"Harbinger households": neighborhoods that consistently buy products that get discontinued, buy real-estate that underperforms, and donate to losing political candidates

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/12/03/harbringer-of-doom.html


Bringin’ the harb, yo!


Can someone please, please run an ‘s/harbringer/harbinger/’ - thanks!

Edit: for syntax.


It seems that some of the typos have been fixed, but not all.

Sorry for being dense - but is ‘harbinger’ basically a synonym for ‘failure’?

Ie people who are not successful in the way the study group decides, and their lack of success is both contagious and predictive of the products they purchase?

No, I think they mean that these people are canaries in the coal mine. If you observe what they do, they give an indication of what you shouldn’t do. It’s an indicator … as in, a harbinger of doom.


Reminds me of a short story I read years ago about a sports fan who was so unlucky his rooting for a team actually made the team lose.

IIRC it ended with some three-letter-agency recruiting him to root for the country’s enemy.


thats almost like that mr show sketch where every time david cross’s character badmouths someone, they happen to be standing behind him. the FBI uses his talent to to find missing children and terrorists. ha.


Is It like a Twisted version of that famous book called “The Secret”?


Totally explained by the “Birds of a feather” syndrome


It’s an odd use of the word. A proper definition is “a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another.” but I think they’ve adopted their use by shortening the most common use I see, ‘harbinger of doom’.


Otherwise known as “the unmovable base support of 39%”


Trump basically won by promising to bring back crystal pepsi to the minority of people that was important to.


The article doesn’t include a list of these ZIP codes. The authors could make a fortune selling that info to market researchers.


Perhaps that is WHY those ZIP codes are not listed.


I see a train of causation in the above.

Those products that are doomed to fail often begin their marketing phase with very generous inducements to new adopters.

The coupon clippers are choosing the product not because they like it, but because they perceive they’re getting a good deal. When the marketing department for the new product stops handing out the hyper-generous coupons, the coupon-clippers move on to another product, hastening the failure of the product.

Rinse and repeat.

Of course, this does not explain the losing political candidates nor the poor choices in real estate.


Is this a case of poor people live in places where real estate is something they can afford because it’s undesireable to rich people - and those cheaper products that aren’t selling get dumped there? You don’t see a lot of dollar stores on Central Park West.


OK. But what are the zipcodes though?
I need to know if I live in one of them


The obvious hypothesis is that these are people who make decisions in the same way that marketers model people as making decisions.

When something is sold to the public, it means marketers have calculated that’s what the public wants. They make the same calculations for a flop as for a success; the difference is that, with the flop, they’ve encountered a case where their calculations are a poor match with reality.

The reason that can happen is that, to fully map the desires of 300 million people, you have to (notionally) plot each of them as a point in trillion-dimensional space, and then project that cloud of points into a manageably small number of dimensions, and then aim for what looks like the center. Often that will work, because in most of those dimensions, people just cluster around a single point. But it’s possible that, in projecting to a lower dimension, you’ve made two or more separate clusters overlap to look like one, and when you aim for the the dead center you find you’ve actually hit a void that’s not in anyone’s sweet spot.

What is interesting to me is that I don’t think any consumer would consistently find themselves in that position unless they are intentionally living their life like a marketer, trying to emulate what everyone else wants rather than basing decisions on their own inner life; in fact I would guess that they are doing it to avoid their own inner life. (I am thinking of a specific family member here). It makes a lot of sense to me that people like this would cluster together, helping each other to avoid messily personal thoughts they don’t want to deal with.


Some people have all the luck.