Cartier's Vicarious Party, Hopin & Clubhouse Game Over (Cafe Society Quick Bite #8)

How Permanent Are Our COVID Social Life Adaptations?

Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s weekly magazine on the intersection of community and society — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team. Maxwell is building a new type of social club.

A favorite quarantine parlor game has been to guess what changes will be permanent and what will quickly snap back to normal once we open up. It looks like NYC Open Streets is going to be permanent.

And it’s highly likely many if not most companies will have to adapt to remote work — for every person who is clamoring to come back into the office there is someone else who spent quarantine working from Barbados.

But whether not Miami is actually a thing remains to be seen.

In my opinion the most interesting version of this armchair philosophizing is discussing what parts of our social life that went digital will stay there. Conferences, dinners, chats and more, previously the realm of in-person, all transitioned online out of necessity— how many of them will snap back to the way things were in the before times as we open up?

Vanity Fair insists the snap back is already happening — The Clubhouse Party is Over according to them, pointing to declining engagement & download numbers of the hot audio social app to launch during quarantine, and putting forth the proposition that it was a quarantine phenomenon and now that we have better in-person alternatives, Clubhouse is simply less alluring.

Hopin, the digital events and conferences platform, shot to billion dollar Unicorn company status as every conference went online.

My personal opinion is that social life & networking is simply better in-person — there is a natural serendipitous social interaction that is very hard to currently duplicate digitally, and until a Metaverse a la Ready Player One with truly remarkable VR or AR comes about, this will stay true.

Until our media is built more for communities not audiences, for entertaining, not entertainment, in-person will be better.

I don’t think Hopin and Clubhouse will go extinct but I wouldn’t be surprised if a huge chunk of their use-cases move back offline and they become simply one of many tools to enhance in-person social interaction or provide a new and novel form of entertainment, but not a real and true replacement for conferences and conversations.

So I was a bit surprised to see a Vogue article seem to take an opposite view, and was reminded of last week’s article on Chainmail Breakdancing at The Met & Performative Nightlife.

Vogue elaborated on how Cartier adapted their former small intimate events to the pandemic age:

Some of Cartier’s best US clients received an invitation in December to a party no one else could attend. Each invite included a password to a private broadcast of a star-driven event to be viewed digitally only at the appointed day and hour, on a discrete platform that did not permit recording. Guests were asked not to share anything online publicly regarding the hour-long broadcast, and no press were invited. In the age of Instagram and Facebook, private meant private.

The broadcast aimed to replace one of the brand’s centrepiece annual events, a holiday fête at its Fifth Avenue mansion in New York. Cartier recreated the experience in a filmed format, generating excitement with a narrative story that played out as though the viewers were attending the party themselves . . .

. . . It has been harder to recreate the intimate experiences that are central to luxury brands like Cartier, which rely on private dinners, concerts and other social events to maintain one-on-one relationships with top customers without the presence of the press or influencers.

All fine and good, and an admirable effort from Cartier to stay relevant and create a unique experience in a tough time, but it was a couple subsequent paragraphs that stood out to me:

Like many innovations spurred by Covid-19 lockdowns, the private broadcast offers a solution that is poised to outlive the pandemic as brands learn to meet their consumers at their homes and to offer higher levels of service and entertainment. 

And again . . .

But luxury clients, having experienced and enjoyed brands coming to them, may be less willing to travel to in-person events.

The comments demonstrated that Vogue clearly didn’t understand the uniqueness of what Cartier had before the pandemic — to start, the fact that they thought it was even about “entertainment” in the first place was what was remarkable — Cartier’s dinners and holiday parties were never about entertainMENT, they were about entertainING.

They discounted the value of a brand that had a community, not an audience, and thought that well, because they could put on a better SHOW (read, better entertainment), well, out with the old and in with the new, as if a Twitch feed of a party or movie of someone else living should substitute for our own real life experiences.

It’s as if they were saying “You know living? Well why live when you can live vicariously!”

I have no problem with these types of events becoming part of the marketing bundle, expanding brands digital presence. I’m sure the Cartier Movie I wasn’t invited to view was fantastic — but no one pretends that an IMAX 3D theatre experience is going to replace travel, or reality TV replaces our desire to experience reality.

But brands that think like Vogue apparently does and think that more and more spectacle, focusing on shinier and shinier objects, will replace genuine building of a brand community miss the point.

I couldn’t help but laugh at one of the final quotes.

“We tried to create an event as if you were at a party with us.”

Well I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to experiencing the real thing.

Right after I buy my first half-million of Cartier jewels.

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David (@dlitwak) & The Maxwell Team