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The Hustle

A team of 100 in Mexico spent 53 hours preparing the world’s largest marshmallow — a record-holding monstrosity that outweighed the average grand piano. That’s great, but wake us up when there’s a s’more that big.

In today’s email:

  • Kratom: A popular powder comes with a warning.
  • Product-tions: The economics of movie product placement.
  • Duolingo: Setting a high bar for “unhinged marketing.”
  • Around the Web: Music tools, SEO tips, a precursor to Barbie, and more.

👇 Listen: Duo, the Duolingo owl, does not guest-star, but we’ll talk about his marketing genius anyway.

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The big idea
kratom leaves

What’s kratom, and why is it in trouble?

Has someone at your yoga and meditation workshop offered you kratom tea, leaving you wondering what the heck it is?

Kratom is an herbal supplement made from the dried leaves of a tree in the coffee family and imported from Southeast Asia. When ingested or smoked, it can cause effects similar to opioids and stimulants.

Some people who enjoy it say they feel relaxed or more social. Others say it helps them manage chronic pain or recover from addiction.

It’s become popular in recent years:

  • Over 2m Americans use kratom annually, per Bloomberg
  • In 2021, it was a $1.3B industry

It can be purchased at smoke shops, online, or at kratom bars, where customers ditch alcohol for kratom teas and cocktails.

But before you get any business ideas…

… know that it can be dangerous in high doses or when mixed with other substances. Negative side effects can include seizures and, though rare, death.

  • In May, a kratom vendor who sold a 39-year-old woman concentrated kratom extract was ordered to pay $4.6m+ to her family after she died of acute kratom intoxication, per NPR.

Lawyers representing families in other wrongful death lawsuits say vendors don’t warn customers of potential harm or instruct them on how to use kratom.

Why not?

Though a handful of states have banned it and the FDA warns against taking it, it isn’t regulated.

And despite its potential benefits, there hasn’t been enough research on kratom to understand how to harness those benefits without the harm.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports such research, while the American Kratom Association advocates for kratom to be regulated so that it can be consumed safely and legally.

But if it’s anything like cannabis and mushrooms, kratom may have a long road — and a lot of red tape — ahead.

BTW: Kratom aside, there is a push for sober bars, offering socializing without the booze. Alternatives include mocktails; low- and no-ABV beer, wine, and spirits; and drinks made with adaptogenics and nootropics.

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eyeball wearing a hat

Swipe right for survival: In Netflix’s latest reality show, unsuspecting contestants show up thinking they’re going to find their soulmate — but the show quickly switches gears into an escape from a zombie-filled Seoul. Yup, we’re as confused as you are.


Cue the melancholy mix: Spotify reported a strong jump in monthly active users, up 27% YoY to 551m in the second quarter, but its stock dipped 12%+ on weaker-than-expected guidance.

Decorify may sound like a defense against Voldemort, but it’s actually Wayfair’s new AI-powered interior design remodeling tool.

Let’s dance: TikTok is gearing up to launch a major ecommerce business rivaling Amazon, Shein, and Temu that’ll manage the storage, logistics, sales, and marketing of Chinese goods to US consumers.

Europeans want chips, and we’re not talking about the tortilla kind. The EU finalized its $47.5B Chips Act, which should help it move toward its lofty goal: producing 20% of the world’s semiconductors by 2030.

Better “believe” it: Cher is getting into the gelato business with the launch of Cherlato, and, as many have pointed out, the flavor-naming opportunities are just too easy: Cher-ry. If I could churn back lime. I got ube. The list goes on.

Deliverance: UPS reached a tentative labor deal with the 340k-worker union that includes $30B in new pay and benefits, potentially preventing a strike that would’ve been brutal for, well, pretty much everybody.

The owner of @x on the platform formerly known as Twitter, photographer Gene X. Hwang, told TechCrunch he hasn’t heard from anyone on Elon Musk’s team about acquiring the handle, but would be open to moving it — for the right price. Zuck? Bezos? Any other rivals? Don’t miss your chance to do something funny.

