The Brand Move Roundup – September 7, 2020

We’re tracking the notable brand moves & highlighting the companies who are tackling this challenge successfully.

In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

Verizon-owned phone service Visible is attempting to write a new pandemic-friendly festival playbook. For its latest experience, they have blended live performances from an actual venue with technology designed to give remote attendees control of their experience. Visible is hosting its first Red Rocks Unpaused, a three-day music festival that digitally reimagines the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a historic open-air venue built into a rock structure located just outside of the brand’s Denver headquarters. Consumers can “attend” the festival for free by viewing the performances on Visible’s Twitter page or on a custom microsite, VisiblexRedRocks.com, where they’ll have multiple options to interact with the performers and the venue itself. Visible’s head of experiential Kirstie Rivard said the primary goal with Red Rocks Unpaused is to drive brand awareness and connect with consumers through an interactive experience. “When Covid-19 hit, we thought: How can we give viewers an experience that’s innovative and technologically advanced, and deliver it in a way that would work in this upside-down year?” Rivard said. “Whether it’s for someone noticing our brand for the first time or a member, we want to offer a memorable experience and connection people haven’t been able to have with an artist this year.”

The Arizona Lottery – which was deemed “essential” alongside other state lotteries across the U.S. early in the pandemic – reported a record $1.09 billion in sales in its fiscal year 2020 despite the global COVID-19 crisis. Executives attribute the strong results to a marketing pivot made early in the pandemic that flipped the narrative of the lottery to focus on its extensive community give-back programs at a time where they were arguably more important than ever. AZL was inspired to move in this new direction by seeing “how many brands have responded positively during the pandemic to help those in need,” says Chris Rogers, deputy director of marketing and products, Arizona Lottery. “Giving back to communities that support our mission has been a long-standing brand promise for lotteries across the country – whether that means supporting education, environmental conservation or health and human services.” The campaign helped AZL realize the highest performing sales weeks in May-June and experience its highest performing July in the lottery’s 39-year history. That was quite a bounce back after April, when sales were down more than 30% with a gain of more than 48% in just four weeks. “Lotteries are uniquely positioned to highlight the positive impact of their beneficiaries, and audiences are ready for encouraging messages,” says Rogers.

London-based music tech startup MelodyVR has announced a surprise $70m (£52m) reverse takeover of Napster, the pioneer of the music streaming revolution. MelodyVR founder Anthony Matchett is hoping that a marriage of MelodyVR, which films and streams gigs, with the 21-year-old Napster will be music to the ears, and eyes, of fans and investors alike. “We see synergies for a service that combines music streaming, immersive content, live events,” he says. “Something that an Apple Music, a Spotify, or any other service doesn’t provide. Everything a music fan might really want.” Napster, with 3 million subscribers, delivered 10.8bn streams and made $113m in revenue last year. “It is a shame, because a lot of people don’t realise they have a thriving business,” says an undeterred Matchett. “Although it is not the scale of a Spotify, it is growing and it is profitable. We are delighted to acquire it.” Last year, global music sales grew for a fifth consecutive year, to $20.2bn, driven by a 23% growth in streaming (which accounted for $11.4bn of the total), having hit a low of $14bn in 2013. And while the live music industry has ground to a halt, streaming has proved to be coronavirus-proof. Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming service, reported a jump in paying subscribers of more than 27% year-on-year to 138m in the second quarter.

Masterworks, a New York startup that allows investors to buy a tiny stake in paintings by world-class artists for just $20, has seen a surge in demand during the pandemic, according to its founder, and has bought 15 artworks since the onset of Covid-19 to feed their appetite. A recent $1.52 million initial public offering of a piece by the American graffiti artist KAWS sold out in a few hours. “People feel that equity markets are overvalued and they are looking for other places to put money,” said Scott Lynn, a collector who started Masterworks, in 2017. Masterworks is at the forefront of a burgeoning niche in fractional ownership in luxury assets such as fine art, collectibles, vintage cars and even race horses such as Authentic, the winner of the Kentucky Derby Saturday. The startups offer the shares as an affordable way to invest in expensive, rarefied fields that are typically available only to the mega-rich. “Folks are stuck in the house, bored, and, if they’re lucky enough to be working, aren’t spending money on things they normally would,” said David Ritter, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “So, they have money to play with.” Masterworks has been luring about 10,000 new users a month during the pandemic, founder Lynn said, and it isn’t alone. Acquicent, a company founded last year to develop a trading platform for fractional-share owners of classic cars, saw an 80% jump in the number of potential investors in the past three months, according to Anthony Citrano, founder and chief executive officer. “It’s an asset class that 99.9% of people could not touch ordinarily,” he said. “As far as people interested in investing, it’s very hot right now.”

Martial arts promoters the UFC is staging a fight show with just seven bouts after a series of cancellations related to positive COVID-19 tests. The mixed martial arts promotion held its shortest card since 2005 on Saturday night after canceling two bouts at late notice. Heavyweight Marcos Rogério De Lima’s bout against Alexander Romanov was scrapped about 90 minutes before the first fight at the UFC Apex gym on the promotion’s corporate campus in Las Vegas. The UFC also canceled a bout between lightweights Thiago Moisés and Jalin Turner. In a third move, Kevin Natividad was removed from his featherweight bout against Brian Kelleher “as a precaution,” according to a UFC statement. Kelleher instead fought Ray Rodriguez on short notice. De Lima and Moisés are Brazilian teammates at American Top Team. Brazilian media reported that both fighters tested positive for COVID-19. The UFC returned to action May 9 after an eight-week pause for the coronavirus pandemic. The promotion has held near-weekly cards ever since, and it had incurred only sporadic cancellations due to COVID-19 problems while stringently testing its athletes. But at least one bout has been scrapped on fight night from each of the UFC’s past three cards due to COVID-19 problems.

Diageo-owned Canadian whisky brand Crown Royal plans to give back to the places that have made it a household name: bars, clubs and other small music venues. The brand will debut a national campaign featuring a new recording of Sly and The Family Stone’s If You Want Me to Stay, sung by singer songwriter Ari Lennox and Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos. Each time someone streams the song, Crown Royal will donate $1 (up to $500,000) to bars and clubs in danger of closing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Main Street Alliance, an organization dedicated to small businesses, will help distribute the funds. “When we look at what we do at Diageo, or the purpose that drives the company, it’s all about celebrating life everywhere with our products,” said Sophie Kelly, Diageo’s svp of whiskeys in North America. “In the last six months, it’s become very evident that if we had to live our purpose, what we need to do is get in the game and support the people who have supported us.” Kelly added that 90% of independent venues, bars and clubs across the country are currently at risk of disappearing. Crown Royal’s campaign is Diageo’s latest initiative to give back to the people and places crucial to its business model. Earlier this summer, the alcohol giant introduced a $100 million recovery fund for bars and pubs around the world. More recently, its Bulleit Bourbon brand released an ad about out-of-work bartenders and pledged $250,000 to bolster the North American hospitality industry. Other brands have taken a similar approach in assisting the establishments that purchase their products. In April, for example, Heinz ketchup introduced a program that gave financial aid to the nation’s many local diners and restaurants struggling since the Covid-19 outbreak.