Usually when we talk about unintended consequences here at PYMNTS, we are talking about something that has gone terribly wrong, or at least failed to perform as well as desired because of some unforeseen side effect. The goal might be noble – but pursuing a noble goal the wrong way can quickly have byproducts that make the cure worse than the disease.
Usually, an unforeseen consequence is a bad thing.
But not always.
From time to time, one comes along that is delightful.
For example, Karen Webster noted that attempts to rid the island of Borneo of malaria led to a series of terrible after-effects from messing with the local ecosystem by killing mosquitoes with DDT spray. That list included collapsing roofs, an explosion in the local rat population and a typhus outbreak.
But there was also at least one somewhat delightful outcome – and it turned out to be the solution to the cascading series of problems unleashed by the attempted malaria remedy. It was a solution that no one could have foreseen, summed up in two words:
And while there were no documented cases of skydiving felines in the payments and commerce news to our knowledge this week, there were a few almost equally delightful unexpected outcomes and bugs that turned out to be fabulous features.
Because, as it turns out, Venmo might just be able to help cure a broken heart (or make one worse), the big bitcoin price drop might have been a boon for cybersecurity, and Girl Scout cookies might just be the reason you see more healthy eating options advertised over the next few weeks.
Feeling confused about what connections there could possibly be? Don’t worry, it’s probably weirder than you think…
Living Well Is the Best Revenge (And Venmo Can Help You Prove It)
There are a lot of Venmo uses that devotees can rattle off if asked. Sending funds to friends, splitting up checks, paying rent, contributing to group gifts or spending in stores (particularly with their newly released line of cards) – over the last several years, Venmo has evolved from a simple P2P payments platform into a robust set of financial services tools for its users.
But Venmo, as it turns out, has an even more useful feature that, until now, has gone totally unadvertised: It can be used to make your ex miserable.
The magic that makes it happen is the social media part of the Venmo platform, which allows users to list a live feed of their transactions in an easily digestible, scrollable, emoji-filled form. And what one sees, noted Elle Huerta, CEO and founder of popular breakup app Mend, says it is “usually just enough information out of context to drive themselves crazy with.”
“It’s one thing to think about your ex moving on, but it’s quite another to see that they had $34 of delicious sushi last night with a name you don’t recognize,” she said. “And that’s why Venmo transactions can make your heart stop: Each one is a tiny glimpse into a world where your ex is continuing to walk the earth and live their life without you. That hurts.”
It’s an experience one Women’s Health writer had directly, when an ex-boyfriend arrived at her door a year after their split demanding that she make her Venmo feed more private, as it was causing him agony. Particularly, she noted, because everything he saw was out of context.
“He could see Venmo transactions showing how much I was enjoying my life – whether it was going out to brunch, or paying someone back via little red-wine emojis for happy hour,” she continued. “He could see that I went to a concert with my sister, as I sent a Venmo for ‘Best Coast’ with music notes, that I paid a friend for drinks the night before, and that I bought someone named Joe a breakfast sandwich (which he brought up during the aforementioned Venmo outburst). But he couldn’t see that I wasn’t dating Joe – that I was actually eating with him and 10 other people after our Saturday group run, and bought him a sandwich because he forgot his credit card.”
The writer, incidentally, did not acquiesce to her ex’s request, though the whole incident did make her reconsider how much of her spending life she wanted to make public.
Psychologists recommend that people who have been through recent break-ups treat Venmo like any other social media platform and stop following their exes on them, as digital stalking remains a terrible way to get over someone.
Bitcoin’s Price Busts, So Hackers Change Tactics
The last few months have been tough for bitcoin enthusiasts, who have watched the cryptocurrency bleed value for over a year at this point. The past week has looked a bit stronger, and some think that bitcoin’s price might get back above $4,000 within the next week. But considering that its price at this time last year was just shy of $10,000, the bigger story surrounding the world’s best-known cryptocurrency has been one about loss.
Which has been rough sledding for bitcoin investors, traders and miners, but might have ended up as a blessing in disguise for everyday internet users who were somewhat less likely to find themselves pegged by a ransomware attack over the last year.
Ransomware attacks, when launched against individuals or institutions, see cyber criminals gain access and control of a user’s computer, which they essentially hold hostage until a ransom is paid out in cryptocurrency. Sometimes, if the data being held is particularly sensitive, they will threaten to release it unless they are paid.
