The Brand Move Roundup – September 15, 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.

This year, at some of America’s biggest malls and outlet centers, the Thanksgiving Day discount shopping frenzy won’t be happening. Mall owner Simon Property Group has said that its locations will remain closed on Thanksgiving, though they will open the following day for Black Friday. “In these challenging times, we made the decision that we will not open on Thanksgiving Day, instead allowing our associates to spend the holiday with their loved ones,” David Simon, the company’s CEO, said. The announcement marks a major shift in strategy for the biggest shopping weekend of the year – which had been getting longer and longer, with more stores opening on Thanksgiving and promotions extending to Cyber Monday and into December. Simon is the largest mall operator in the United States.

Many experts had been expecting such a shift this year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. “With everything that’s going on, there may be no Black Friday at all,” Scott Rankin, principal and national consumer and retail strategy leader with KPMG US, said. “I can’t imagine retailers buying inventory to stock up for an event designed to pack hundreds of people into a store. There are so many risks to that.” Simon’s decision may also reflect that fact that, even before the pandemic, consumers had been increasingly opting to shop Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals online, rather than joining the mad dash in stores. Last year, Thanksgiving Day online sales hit a record $4.2 billion.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will go on, but it’ll look very different than it has over its last 94 years. This year’s parade will still have the giant balloons, colorful floats and, of course, Santa Claus, but it will “shift to a television-only special presentation,” Macy’s and New York City announced on Monday. The parade will still air across the country on NBC on Thanksgiving morning, but the pandemic forced Macy’s to “reimagine” the event. It will forgo the traditional 2.5-mile route and reduce by 75% the number of parade participants, who will be socially distanced during performances and required to wear face coverings.

“It will not be the same parade we’re used to,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday. “They are re-inventing the event for this moment in history.” The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is not only the start of the holiday season for millions of people, but also one of the most watched events on TV each year. Last year’s event brought in roughly 22 million viewers for NBC.

Hershey is trying to save Halloween from the coronavirus pandemic. The candy maker said that it has worked with public-health experts and retailers to create a website to offer advice on how to trick-or-treat safely in different parts of the U.S., depending on the intensity of local Covid-19 transmission. Hershey is also changing the variety of candies it makes for Halloween this year and introduced them a few weeks earlier than normal, aiming to prop up business during the season that typically drives one-tenth of its $8 billion in annual sales. The pressure on Hershey to protect Halloween sales is indicative of a new stage of disruption for some businesses as the pandemic advances into the fall. Airlines, hotel operators and retailers are also bracing for the pandemic to alter normal travel and shopping patterns around the end-of-year holidays. “We’re taking a proactive approach,” Phil Stanley, Hershey’s global chief sales officer, said in an interview. “We’re really focused on helping consumers find creative ways to celebrate with treats, even though trick-or-treating is going to look different this year.”

Facebook is buying a previously unused corporate headquarters from outdoor retailer REI, despite the social media company’s plans to shift more of its employees to working from home. REI announced in August it had decided to sell the 400,000-square foot campus complex in Bellevue, Washington, that it had planned to move into this summer. It disclosed Monday that it had reached a deal to sell the property for $390 million. REI, which specializes in camping and other outdoor gear and clothing, is a co-op that is owned by its customers. It has 167 stores in 39 states. While it does not report quarterly results, most brick-and-mortar retailers reported a sharp drop in sales earlier this year due to store closings associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. REI also shifted its headquarters employees to remote working due to health concerns. The company said it has decided to now have its headquarters span multiple locations across the Puget Sound region. REI will also have headquarters employees working remotely as its normal model going forward. “We learned that the more distributed way of working we previously thought untenable will instead unlock incredible potential,” said CEO Eric Artz in August. “This will have immediate, positive impacts on our ability to attract and retain a diverse and highly skilled workforce, as we continue to navigate the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.” However, Facebook has been adding staff throughout this year and adding office space along with them. “In order to address our rapidly growing workforce, we continue to make investments in physical office locations,” they said. “In the second quarter of 2020, we added a record 4,200 net new employees and now have more than 52,000 employees. While Facebook envisions 50% of its employees will be working remotely within the next 5-10 years, our offices are still vitally important to our culture and will help accommodate anticipated growth and meet the needs of our employees that need or prefer to work from campus. An internal employee survey the company fielded in May showed that approximately 65% of Facebook employees were eager to return to the office as soon as possible.”

