow-up conversations with the bartender, where she wrote off the incident as an inconsequential misunderstanding, albeit likely purposeful. I’d been wearing my pride rainbow watch band all month (see below), which lent much-needed credence to our side of the story. But I couldn’t help but think about how easily we could’ve been labeled bigots otherwise.

Baudrillard’s Simulation

On reflection, these incidents brought to mind a YouTube video about the hidden brilliance of the Comedy Central show Nathan For You (stick with me on this one). In the video essay, user Full Fat Videos explains that one of the most unique storytelling aspects of Nathan Fielder’s reality show is that the people being “pranked” never find out (until the show is aired); to them, the simulation is effectively the same as if it were real, citing French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s idea of simulation (this ELI5 reddit thread explains it in simple terms). The unwitting participants are subject to carefully fabricated scenarios meant to simulate real life (albeit, in a highly exaggerated manner), and as long as the facade is maintained, it makes no practical difference to their experience vs. if the scenarios were genuine (or to any observers not in on the joke).

So why am I writing about all this on a marketing/advertising blog?

Bear with me again.

Walking around Manhattan last month, I saw many businesses and companies temporarily adopting rainbow palettes. This includes places where I’ve worked – my past two ad agencies are very progressive (which is par for the course for most New York companies with a heavy makeup of creative liberal millennials), and have participated in initiatives supporting the community. Some genuine, some seemingly for virtue signaling purposes.

All of these instances are symbols, as described by Baudrillard. The rainbow flags and integration of associated colors are shorthand for corporate support of the movement, but their exaggeration and constant exposure through mass media may have morphed their original meaning(s).

Similar to the Nathan For You example, what if companies are feigning pride simply because they feel they’re supposed to? If people never find out that the brands are being disingenuous, does it make a difference to observers?

If 1,000 gym bros only attend the parade for ulterior motives (unbeknownst to other participants), does it matter if their presence at the event ends up bolstering attendance and makes it appear that more people support the cause?

On the other hand, if all symbols eventually extend beyond their original meanings, then I could very well have been wearing my pride watch band not because I support the LGBTQIA+ community, but because they’re the colors du jour (for the record, this is not the case). Or even worse, through the eyes of the complainers, I wear the colors so I cannot be accused of hateful speech (also not the case). I think both perspectives are ridiculous, but plausible if everything’s truly a simulation divorced from their original meanings.

Does any of this matter?

Do the ends justify the means, or are the ends in of themselves the only thing that matters? If PR teams feel pressured into launching pride adjacent campaigns and their efforts spread awareness and evangelism, would it matter if they aren’t congruent with actual company values? Over time, doesn’t leveraging the symbolism of LGBTQIA+ turn a company into a de facto ally in the eyes of the public? As a corollary, if a company is effusively pro-LGBTQIA+ but doesn’t do any tangible CSR initiatives to that end, is it truly an ally or an ally in name only?

Taking this a step further – if politicians and policy makers change their minds on issues to reflect evolving public opinion, does it matter why they changed their stance?

For instance, when President Obama was first campaigning in 2008, he very publicly stated that he believed marriage was between a man and woman. Over time, he softened that stance to be more inclusive, and it was under his tenure (and Supreme Court appointments) that same-sex marriage was declared a constitutional right.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Obama in 2015 still believed gay marriage shouldn’t have been allowed. If he were publicly pressured into adopting a stance to the contrary, which led to a ruling that benefited the gay community, would it matter why he “flip-flopped”?

It’s hard to say, and I certainly do not have a definitive answer.

But in general, I think it would benefit everyone to be more critical of brands using pride month (or any other social movement) as a marketing tool, lest we all get lost in the simulation. Take a look at what tangible things those brands are doing to benefit the community, and suss out shallow lip service.

And before I wrap up, here’s a wonderful image that succinctly sums up my cynicism:

A post shared by Yarzus (@jickityjarz) on

February 4th, 2018
according to

Black Mirror Nosedive
A screenshot from the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive”

The brilliant television series Black Mirror is described as “the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy” by its creator Charlie Brooker. Yesterday, with a handful of new announcements from Apple, the privacy Doomsday Clock just ticked a few minutes closer to midnight.

Hyperbolic? Maybe. But between the new Face ID technology of the iPhone X and the biometric measurement of the latest Apple Watch, users are going to be voluntarily conceding a lot of personal data, and quite passively so. In theory, both are very dangerous things to normalize; but with Apple’s smartphone and watch market share, it may very well become practice sooner rather than later.

So what’s the big deal? We take selfies every day, and Face ID is just a 3D selfie, right?

Well…

Today’s Selfie is Tomorrow’s Biometric Profile

That was a quote from a piece of art hanging in the window of the New Museum in New York City that I chanced upon back in March 2016:

Today's Selfie is Tomorrow's Biometric Profile

Selfies may seem harmless now, but they are the proverbial foot in the door for lower and lower expectations of privacy. Fifteen years ago, nobody took selfies. If you did, it was as a joke and very few people (if any) would ever see it because you had to develop the film and they were embarrassing. Nowadays, we have high quality cameras within arm’s reach at all times, making it normal to take a photo of yourself. Face ID was just one minute past the introduction of the front-facing camera. The more photos of ourselves we publish on the internet for corporations and institutions to consume, the more we expose ourselves.

Or as famed media/communications theorist Marshall McLuhan put it:

“Publication is a self-invasion of privacy. The more the data banks record about each one of us, the less we exist.”

Speaking of biometrics, remember how Apple said their latest Watch would be able to detect whether or not your vitals are normal at any given moment? Hand that information over to the proper authorities, and you’ve got yourself a real-time lie detector. Sure, polygraphs are notoriously ineffective and usually not admissible in court (regardless of what TV shows and movies have you believe). The law is constantly playing catch-up with technology, and Apple just made it easier to facilitate government overreach.

You can’t find the boundaries until someone oversteps them

Let’s take a look at Apple’s contemporary, Facebook. Facebook has been honing its facial recognition technology for years now.

So has the FBI.

The difference is that Facebook’s tech reportedly operates at a staggering 98% accuracy, which is far better than the FBI’s because the government database mostly consists of mugshot-style photos and security camera footage. In contrast, Facebook stores billions of first-party-verified photos of its users from multiple angles, backed by a learning program that can continually refine itself with every single upload.

What’s one minute further than Facebook’s database and algorithms? How about a camera phone that is capable of performing an infrared scan of your face and its unique contours? One with a 1 in a million chance of being fooled. One whose camera you use to unlock your phone dozens of times each day, 365 days a year. That’s a hell of a lot of information.

Given a few months and billions of data points, Apple may end up with the most advanced facial recognition software in the world. Apple touts their “neural network” as a benefit, but it should be interpreted as a warning sign.

Not to mention this other potential security flaw that made its way around Twitter concurrently with the Apple Event:

What’s stopping Apple from going full Black Mirror?

Right now, the only thing stopping Apple from becoming a willing surveillance arm of the government is Apple itself. Giving credit where credit’s due, Apple did once refuse FBI orders to unlock the phones of the San Bernardino domestic terrorists back in 2015. And they also denied a request from the DOJ to wiretap iMessage/Facetime, while in the same breath confirming that they had the capability to read and listen to our conversations (so… thanks, I guess?).

To quell our fears at Tuesday’s Event, Apple did say that the personally identifiable data will only be available locally on your devices.

Appl

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