Marketing is the Product Podcast
Marketing is the Product Podcast
Small Business & The World's Weirdest Holiday Season
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As 2020 comes to a close, we wanted to offer up this last podcast as one final reflection of this year. The year 2020 has been one of the most challenging years for all of us to date. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been faced with challenge after challenge, yet, we have pushed through them all.

This week, we will be going over this crazy year one last time, and discussing what this holiday season will look like for us, and our loved ones, as we continue to trek down this new path that COVID-19 has forced us to follow.

Finding yourself searching for some hope in all of this? You aren’t alone in that either. We firmly believe that it is vital to search for the silver lining in all of this, and we will highlight what some of the positives are, in this week’s episode. We hope you will join us!

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Show Notes

0:08 – Introduction
1:30 – Roaring or Searing 20’s?
3:00 – Holiday Season This Year
10:20 – Finding the Silver Lining
12:00 – How Other Countries are Approaching COVID-19
14:00 – Getting a Vaccine into production
17:30 – COVID-19 and Innovation
21:15 – Year of Growth
23:30 – Hope in Black Friday
26:00 – Holiday Season For Us
28:45 – Final Thoughts

Pierson: Hello, everybody. This is Pierson here with the Marketing is the Product Podcast. I’m here with Brandon Rollins.

Brandon: Rollins: Hey, everybody.

Pierson: And today we are gonna be doing a holiday episode of sorts where we kinda go through the current state of society and what the holidays have looked like this year, as well as what this season of Christmas and all the holidays people celebrate is gonna look like given the new state of how the world’s functioning because it’s quite different than we’ve had to go through it in years past.

Brandon: A very weird holiday season. Happy Holidays, everybody, first of all. [chuckle] I kind of sprung this topic on you, and I wanna let listeners know that. So we’re actually going in without a whole lot of an agenda because I just wanna capture this particular moment in time where we’re having a holiday season and every business is trying to get used to it. ‘Cause basically since October, which is when a lot of these retailers started doing big holiday sales, things haven’t exactly gone the way they normally do around the holiday season, and it’s affecting businesses everywhere, no matter where you are, good or bad. And I just, I really wanna catch this specific moment in time because it’s such an odd one.

Pierson: Yeah. And this year as a whole has kind of been an odd one.

Roaring or Searing 20’s?

Brandon: 2020’s been a very strange one. This is our last show of the year. We can go on record saying, pretty safely I think at this point, that 2020 is a weird year.

Pierson: Yeah. Or in other words, it just sucked.

Brandon: Yeah, yeah. A lot of good things have happened for me and a lot of good things have happened for you, but there’s been a lot of ugly stuff in between.

Pierson: Yeah, the Roaring ’20s, they’re coming back.

Brandon: Yeah, it’s funny, there is this blog I read, it’s absolute nonsense, but every once in a while he says something that just strikes me as really insightful. It’s called Ribbonfarm and it’s by this guy, I think it’s Venkatesh Rao, and he just kind of predicts the future and he’s right, I don’t know, 20% of the time or something. And he said that this decade was gonna be less of the Roaring ’20s and more of the Searing ’20s ’cause he thought political tensions and strange things are gonna happen, and also it might be hotter too. And I think, weirdly enough, he called it. He also called the staying in your home was gonna be a lot cooler for Generation Z. I don’t think he expected to call it so perfectly, but he did.

Holiday Season This Year

Pierson: Yeah, and having to stay inside and stay in home and kind of mind social distancing policies has kind of been the story of this year. And especially heading into the holiday season, it creates an interesting situation of how people are gonna approach it, because holidays are something that are so fueled with tradition, regardless of what holiday you might be celebrating. Families have their own traditions, people celebrate holidays in different ways. I know my family celebrates one way; Brandon, I’m sure yours does as well. But what’s interesting about this is you’re kinda faced with a problem of Covid cases aren’t necessarily slowing down. Granted, there are talks of a vaccine coming out in the next couple of weeks, which is a great sign and a wonderful step in the right direction. However…

Brandon: Exactly, yeah.

