The Brand Move Roundup – September 18, 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.

Toyota, the world’s second-largest carmaker, will begin testing the plan to fit a Toyota Dyna van with hydrogen fuel cells in Japan later this month, in a move that could create fleets of temporary, mobile electricity sources worldwide. The specially equipped vans could generate electricity for 72 hours straight and could potentially replace the diesel-fuelled mini generators that typically power outdoor sporting events, concerts and festivals with a zero-emissions alternative. They could also be used to provide emergency electricity to disaster-stricken areas left without power for up to three days before refuelling. Toyota will work alongside the portable generator company Denyo to create the mini power plants, which will be based on the same technology used in the Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle The fuel cell vehicles run on compressed hydrogen gas, which in the Mirai’s case is stored in two tanks mounted underneath the vehicle. They emit no exhaust fumes, although fossil fuels are used to produce the hydrogen and to pressurise it. Testing is expected to last until the end of 2021 before a decision can be taken on commercialising the plan. They will face a series of trials that will include supplying power to evacuation shelters and businesses during disaster simulation drills, and tests at outdoor events.

Roland Mouret, designer of the Galaxy dress and one of the best-known names in British fashion, is swapping the catwalk at London fashion week in favour of Amazon Prime. Mouret joins the upscale American brand Oscar de la Renta as the second designer on board with Amazon’s newly launched Luxury Stores, which will offer Prime customers a “luxury shopping experience”. Mouret will reveal his new collection via a one-minute video on Amazon in lieu of a catwalk show. “When something is described as luxury or not luxury, a lot of the time, that’s just snobbery,” said Mouret of the new partnership. Until now he, like most high-fashion designers, has emphasised the importance of a high-end environment for his creations. But now “all of my customers are on Amazon”, Mouret said. “That is the reality. We are all Amazon customers now.” But, he says, “Amazon is not to blame. The fashion industry made its own mistakes. We created too much product, we paid too much attention to fashion week and not enough to the consumer. We created a monster.” Direct-to-consumer partnerships could offer a lifeline to independent brands that could otherwise fail, he added. Mouret was an early adopter of online retail. “Twenty years ago, Manolo Blahnik and I were the first designers to sign up to Net-a-Porter at a time when people were saying customers would never buy expensive clothes online. That same snobbery is at work here. Today is a different challenge, but in my creative guts I feel it is right.”

During the live sports hiatus, many sports organizations pursued ad opportunities on social networks like Twitter to soften the loss of match-day revenue. Sponsored content for Twitter with ad bumpers, or ‘presented by’ live streams and clips became popular choices among sports marketers. Nearly eight in ten (77%) of the sports videos uploaded to Twitter between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15 came from media companies, according to Tubular Labs. In comparison, less than a fifth (18%) of those views came from influencers and 4.7% from brands and teams. Some soccer clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur experimented with archive short-form content at a time when those advertisers that were still spending were on the lookout for pre-roll video ad inventory. These organizations were able to test Twitter’s ad serving functions and create more branded content in the absence of live sports, particularly around short-form video. Over 45% of sports videos on Twitter so far this year are less than 30 seconds, according to Tubular. More than a quarter (25.7%) were 30 seconds to a minute long. “Because we have that immediacy and are increasingly a video-first platform we saw really interesting innovations from clubs and broadcasters to try and stay connected to fans,” said Theo Luke, director of content partnerships in EMEA at Twitter. “The hiatus of live sports was an unprecedented period of Darwinian experimentation.” Some sporting organizations worked with sponsors like Emirates to create short-form video assets for Twitter and other platforms in the absence of live sports. On the weekend of The Emirates FA Cup quarter-final matches in March, for example, the Football Association broadcast simulated games in the FIFA 20 game matching the original schedule. One of the matches has attracted nearly 30,000 viewers to date. The period of experimentation has paved the way for new ad slots and potential for more advertising as more live sport returns. In fact, advertisers are already starting to buy more ads around sports videos on Twitter. In the U.S., for example, Bud Light is running a campaign around the NFL where fans get to choose which touchdown they enjoyed most of each game weekend using the #BudLightCelly hashtag. Ad spending is being driven by the usual suspects when it comes to sports marketing on Twitter, with advertisers from the telco, gambling, gaming and CPG sectors buying packages, said Luke. With sports sidelined for months mid-year (especially in the U.S.), sports video views on Twitter were understandably down year over year for the same time period from 37.5 billion to 31.9 billion, according to Tubular Labs.