Buzzworthy: Lately, it feels like there’s a new workplace buzzword coined every day. Why can’t we stop inventing terms about work? And do they affect our behavior? We surveyed 200+ employees to find out.

Reel deal
ET & Reeses

The economics of movie product placement

In the 2000 film Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ co-star isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio or some other A-list actor. It’s a volleyball, courtesy of Wilson Sporting Goods.

  • Throughout the film, the volleyball enjoys 10.5 minutes of screen time worth an estimated $1.85m+ in advertising value.

Each year, hundreds of brands grace the silver screen. Recently, we’ve witnessed more branded products flip the script, becoming movie stars themselves a la The Lego Movie and Barbie (highly recommend, by the way).

But how do brands end up in major motion pictures? What do the economics of these deals look like on the back end? And is this an effective form of marketing in the first place? Check out our feature story.

Let’s see what this is all about →
Free Resource

50 examples of corporate cornerstone values

You could choose to be bold. Or funny, which is also bold. Or bodacious, which is like bold squared.

The choice is up to you. We just made this glossary of 50+ company core values to kick-start the brainstorming brewery. Inspiration from Amazon, Intuit, Workday, and other thoughtful brands should do the trick.

Go ahead — think so big it hurts.

Core values glossary →
Not giving a hoot
Duolingo owl

How Duolingo struck social gold by going unhinged

Duo, Duolingo’s big green mascot, may be the most famous owl of the post-Tootsie Pop commercial era.

The language-learning app got on TikTok in early 2021 and quickly took off thanks to Duo’s sassy videos, growing to ~7m followers and 147m+ likes.

How’d Duolingo get here? By embracing unhinged marketing.

And what is that, exactly?

What it sounds like: when brands take a less polished approach to marketing, embracing chaotic conversational moments above all. If you see a social post and think, “How did that get approved?” — that’s probably unhinged marketing.

Popularized by Wendy’s, which became known on Twitter for roasting users and shading the competition, the strategy has since been adopted by the likes of Popeyes and McDonald’s.

  • Unhinged marketing can be particularly helpful in winning over Gen Zers, who generally prefer ads that feel less salesy.

Duolingo has capitalized on this

Since shifting from TV spots to investing in social media, Duolingo has found its stride. Key to making its TikTok videos viral:

  • Entertainment over selling: Duo is funny, delivering the unexpected. His character is the focus, rather than the app — and when the app is mentioned, it’s often the free version that’s highlighted.
  • Consistent storylines: Duo’s world includes many running gags, helping followers feel like they’re in on the joke. Regular Duo bits include a one-sided rivalry with Google Translate, a crush on singer Dua Lipa, and a beef with Duolingo’s legal counsel, who want to stop his unhinged work.

It’s paying off

Duolingo’s daily active users are up 62% from last year, and it continues to be among the top-downloaded education apps.

A more relaxed approach to marketing definitely doesn’t have to include the company mascot in a thong to be effective, but done right, a bit of personality goes a long way.

Want more like this? Subscribe to our new sibling newsletter, The Lead, delivering marketing trends, tips, and tactics to inboxes every Wednesday.

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🕶️ On this day: In 1908, the FBI was founded. Previously, federal crimes had been investigated by private investigators or the Secret Service.

🎹 Useful: A collection of tools for learning and making music.

👀 Video: Explore the latest YouTube SEO tips and tricks and learn how you can use these metrics to take your work to the next level.

🎂 That’s interesting: Before we had Barbiecore, Victorians had Dolly Varden. She even had a cake.

🐩 Aww: Wait, why is an old episode of “Judge Judy” making me cry?

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Life comes at you fast. (Link)


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Today’s email was brought to you by Jacob Cohen and Juliet Bennett Rylah.
Editing by: Ben “Jack of owl trades” Berkley.

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