Pierson: What makes it a little bit challenging though is saying… We’ve, Brandon and I, have talked about this quite a bit between ourself this year, and it’s… You are responsible for the bubble that you are in, whether that be you and a significant other, you and the family that you live with in your home. Or if you live by yourself, you’re responsible for yourself. And regardless of how you choose to spend your time, when you are around other people, the big risk of Covid is exposing others as well as exposing yourself to it, and that creates an interesting dilemma, like what we’ve been talking about, off you get into the holiday season, you’re not really as likely to be outside unless you’re in a climate that accommodates that for year-long outside weather. Which in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we are at, it has been 28 degrees for the last couple of days at night.

Brandon: Yeah, it’s been pretty cold here and people aren’t doing stuff outdoors as much as they were even three weeks ago.

Pierson: And with that, you start thinking, “Okay, well, let’s say Christmas time comes around, everybody’s inside around the tree doing the whole nine yards of stuff that people do for Christmas, is that dangerous? Is that safe? Is that what’s wise to do for you yourself, as well as the people that are around you and in your life?” And it’s tough, and we face that throughout the year. Thanksgiving was the first real taste of that, I think, that we’ve had in the first family-oriented holiday of people coming together and giving thanks and sitting at a table. I know personally I wasn’t at my family’s Thanksgiving due to Covid as well as due to some other variables that were outside of Covid. But you’re stuck making choices that aren’t necessarily the ones you wanna make and some that disappoint the people that are closest to you, which is hard.

Brandon: Yeah. We had an internet Thanksgiving, my family. Zoom calls and it’s just strange. You know, I know why we did it, I think it was the right thing to do, it’s making sure that we don’t put each other in harm’s way unnecessarily. We know how this thing spreads, we know how it works. But it sucks, it sucks. I know a lot of people still want to see their families in person and yeah, all the public health experts will tell you that’s a bad idea, and I cannot in good conscience tell you it’s a good idea, it’s not, but it still sucks. And I think a lot of empathy, I think people really need to have empathy for others who really miss their families and miss their social connections more broadly. ‘Cause we’re heading into… Christmas is in 15 days from when we’re recording, and it’ll be like four days after the show drops, maybe five, and it’s tough, and yet we’re still… In different places they’re finding different ways to move forward. I hear in Montreal, Canada, they’re setting up pavilions outside with these heated lamps so you can have cover and you can be away from the heat and you can still have family gatherings in public parks.

Brandon: So there are places where they’re saying, “This isn’t totally safe, but we know you’re gonna meet your family anyway, so here’s a… ” Yeah, and I’m not saying that is even a good idea in the US, ’cause honestly, the US and Canada are in very different situations, you really need to listen to the experts on this one, but it’s just interesting that… It’s not just virtual calls, there are other… People out there are finding other alternatives to keep the holidays going.

Pierson: And I think that’s the hard part, Brandon, is for a lot of people, finding other ways. That is what’s challenging, is so many people are so rooted in their own lives and their own way of going about things that when you’re forced… And I say forced in the sense of by minding what is recommended to us to do… We are at a place that you can’t really do that. And when you’re forced to change the way that you’ve approached life as long as you’ve known it, that brings forth a lot of complications for people. People don’t like change when it directly impacts how they’ve gone about living for the last 50 years.

Pierson: And being in a place where we’re in a pandemic, let alone a respiratory one, where it’s dangerous to be around large groups of people inside… It might not seem like that in the moment when you’re there and you’re like, “Oh, we’re all here, we all feel fine, it’s okay.” But it’s more about preserving the tradition as a whole and leaving us in a place that next year, in the following year, when things have gotten a little bit more smoothed out, we have a vaccine, the curve has been flattened so to speak, we’re able to continue on in the life that we have known of it, or the life that we have known, but do it in a way that’s a little bit different and a little bit of a way that kind of respects other people, respects social distancing and tries to just take care of everybody else as much as you’re trying to take care of yourself. And that looks like at times having to have that hard conversation and saying, “You know what? It might not be the best idea if we do this the way that we have.”