Hotel chain Marriott has announced that it’s teaming up with the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the National Park Service with the aim of encouraging travel to three of the park system’s lesser-known hidden gems. Airbnb entered into a similar agreement with the NPF less than a month ago, but Marriott will be casting a much wider net, offering its more than 100 million Bonvoy loyalty program members deals and discounts on stays at any of the brand’s 406 properties located near the country’s 419 national parks. Guests will also be able to use their points to purchase park passes and donate to the National Park Foundation. Marriott announced in June that its occupancy rates had gone above 20% for the first time since the pandemic began, with most of the growth coming from drive-to leisure destinations as those brave enough to travel opted for road trips closer to home, such as to beaches and parks. “The timing was really to kind of stretch that idea of the summer road trip into the fall,” said Brian King, who currently serves as global officer of digital, distribution, revenue strategy and sales at Marriott. In August, Marriott announced that it had lost more than $232 million in Q2. Using Marriott’s in-house digital media company, Marriott Traveler, the brand will be releasing content geared at providing tips and guides for travelers heading to the parks this fall, which will also be shared on Marriott’s owned social channels.

Comcast is launching a program to provide free Wi-Fi in US community centers as part of an effort to improve internet access for students in low-income areas, the company said Thursday. The so-called “lift zones” will provide free internet connectivity as well as “access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning.” “The COVID-19 crisis has put many low-income students at risk of being left behind and has accelerated the need for comprehensive digital equity and Internet adoption programs to support them,” Comcast said in a statement announcing the plan. “Lift Zones are intended to help those students who, for a variety of reasons, may be unable to connect to distance learning at home, or who just want another place in which to study.” Comcast said in June it would continue to offer free access to its 1.5 million public Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots through the end of 2020, and it plans to extend free internet service to new customers on its Internet Essentials tier, which is designed for low-income customers, also through the end of the year. Comcast was one of several broadband internet providers to commit to the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge in March, when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns kept people working and schooling from home. The providers promised not to terminate services for residences or small businesses that were unable to pay their bills because of the pandemic and to waive late fees. The pledge also included a provision to open Wi-Fi hotspots to “any American who needs them.”

Amazon has made the first investments from its Climate Pledge Fund. The fund, started with $2 billion in funding from Amazon, will support the development of sustainable technologies and services that is intended to enable Amazon and other companies to meet The Climate Pledge – a commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040. Last year, Amazon and Global Optimism co-founded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach the Paris Agreement 10 years early and be net zero carbon by 2040. Three global companies—Verizon, Reckitt Benckiser, and Infosys – also recently joined the pledge. “The Climate Pledge Fund will look to invest in the visionary entrepreneurs and innovators who are building products and services to help companies reduce their carbon impact and operate more sustainably,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Companies from around the world of all sizes and stages will be considered, from pre-product startups to well-established enterprises. Each prospective investment will be judged on its potential to accelerate the path to zero carbon and help protect the planet for future generations.” The first investments are in Redwood Materials, a startup founded by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel, which aims to extract lithium, cobalt and nickel from old smartphones; Rivian, the electric vehicle manufacturer that Amazon has previously invested in; Carbon Cure, which locks CO2 into concrete; Turntide Technologies, which makes efficient software-controlled motors; and Pachama, which uses computer vision to monitor satellite imagery in order to assess carbon offsetting commitments.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has confirmed that the capital’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display will not be taking place this year. About 100,000 people usually attend the annual celebration of the start of the new year in central London but Khan said he could not allow people to congregate in the same way because of coronavirus, so the event would take place in a different format. He said: “I can tell you there will not be fireworks at New Year’s Eve like there has been in previous years. We simply cannot have the number of people who congregate on New Year’s Eve congregating. What we are working on, and I am not in a position yet to say what, as we are still working out the details [but] … we will do something people can enjoy in the comfort and safety of living rooms.” When asked whether bars would be open for celebrations to ring in 2021, Khan said authorities would have to “see how the virus pans out”, adding that the festive season was weeks away still.

With the southeastern United States in the midst of a brutal hurricane season, Stillhouse whiskey is looking to help residents of storm-prone areas prepare with window shutters inspired by its own packaging material. The Bacardi-owned brand is partnering with disaster relief nonprofit SBP to provide 400 metal shutter panels to homes across Florida’s panhandle. The company said the protective materials were modeled after the stainless steel cans it uses as containers instead of conventional glass bottles. Stillhouse announced the initiative with a two-minute video that featured the stories of real hurricane survivors. The project is specifically focused on Bay County, Fla., which was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Michael last October and rebuilt thanks in part to $3 million in relief funds from SBP. With Hurricane Sally pummeling Florida and Alabama this week, the 2020 hurricane season is expected to be one of the deadliest on record with between 19 and 25 named storms estimated to hit the country’s coastal cities.