How Paw Patrol conquered the world

The furry first responders were built from the start to be a 360-degree entertainment and toy juggernaut. PLUS: marketing lessons from Russian trolls

This is Kickstart—the daily morning management briefing on innovation, leadership, technology and the economy from the editors of Canadian BusinessSign up to get it directly to your inbox each weekday at 6 AM Eastern.

Good morning! Here’s what’s on our radar at the moment:

How Paw Patrol conquered the world

The unholy alliance of children’s cartoons and toys has a long history, but the discipline’s top innovator right now is Canada’s Spin Master, creators of Paw Patrol. For the uninitiated, Paw Patrol is an animated TV show in which anthropomorphic dogs employ a fleet of colour-coordinated, military-grade hardware to assist the hapless and frequently imperiled residents of the aptly named Adventure Bay. It’s pretty inane viewing adults but kids love it; more importantly, it moves product like nobody’s business:

After [British producer Keith] Chapman conceived of the Paw Patrol franchise, Spin Master tapped Toronto animators at Guru Studio to produce it. By August 2013, it was on TVO in Canada and Nickelodeon in the US. I asked Ronnen Harary, Spin Master co-founder and co-ceo, which came first when they were conceiving new episodes: merchandise or storylines. He said, “Producing toys for kids is an art form, and writing and animating TV shows for kids is an art form. We’ve been able to mix those two forms together. It’s a very difficult thing to do because they’re different disciplines, but by mixing them together, you can have a potentially richer TV show.” He obviously meant a show of greater resonance, but the double entendre was undeniable.

Link: The Walrus

Stab someone in the front

Netflix has built a famously candid workplace culture, one where managers and employees are far more honest with one another about their frustrations and differences of opinion than most offices. While workers say it can take some getting used to, honest feedback helps them actually get better at their jobs. Patty McCord was the key figure in defining that corporate culture, serving as as Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer for 14 years. She explains why direct confrontation is a better way to solve problems:

Managers would often complain to me about an employee or someone in another department. I’d always say, “Have you told her yet?” Holding people to this standard of transparency has many benefits. One is that it puts the clamp on politicking and backstabbing. I’ve often said that I hate company politics, not just because it’s nasty but because it’s so inefficient. Think about it. If I’m going to stab someone in the back, I have to go get a knife, hide it, wait until I’m alone with that person, and catch them off guard. I’d better be sure to kill them or they’ll come back after me. It takes planning and it’s high risk. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier just to tell that person, “It makes me crazy when you do that, so please stop!” More important, though, is that honesty helps people to grow, and it flushes out the differences of opinion and alternative ideas that people so often keep to themselves.

Previously: What Netflix’s corporate culture can teach us about hiring—and firing

Link: First Round Review

Marketing lessons from Russian trolls

A continuing congressional investigation south of the border suggests that Russian intelligence agents may have influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election by running paid ads for deliberately misleading news stories during the campaign. It’s a troubling idea, but the stats uncovered during the course of the investigation are cause for envy, and perhaps there are lessons here for any marketer. As Atlantic reporter Alexis Madrigal points out, at least one set of Russian-paid ads had astonishingly high engagement rates, far higher than most marketers would dream of. Your average North American advertiser would crow about a click-through rate of 2%; yet some Russian troll posts uncovered by social network ad networks had clickthrough rates of 6%, 14%, even 24%.

Link: Twitter

The modern face of overwork

For many of us, work is a genuinely rewarding endeavour—not just something that pays the bills, but a real part of our self-identity. Yet there’s a sense that living for your job may have reached some sort of toxic apotheosis in recent years. This provocative essay unpacks a new book on the topic and serves as a brief history of the evolution of careerism, with all its joys and sorrows:

As Bunting points out, any fear of the 1990s turning all future generations into permanent slackers have been laid to rest by a relentless form of identity capitalism: “A work ethic has evolved that promotes a particular sense of self and identity which meshes neatly with the needs of market capitalism, through consumption and through work. Put at its simplest, narcissism and capitalism are mutually reinforcing.” If the road to self-fulfillment lies in hard work, I can demonstrate how meaningful my life is by telling you I’m just so busy, so in demand, I’ve been working so hard and my personal brand has never been stronger. And of course, by becoming the job, with all the social capital that entails, the worker’s whole life also becomes the clock—it’s impossible to distinguish time at work from personal time if the person identifies themselves as the ultimate product of their labour.

Link: The Literary Review of Canada

The age of the tech backlash

Between massive data breaches, facilitating the spread of trolling and harassment, job destruction by indiscriminate automation and the chance of having been used by foreign powers to abet some light treason, tech companies are under fire from multiple angles right now. As CEO and frequent commentator Anil Dash writes, this may be a pivotal moment for the industry to reconsider its relationship not just to its customers, but to society as a whole:

Amidst the current global rise of populist movements, we’re seeing the first widespread backlash against tech since the dawn of the internet era. Some of it is basic economics — tech people got rich at a time when not a whole lot of other people did, and some of the ways they got rich have started to feel like an ugly surprise. People are deeply worried about the effect tech has on their privacy and security, and on their jobs and the economy. That’s to say nothing of the cultural shifts wrought by ubiquitous connected devices and social media.

Link: Medium

Earnings reports today

Canadian publicly traded companies of note scheduled to report quarterly earnings today:

Advantage Oil & Gas (AAV), AutoCanada (ACQ), Alamos Gold (AGI), Altus Group (AIF), Argonaut Gold (AR), Artis REIT (AX.UN), Bombardier (BBD.B) BCE (BCE), Bonavista Energy (BNP), Baytex Energy (BTE), Callidus Capital (CBL), Cogeco Inc. (CGO), CI Financial (CIX), Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ), Crew Energy (CR), Cominar REIT (CUF.UN), Cenovus Energy (CVE), Dorel Industries (DII), Endeavour Silver (EDR), Energy Fuels (EFR), Enbridge (ENB), Enbridge Income Fund Holdings (ENF), Espial Group (ESP), Fairfax Financial Holdings (FFH), Freshii (FRII), Gildan Activewear (GIL), goeasy (GSY), Gran Tierra Energy (GTE), Great-West Lifeco (GWO), IGM Financial (IGM), Kirkland Lake Gold (KL), Genworth MI (MIC), Mitel Networks (MNW), Oncolytics Biotech (ONC), Open Text (OTEX), Pembina Pipeline (PPL), Pretium Resources (PVG), BlackPearl Resources (PXX), Canadian REIT (REF.UN), Saputo (SAP), Secure Energy Services (SES), SNC-Lavalin Group (SNC), Slate Office REIT (SOT.UN), Stuart Olson (SOX), Superior Plus (SPB), Sierra Wireless (SW), Teranga Gold (TGZ), Tree Island Steel (TSL), Torex Gold Resources (TXG), Wesdome Gold Mines (WDO), TMX Group (X), Xtreme Drilling (XDC)

Thanks for reading! Have a truly excellent day.