The good news, according to Symantec, is that ransomware attacks are down 20 percent year-on-year. The reason? The attacks are difficult and time-consuming to set up – and not worth the payouts, with bitcoin trading at increasingly low price points.
But lest anyone get too excited at their newfound security, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that cybercriminals simply moved onto greener pastures, revenue wise, and have now adopted a new form of hacking called formjacking, which harvests credit card data directly from retail sites. They also persist in “cryptojacking,” an easy and accessible hack that allows cybercriminals to capture other people’s computers and task them with mining cryptocurrency.
So the fall of bitcoin’s price did have an unexpected upside – but only for as long as it took hackers to find a suitable replacement.
Raising a White Flag Over Q1 Cookie Sales
The season of the cookie is upon us: specifically, the Girl Scout cookie.
Though there is no official date range for the sale of cookies – that decision is left to local troop councils – the unofficial season runs between January and March each year, as millions of Girl Scouts start hustling boxes in workplaces, in front of grocery stores and walking door-to-door in suburban neighborhoods across the country.
And the 1.8 million Girl Scouts who are hitting the streets with their treats are insanely good at selling them. One anonymous San Diego scout sold more than 300 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in less than six hours. Of course, she had the good sense to set up shop outside a marijuana dispensary and pretty much let the cookies sell themselves for a few hours.
We eagerly await that girl’s future as the CEO of Amazon after Jeff Bezos retires to live on the moon full time.
“The traditional way of selling Girl Scout cookies is trying to go door to door, or utilizing friends and family networks,” marketing executive Kyle Boze told MarketWatch. “This girl used creativity to find a new market that hasn’t been tapped [as much] yet.”
And while not everyone has that level of marketing genius, Girl Scout cookies are big business in the U.S. – worth about $800 million in sales. That is more than Oreo and Chips Ahoy plus Milano, in case one is wondering. Among the 10 top-selling cookie varieties in America, five of them are Girl Scout cookies. And, again, they are generally only sold once a year for six to eight weeks.
But for those six to eight weeks, the Girl Scouts have managed to achieve near-unilateral surrender from the rest of the industry. No one wants to take on the little girls in the green sashes.
“The annual Girl Scout cookie sale is a force of nature at the national level,” said John Frank, a Mintel food analyst. “Big companies like Kraft know it’s coming, and they’ve learned to live with it. It’s like a storm and there’s nothing they can do but wait for it to pass, because there is no upside to marketing against the Girl Scouts.”
So what do big brands do, if they can’t counter-sell?
Some adhere to: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Keebler, a rival cookie brand, is the owner and operator of Little Brownie Bakers, one of two licensed industrial bakeries that make Girl Scout Cookies.
Incidentally, Keebler also makes lookalike, taste-alike cookies under its own branding in the same factories where it makes the Girl Scout Cookies. The Keebler Grasshopper is made by the exact same people who make the Girl Scouts Thin Mint. You might think this would affect the sale of Girl Scout cookies, since you can literally buy the exact same cookie baked in the exact same place for half the price year-round.
It does not make the slightest difference. The similar cookies don’t have any effect on Girl Scout cookie sales, and the original cookies vastly outsell the identical copies.
“Girl Scout consumers love our cookies, but they purchase them because they are supporting girls,” noted Amanda Hamaker, manager of product sales for the Girl Scouts. “That’s not happening at the supermarket.”
Other large brands – Kraft, notably – just give up the cookie ground entirely during the early part of the calendar year, and instead focus on countering programs. That includes advertising more savory snacks – macaroni and cheese, particularly – and more public service-oriented ads reminding kids about the importance of healthy eating. (Because if kids aren’t eating their cookies anyway, they may as well remind parents that they really shouldn’t be eating so many cookies.)
It might not be the best reason, but they might make a valid point. But given their sales, it seems fair to assume that Girl Scout cookies likely won’t be where people will make their first big calorie cuts.
Still, it’s unexpected to see a seasonal jump in healthy food advertising in response to scouts selling cookies.
But it is one of the more pleasant unexpected surprises, of the sort more likely to make one chuckle than cringe with concern. And given that it is not normally the way things happen in payments and commerce – where things going unexpectedly awry can be the wrong kind of explosive more often than the right kind – it is always nice when the week or season coughs up a few that are more amusing that worrisome.