Brandon: Yeah, and I think… Yeah, it’s just… Yeah, well put. I think I didn’t ever actually appreciate tradition as much as other people did until maybe this year came along. I started to realize that when you actually have a lot of your traditions up-ended in a moment’s notice, all of a sudden you miss the stability that that brings. It provides like a predictable cadence, a story to life. And all of a sudden when you’re having your Christmas remotely and you’re used to having a Christmas every year or you’re not meeting your family for Hannukah or something else, it’s very strange, it’s very disorienting. And I think that might be why tradition is a thing, because it keeps people oriented, it keeps people feeling secure in where they are in society, I suppose.

Pierson: And I think a lot of people have come to just assume… Not assume. Assume might not be the right word. A lot of people have come to expect that the holidays are the time that they get to see their family. And for people that live elsewhere than where you are at, or aren’t necessarily in that bubble that we’ve mentioned where you’re seeing them with regularity, the holidays for a lot of people is that chance to reconnect and to say, “Hey guys, I haven’t seen you a little while. How is it going?” And it just, it makes it tough because you can’t do that, like what you said, with good conscience.

Brandon: Yeah. You have to consciously reach out to people instead. The moment doesn’t force it as much.

Finding the Silver Lining

Pierson: But with that, there are, I think, quite a bit of pros to it, and I think that people overlook that. And I think with this season and being forced to take time for ourself and to really sit in where we are at, we’re able to be more genuine with the people that we are around when we are with them because we’ve recognized how fragile that time with face-to-face… Like the face-to-face interaction is. Like what you said, it’s been up and can’t do it anymore, so when you do get that opportunity to, it makes us more appreciative of it.

Brandon: Yeah. And more grateful for people in general. You realize what you’re missing out on. And I’ll tell you, another thing I wanted to mention was you’re right, it’s not all bad. It’s been tough. The coronavirus is really rough. A lot of people are dying, and that is… That’s not a fact that you can ignore in good conscience I don’t think. You just can’t. You have to face it. Even still, I find it hopeful and I do find some good qualities in just being able to look at the ways that people have gotten creative and kept their holiday traditions going, or kept their businesses going, or get their families connected. Now see, that gives me hope for a brighter future in ’21 and beyond. In a way, we’re kind of practicing solving big collective action problems, which are probably gonna be the defining problems of the century anyway. This is a practice run. ‘Cause once we’re done with dealing with coronavirus, we’re gonna have to deal with plenty of other stuff too.

How Other Countries are Approaching COVID-19

Pierson: Yeah. And you nailed it, Brandon, it’s being able to collectively solve problems in a way that really works. And I don’t think the United States is really nailing the handling of Covid. And I can say that for a couple of different reasons. I’m not bashing on the US, but statistically and based on actual data that is presented, there are countries that do have a grip on this, there are countries that are handling this in a lot better way than we are. And better meaning cases aren’t still rising, death tolls aren’t still getting greater by the day. Some places have not even had cases in quite a bit of time because of their social distancing guidelines and how they are approaching their day-to-day life. And you’re seeing some cultures, and I say cultures because they’re outside of the US, and other people around the world approach life very differently than how we do in the US.

Pierson: When you have a group of people, whether that be people in Australia or people in Taipei, Taiwan, people that approach life differently than we might approach it here, you’re seeing different results over there than you are here. And I think that also speaks to the ability of a group of people to collectively solve problems and to see how well countries, other groups of people at large can be faced with an issue and say, “We are going to respond to it in this way, for the betterment of everybody.”

Getting a Vaccine Into Production

Brandon: Yeah. And a lot of countries have handled it well. Vietnam surprisingly is one of them, and New Zealand, of course, I think has been doing very well. And I hear that Canada has been doing alright, Australia has been doing alright. Germany compared to the rest of the European Union seems to be doing okay too. A lot of countries are actually getting by okay. I wanna give the US one good thing, because I do love the US. For all our flaws, I really do. I wanna give the US one thing; we have done a hell of a job getting a vaccine to, what do they call it, Stage Three trials quickly. Like holy crap. This virus was discovered roughly a year ago, and the disease didn’t even have a name until like 10 months ago, and now you’re telling me that Pfizer and Moderna both have vaccines that have gotten to Phase Three trials. You have to get through a lot of stuff to get to Phase Three trials. Even if you remove a lot of the hurdles, even if you speed up parts of the process, you have to have a round of testing where you test it on animals. I believe that’s a… And I think you have to have one where you test it on a small sample of people. I forget whether it’s a few hundred or maybe a few dozen.