Reuters’ 2020 Digital News Report reveals that the use of Instagram for news has doubled across all age groups since 2018. It is now set to overtake Twitter as a news source in the coming year, with younger people – about 63% of Instagram users worldwide are between 18 and 34 years old – embracing Instagram for their news. Consequently, many publishers are beefing up their Instagram strategies. In 2019, The Economist ramped up its Instagram posts. It went from an average of 4 posts per week in March to nearly 50 by September. The publisher also devised a set of habit-forming, traffic-driving sequences for the vertical Instagram Stories format. This included “Weekend Reads” which showcases six of its best articles of the week every Sunday using images, illustrations, graphics, audiograms and slideshows. Besides traffic, this feature also brings in revenues via ads placed at the middle point of each sequence as a full-page vertical still image or video. Users can swipe up to be driven to a client’s site to learn more, or click through to the organization’s own Instagram account.

Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, is honoring its Hispanic and Latinx employees by celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month honors the long and important presence of Hispanic and Latinx peoples in the United States. The 30-day period begins on September 15th of every year; the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, followed by the independence anniversary of Mexico (16th), Chile (18th), and Belize (21st). In addition to celebrating National Hispanic Heritage month, LaFamilia, Glassdoor’s Hispanic and Latinx employee resource group, plans to launch several company-wide events to educate employees on Latino culture.

Amateur esports teams are springing up specializing in games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Dota 2, and they want places to meet and compete. Vacancies in city centers created by the shift to online shopping and magnified by the pandemic have proved perfectly placed to fill the gap. Simplicity Esports has about 40 gaming centers in 15 U.S. states, which let amateurs meet and play together on high-end computers without worrying about cheaters or slow network connections. Its president, Roman Franklin, said that since January he’s seen a 40% to 70% improvement in lease terms for potential new venues. At some locations, he said, the company has secured flexible rents representing 10% of the sites’ gross sales, with no minimum rent and no other costs. “I’m seeing lots of opportunities to continue the expansion of our footprint,” said Franklin. Amateur players inspired by high-profile gamers – such as Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, the 16-year-old who won $3 million in the 2019 Fortnite World Cup final – want to practice and compete in environments where no one can gain a technical advantage and it’s harder to cheat.

“Playing from home is like playing basketball in your driveway – the hoop may not be 10 feet high and the driveway might be a bit sloped at the front,” said Zack Johnson, CEO of esports services company GGCircuit, which develops and sells cloud-based software used by about 1,000 esports centers around the world. Industry executives say lockdowns impacted and delayed brick-and-mortar expansion plans, but Johnson said more than half of the 20,000 screens that run on its equipment are now back online after lockdowns. Venues were appearing across Europe before the pandemic too, led by a crop of young companies such as France’s Team Vitality and Meltdown, Sweden’s Space, and London-based Game Digital’s Belong network. Kinguin runs a 6,560-square-foot bootcamp-hotel for professional teams in Warsaw. It’s now going after the amateur market and opened an Esports Lounge in the port city of Gdansk in June. CEO Viktor Wanli said the site is operating at half capacity due to social distancing but demand is clear. “We’re having days where gamers have to wait in lines to occupy a station,” he said. Vindex LLC, an esports company established by the founders of Major League Gaming, bought Belong in July and wants to open more than 1,000 venues worldwide. And traditional sports stars are no stranger to the potential: Guild Esports, part-owned by English soccer star David Beckham, last week announced plans for an initial public offering that will help fund a training academy and scouting network.