April 5, 2023

Today's Topics

Good morning! As news of Trump's arrest dominates... well everything, here are 3 non-indictment related stories. Today we're exploring:

  • The Finnish line: Defense alliance NATO has a new member.
  • Walmart: America's largest retailer is embracing e-commerce.
  • All dolled up: Barbie is hitting the big screen.
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The Finnish line

Yesterday, the Finnish flag was raised outside the NATO headquarters in Brussels as the nation officially became the 31st member of the defensive alliance. Despite adding less than 1% to the total population of NATO member countries, Finland’s admission is monumental as the country shares an 832-mile border with Russia — doubling the length of the border between NATO and its largest adversary.

Following Putin’s invasion last year, Finland’s swift application to join NATO marked a sharp departure from the Finnish public’s historical apathy towards joining, with 76% of Finns supportive of NATO membership by May 2022. That application became the fastest to be approved in the organization's history. Sweden’s application, however — which was submitted at the exact same time — is yet to receive the unanimous approval needed from all member states, as both Hungary and Turkey are blocking it.

Article 5 assurances

NATO was formed in 1949 with 12 founding members, including the US, UK, Canada and France, when leaders were fearful of Soviet expansion. Article 5 of the alliance’s charter — a collective agreement to treat an attack against one ally as an attack against all allies — is the key tenet of NATO.

For the threat of invoking Article 5 to be meaningful, NATO's guideline is that each member should spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Although just 7 of the members actually do so, the collective total still accounts for a whopping 56% of total global military expenditure — the US alone accounts for nearly 40%.

Aisle meet you online

Walmart has revamped its website and app to look less like a standard online storefront, and a little more like a social media feed, with video content and big glossy images of products.

The retail giant’s e-commerce chief explained the importance of the digital refresh, saying “everyone knows that 90% of the U.S. population lives within 15 miles of a Walmart store, but the closest store to our customers is the one in their pockets.” That store is getting bigger, busier and more lucrative for Walmart every single quarter.

Walmart vs. Amazon

Walmart, like almost every other company that sells anything on the internet, got a huge boost from the pandemic when consumers were forced to change their shopping habits. Domestic e-commerce sales soared 43% in 2020 alone and, while they generally cooled off a little last year, Walmart’s are still going strong.

That may even be a bit of an understatement — Walmart’s online business accounted for 13% of its total sales last year, and its growth mirrors the pattern from the kings of e-commerce themselves, Amazon. Indeed, Walmart’s US online sales are tracking on a comparable trajectory to Amazon’s, growing from ~$3bn of sales per quarter to ~$17bn of sales per quarter in a similar amount of time — Amazon's growth period just happened to start 12 years earlier.

Walmart's growth is obviously less novel, buying online is much more common than it used to be, but it's impressive nonetheless considering its not the company's core focus. If the slick new social-media-inspired interfaces work, the comparison with Amazon could last a little longer.

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All dolled up

The trailer for the new Barbie movie, set to debut this summer, sent social media into a spin yesterday over the increasingly impressive roster of cast members. That response will have been cheered at Mattel HQ, the company that sells billions of dollars worth of Barbie related toys every year, especially after Barbie sales slipped ~33% last quarter, following a pandemic boom.

Barbie is set to be played by Margot Robbie and Ken played by Ryan Gosling, but just like the toy itself, the starring role has numerous variations including Issa Rae as a presidential Barbie, Dua Lipa as a mermaid Barbie, with supporting roles for Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell and Michael Cera.

Life in Plastic

Mattel — which also owns Hot Wheels and American Girl — is keen to get what it can out of its most profitable line of business. The Barbie franchise spans books, apparel, cosmetics, video games and numerous films. Attempting to stay on the radar of younger generations, the doll even started a YouTube series in 2015 called Barbie Vlogger where she talks about her fictional life, fashion, friends and family.

Clearly, Mattel saw an opportunity at the box office, taking a page out of the Lego and Marvel playbooks in transferring Barbie to the big screen with a star-studded cast. In fact, Mattel’s CEO sees Marvel as a “good analogy” for his group’s strategy. If true, we could have 31 Barbie movies to watch in 15 years time.

More Data

Spotify is shutting its copycat of Clubhouse, an audio platform that took off in the pandemic, after just 2 years — it joins the scrapheap of abandoned efforts from Reddit and Facebook too.

• Just 37% of Americans who watched The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power managed to make it through the whole season.

Dog eats bird: Elon musk changed the Twitter logo to the symbol for Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that saw its price surge as much as 30% in the wake of the swap.


• Martian sand dunes and glowing rodents made it onto Nature’s science photographs of the month.

• Like riding a bike: try this interactive infographic that explores the basic physics behind cycling.

Quick cut: Americans are starting to feel a lot less _____? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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