Brandon: There are people who know a lot more about this than me. And then Phase Three, you have to test it on tens of thousands of people to monitor for some really bizarre stuff. I’m talking about your one in 10,000 Guillain-Barre out of a flu shot kind of thing. And this actually helps prevent the risk of vaccine injuries, that if somebody gets something really seriously wrong with them because of a vaccine. And to be able to get to that stage so quickly is remarkable. It’s not just the research, which itself is really fantastic, but it’s also doctors who are helping test this. There are patients who are putting themselves at risk for the greater good. I mean, I know that sounds cheesy most of the time when you say it, but that’s what it is here. You’ve got these shipping companies finding ways, special ways to transport goods that have to be stored at minus 80, minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t know what that is in Celsius, but the point is it’s so damn cold that you have to make a special box for it with like dry ice in it and special insulation. And shipping companies even are figuring out ways to make this packaging and to coordinate the shipments to hospitals. And then of course, the hospitals have to figure out how to give it to people in the right order.

Brandon: The most high-risk people first: Elderly, health care workers. I mean, it takes so much darn brain power to make something like this happen. It takes so much collective good will that I know… I know a lot of people are like, “Damn Karen not wearing a mask in the public.” Whatever. That’s also happening, but also you look at all these things that are going right. Look at all these things, all these ways that people have cooperated to make an incredibly complicated task happen.

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COVID-19 and Innovation

Pierson: And when you break it down, Brandon, a little bit further, going into what you’re saying, one of the things that for me really stands out, a couple of things actually, one, and I have not checked the data on this, so I’m not sure if this is entirely true, but the turnaround for a vaccine after discovery of the disease, I think this might be the fastest one to date. I don’t know if there’s been a vaccine produced that has come in the amount of time that has passed since Covid-19 was first discovered and started running rampant. And I think that speaks to the advancements of science and, like you said, the willpower pf people. But another thing is, and this is a much smaller example, but remember maybe March when everything started to get pretty bad and everybody was frantically trying to look for masks everywhere? And then there was the question of, “Oh shit, how are we gonna all have masks? What’s gonna happen?” And then sure enough, business after business after business started producing masks, different variations of them. If I go on any page on the computer, I see advertisements for neck gaiters, for masks, for different companies that are now selling masks. You can go to almost any mainstream clothing manufacturer and they’re gonna have masks for sale in their brand. Sure, they might not be N95 masks that are medically approved, but the point is is you’re seeing that shift of people recognizing. “There are business opportunities within this.”

Pierson: There are people that are gonna say, “Okay, there’s a shortage of masks, we can make masks. We have the means to do it, let’s do it, let’s pump them out.” And then that also starts solving problems on a greater scale. When you have this many masks… Brandon, have you worried about finding a mask at all lately? 

Brandon: No, we’ve got like 100 here honestly, ’cause they sell them in boxes of 50 now.

Pierson: And it’s like that’s something that now we’re not even stressed about, but at the start of this, everybody was freaking out like, “How am I gonna have masks?”

Brandon: Maria has one that matches jewelry and stuff, it’s crazy.

Pierson: But when you get started with it and everybody’s like, “Oh shit, let’s go get the bread and milk from Walmart,” when shit hits the fan, it’s kind of like that snow storm mentality. It’s like, “Let’s hoard up in case of emergencies.” But now it’s like, people have made it to where you don’t have to do that. There are enough supplies out there. I’m seeing name brand Germ-X and Purell on shelves at Publix and Walmart. Think about how crazy that is.

Brandon: Yeah, ’cause they had to revamp their whole supply chain, their whole manufacturing to make that happen. That’s a little bit of the miracle, and that’s a lot of people thinking very hard about how to do a complicated thing. I’ll tell you that these masks that you’re seeing out, they’re inexpensive, they’re fashionable, you can get ones customized for your company too. They’re so widely available. You can get them plain, you can get them custom and beautiful. It’s not disaster capitalism, that’s what I’m getting at. It’s finding a new need and actually filling it in an inexpensive way, and it’s nice to see people doing that, it’s nice to see that happening. And it’s not just all competing on price. People have a chance to do this stuff, set up their own Etsy shops, do something artistic with it. There’s been a lot of surprisingly good stuff come out of this, if you can look for any silver lining for this massive damn cloud.

