Hype vs discovery: lessons from the Spectacles rollout

The world is full of hype. Hype starts as a whisper, then turns into a growing thunder, finally transforming into all out hysteria. This chain of events can apply to anything. A new brand, the latest sneaker drop, "Hamilton."

The problem, however, is that hype is really boring. It might seem like it would be fun to be a part of, to be one prodding the fire. But again and again, hype is a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode.

Why? Because the feeling of discovery is better than the confirmation of hype.

Discovery is an active process. It requires putting in work to stay informed and keep one's finger on the pulse. It's the same thing as sweating during a workout: there's a release that comes from putting in the work and then basking in the resulting adrenaline. It's a give and take. Whispering is the output of discovery, and being on both the giving and receiving end of these whispers is empowering.

Hype, conversely, is a passive process. If something has already been hyped beyond belief, all that's left to do is confirm or deny the mantle at which the hyped thing sits on. The more hyped something is, which often correlates to how much information about it exists in the world, the less there is to discover. All that's left to do is merely check a box. Hype is everyone screaming about the same thing, which is both annoying and boring. When everyone is screaming about something, there's nothing left to whisper about.

Discovery and hype exist on a continuum, just as whispers and screams do.

The internet has caused hype to compound—and then collapse—faster than ever before. Media, products, and people can spread like wildfire and get extinguished just as quickly. More tangibly in the fashion world, one can see the gift and curse of hype with product drops, new brands, celebrity collaborations and many other manifestations of commerce-driven chaos. Media and influencer-driven bubbles grow at exponential rates, but like all bubbles, they eventually pop.

The cycle goes something like this: a new thing exists in the world; at some point someone or something "influential" finds it, and then starts whispering about it; soon enough, everyone is screaming about it, in person, in the media—basically anywhere a human can register a scream; and then, it's often only a matter of time before the hype comes crashing down to earth. Sometimes people look around, asking what just happened, but more often than not, the cycle just repeats itself the next day without much introspection. The gains are entirely short term, as long-term sustainability is an afterthought.

But it doesn't have to be this way. In the past few weeks, we've witnessed possibly the best discovery-driven product release ever. It started on November 10th, when a minion-like vending machine with a cadre of yellow and black balloons appeared in Venice, California. It was the first sighting of a Snapbot, what we would learn are vending machines specifically designed to dispense Spectacles, the much-anticipated first hardware product from Snap (formerly Snapchat). Spectacles are of-the-moment sunglasses with a camera almost hidden in them, where a user can instantly record by tapping the frame and post video directly to Snapchat.

Then, on November 10th, a Snapbot appeared near Big Sur, California. Then, on November 15th, a Snapbot appeared next to the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Then, on the 17th, a Snapbot appeared on the Santa Monica Pier. These appearances will likely continue for a very long time, as Snapbots crisscross the world releasing a limited number of Spectacles.

The Spectacles release is probably one of—if not—the best discovery-driven product release of all time. There was a general sense that Spectacles would soon be in the wild—I saw a pair three weeks ago in LA before the Snapbots appeared—but the public knowledge about where and when Spectacles would be available was vague at best. The price was clear—a doable $130—but little else was.

And then, on November 10th, the slow drip of discovery started in Venice, California with the first Snapbot release. Since then, the drip has continued—but it remains a drip. People either coincidentally found out about the Snapbots or followed @Spectacles on Twitter so closely and happened to live in California or Oklahoma that they were able to get a pair of Spectacles in their hands.

People had to be active, both mentally and physically to purchase a pair. Compare this to the traditional method of clicking checkout online or even having a bot do it for you on super limited releases (think Supreme). By existing solely in the physical world, Snap put discovery at the core of the Spectacles release and it's working beautifully. The number of Spectacles in the world right now is likely in the low to mid hundreds, and although this number will naturally rise, it sounds like it will very slowly.

The relatively low price of Spectacles also contributes to its seeming longevity. Putting a hefty price tag on an item is one way to drive scarcity, but it's not entirely natural. If anyone with a lot of money can buy it, it's only financially exclusive. But Spectacles are geographically exclusive, which unlocks a much more resilient vector for discovery. This, in addition to keeping the price affordable, predicates discovery on presence, not prosperity.

The paradox of the internet is that although there is so much to discover—arguably an infinite amount—it's also much easier to hop on the bandwagon and let others do the discovering, thus fueling the hype. The Spectacles release should affirm the powers of the physical world and the benefits of building native experiences in it. Meticulously controlling the discovery process and ensuring that money isn't the only way to circumvent it goes a long way towards keeping discovery at the core of the experience. There's a lot fashion brands can learn from the Spectacles rollout. Empowering discovery, not hype, is always the answer for long-term success.