Pierson: And I think that’s the most important thing in my eyes, Brandon, that you can do. Is you’re faced with a wall of shit, you’ve gotta try to start looking for the good in it, because if you don’t, then it’s just gonna lead to that deteriorating mind state of, “This year sucks. I’m in a rut. It’s gonna keep getting worse.” You can choose to look at it like that. Sure. But I don’t know how far that might get you. I’ve gone through that myself this year, where I’ve said, “This year sucks, it’s not getting better, it’s a downhill spiral and seemingly nothing’s really good.” But the reality is, in times where things aren’t great, you have the opportunity to look for stuff that you might not be seeing. And in this year alone, and this kind of transitions a little bit into what this next episode that we’re gonna be recording is for New Year’s resolutions, but speaking more towards where this year has led me, due to Covid, it’s honestly helped me take the time to focus on some of the things that I needed to work on in my own life and really be faced with not only the opportunity and that I’m stuck at home and I have the time to really look in the mirror, but I can say, “You know what? I need to make some of these changes and this is a great time to do it.”

Year of Growth

Pierson: You know, you’re stuck at home, you don’t have that much else to do. You can either say, “I’m just gonna veg around,” which nothing’s wrong with that. Nothing’s wrong with saying, “This year sucks. I’m gonna lay around and wait it out.” If that’s what you wanna do, then do it. However, this is a great opportunity for a lot of people to learn new things, to get out, to work on themselves, to try to focus on the bigger picture, which is hard. It’s hard to think of how our actions right now can have implications weeks, months, years down the road. But like we said earlier, we wanna be able to have Christmas with our family next year, you wanna be able to do that five years from now and not have to think, “Man, I really wish in 2020 we just recognized the importance of saying, ‘This isn’t worth it right now.'” It’s not worth going around your elderly family and saying, “Hey, it’s great to see you this year.” There are ways to go around that to protect everybody, as well as checking the box, so to speak, of doing what you love to do, seeing the people that you love, upholding these traditions. There might be changes in it, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not there and they’re not the same.

Pierson: It’s like what I say to people, “Thanksgiving is just a day. You can be thankful for things every day. But if you need to put a day associated with it to come forth and give thanks for what you have, then that’s fine. However, if you wanna have Thanksgiving every first Tuesday of the month, then that can be Thanksgiving for you guys.” [chuckle] I might have a different outlook on it than some people, but that’s just how I approach it.

Brandon: Yeah, I guess that’s when you can be thankful: Technically any day, any day you like. We just pick one to collectively do it. And then we go Black Friday shopping.

Pierson: The third Thursday in November is always the day that we say thanks on.

Hope in Black Friday

Brandon: Yes, be grateful on the third Thursday of November. You know, actually on the subject of a Black Friday shopping, that has given me hope this year, of all things. Okay, so I always kind of thought that Black Friday shopping was this sort of morbid spectacle, and I guess I was just being pretentious about it ’cause a lot of people seem to get joy out of it, and it’s a whole tradition in its own right. But I’ve seen this year that it’s still going on, businesses are still finding a way to make it happen. Not in big crowds in the stores, thank God. There have been companies, they’ve been shifting up their shopping days all the way to October, having separate holidays, separate sale times to spread the number of sales over a wider period of time so that people can still have their big holiday shopping spree without totally overwhelming the postal system or anybody at these e-commerce companies. And I think it’s so interesting to see this big shopping frenzy day get broken into many, many different parts and still survive, essentially.

Pierson: Adaptability.

Brandon: Yes, yes. I didn’t think that Black Friday would become a symbol of resilience, but it is. Isn’t that kind of interesting, how this morbid spectacle that we used to watch where people would just be thankful and then go out 8:00 PM on a Thursday to tackle each other in a Walmart? It’s become a symbol of resilience now because people are… All these logistics companies, these e-commerce companies, even these shoppers are changing their habits to keep an honest to God American tradition really still happening, so we can still give gifts to our loved ones and and be with them from afar.

Pierson: Don’t lie. You know there are some people that just love getting to go out and tackle people in Walmart at 7:00 AM on a Friday. [laughter]

Brandon: If they just legalized all crime on Black Friday, that would just really close the loop. Get on it, Joe Biden.

Pierson: I’m surprised in the midst of 2020 they didn’t just say, “You know, screw it. Let’s just say no laws on Black Friday. Let’s just make it fun. We’ll set up TV crews at every big shopping center and we’ll see what we can get. It’ll be like a new Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.”

Brandon: I live, I buy, I live again.

Holiday Season For Us

Pierson: What do you think this holiday season is gonna look like for you? 

Brandon: It’s probably gonna be Zoom calls with my family on Christmas Day. That’s probably what it’s gonna be. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we wanna do. We’re gonna send gifts by mail or by dropping them off. What about you? 

Pierson: I feel like it’s gonna be… Like we said, thankfully this podcast is coming out after Christmas, so they’ll already know by then. [chuckle] Yeah, oh no, I thought you said… Oh, this does come out four days before Christmas. Well, surprise guys, if you haven’t found out already, but I’ll probably… Yeah, I’ll probably be in the same boat as you. I think it’s the only way that I can keep a good conscience about what I’m doing and keeping my part in it. And more importantly than anything else, I know a lot of people are still choosing to go out and kinda interact in society, and like I’ve harped on, I can’t account for everybody, and I think it’s just worth taking the time and saying, “Let’s find a different way. Let’s adapt and kinda overcome. And it’s gonna suck for a little bit, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be over, and that doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the people that are close to you.” And I think that just reminding people of why you are doing what you are doing and assuring them that it’s not a personal thing. And I think that that’s the flaw that people are… Or the rub that people are seeing, is it’s like, “I don’t wanna come to Christmas.” “Well, is it because of me?” “No, it’s not because of you. It’s because I’m trying to take care of society, myself, the people around me, and really just get through this thing ’cause it’s not worth dragging out any longer than it has to.”

Brandon: There is a light at the end of the tunnel this time, and it is not a train, it is not a train for once. Seriously, the end of this thing is in sight. Once you got Phase Three vaccine trials from Moderna, Pfizer, possibly some other companies, something is going to work. It takes a long time to get to that point.

Pierson: We’re in the home stretch, guys, and I think that’s important, it’s important to just take a step back and say, “You know what? This year, this year sucked, but we made it through it, and we’re going to pull through.”

Brandon: Yup. And if even 50% of people get that vaccine, we’re gonna be a lot closer to herd immunity. That’s the thing that really matters. There’s gonna be some hold-outs, there’s gonna be some people who can’t do it, there’s gonna be some people who are uncomfortable with it, frankly, and who might wanna wait. But even having the vaccine out there in the world being picked up by a handful of people makes us safer.

Final Thoughts

Pierson: Do you have anything else you wanna add, Brandon? 

Brandon: No, I’m good. End of speech.

Pierson: End of speech, end it here. Well, I think the purpose of this episode is to just try to talk a little bit about what this season looks like and to reassure everybody that you’re not in this by yourself. We’re all kind of facing these same issues and trying to sort through them to the best that we know how. And there might not be a right or a wrong way to approach it, that might look different for everybody. But the important thing is is that you hold out hope, you stay positive and you try to take the time that you need to to listen to what you need for yourself.

Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. We’re just here to capture a moment in time so we can all just appreciate where we are right now.

Pierson: And maybe this time next year we might come back to this, Brandon, and do a little reflection episode where we talk about where we were at this time last year, because I’m sure that by then there will be a new set of challenges that we are collectively facing, and who knows what that’s gonna be.

Brandon: Climate change. Whoa, God, that came out of nowhere.

Pierson: It’s not like it’s ever 62 degrees in December, that doesn’t happen in Tennessee.

Brandon: Oh, God.

Pierson: Well, guys, thank you for listening to the show. As always, check us out wherever you stream podcasts. Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, we’re on it. Check it out, give us a like, give us a five star review, the whole nine yards. And we thank you as always for listening and we hope you have a great rest of your 2020 and make the most for the last couple of days you got.

Brandon: Well said. We’ll see you guys in a couple of weeks.

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