The Brand Move Roundup – October 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.

Zoom, as it continues to embrace being more than a space for business meetings, is launching its bid to own the virtual event market. It announced OnZoom, its new virtual event platform, on Wednesday at its Zoomtopia conference. (Held, of course, over Zoom.) The platform is launching in public beta for U.S. users immediately, with a broader launch coming next year.  OnZoom attempts to consolidate what has become a teeming, sometimes complicated market for virtual events. Companies like Airbnb and IRL want to be the directory of those events; RSVPify, Eventbrite and Stream want to sell tickets. Apps like Shindig and Hopin are trying to create virtual events that don’t just feel like really big virtual meetings. Wei Li, Zoom’s head of platform and AI, said the company built OnZoom as a solution to this sprawling new industry. Right now, she said, event hosts are “forced to manage many different apps and tools to market their events, schedule their events, engage with their customers, collect payment, and conduct business analytics. And event attendees have to deal with even more apps and platforms.” OnZoom, on the other hand, handles everything in one place. Its website offers a sortable, searchable list of upcoming events; it integrates with PayPal to collect money (Li said more payment providers are coming, but declined to specify which), and gives hosts all kinds of information about their attendees and ticket sales. It’s even taking on some of the content-moderation work, Li said, using AI moderators. “We’re committed to providing users with a welcoming, respectful place to share their voice.”

Apparel company Canada Goose has instituted a program it calls the HumanNature Pass, which entitles its workers to take one additional hour off each week – paid – provided they promise to spend it outside doing something active. Canada Goose CMO Penny Brook said that even half a year into the pandemic, “We [still] face the real possibility of further lockdowns, and the return to the office full time is ambiguous. We designed the pass to make it easier for our employees to live and embrace our philosophy, while encouraging the wellbeing of mind and body. It has been scientifically proven that time outside can have powerful effects on our mental health, including lowering blood pressure, reducing stress levels and improving our mood.” While it’s unlikely that American employers will rush to give their legions of work-from-home employees an extra hour off for a weekly hike, there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that long days stuck at home in front of a computer has pushed people outdoors anyway. As early as two months into the pandemic, a survey by CGPR found that home confinement had prompted “an entirely new consumer group [to] discover outdoor experiences for the first time.” And in a survey commissioned by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, 57% of respondents said that entire days spent indoors had taken a toll on their mental health, but 66% said it prompted them to get outside and be more active close to home.

In an effort to bridge the digital skills gap, Google announced on Tuesday a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to provide 20,000 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with access to digital skills training starting in November. The tech giant will launch a Career Readiness Program through a $1 million grant that will embed its national online skills training initiative, Grow with Google, and custom workforce readiness workshops into the career centers of 20 schools, with the goal to eventually reach all 101 HBCUs and the nearly 300,000 students that are enrolled in them by fall 2021. The initial $1 million investment is part of a $15 million fund to upskill Black job seekers, which Google announced amid a wave of antiracism activism in June as part of its larger $175 million commitment to racial equity. Nearly two-thirds of the 13 million new jobs created in the U.S. between 2010 and 2018 require medium or advanced levels of digital skills, such as data analytics or social media and content marketing. But about half of Black job seekers lack the required digital competencies employers seek, hampering their economic mobility and exacerbating wage disparity. “We’re seeing this digital transformation and acceleration occur, and so we’re making sure that the career centers within these educational institutions have the ability to immediately provide access to skills training,” said Bonita Stewart, vice president of global partnerships at Google and a graduate of the Washington, D.C.-based HBCU Howard University.

A decade ago, Panera Bread became the first national restaurant chain to disclose the calorie counts of its menu items. Starting Wednesday, it will also lead the charge in labeling items as climate friendly. Whenever the ingredients of the chain’s salads, sandwiches and soups collectively have a footprint of less than 5.38 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, the menu item will carry a badge proclaiming the entree a “Cool Food Meal,” the designation from the World Resources Institute. Panera worked with the environmental think tank to calculate the carbon footprint of the menu, with 55% of its entrees earning the badge. Menu items with the distinction include its Broccoli Cheddar soup and Mediterranean Bowl. CEO Niren Chaudhary said that the change is meant to raise awareness about the link between food and greenhouse gas emissions and give customers the ability to make an informed decision. Grains, fruits and vegetables are at the lower end of the scale, while dairy products and meat are at the higher end. A 2019 report from the United Nations found that the global food system accounts for 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, in response to research and growing public pressure, the restaurant industry has become more involved in the fight against climate change, pledging to limit waste and add more plant-based proteins to menus. One of the most ambitious proposals comes from Starbucks, the second-largest restaurant chain by sales, which said in January that it is striving to become “resource positive.” Panera, which has been privately held for three years, pledged in 2016 to lower its carbon emissions by 15% per square foot by 2022. Chaudhary said that the company is on track to meet that goal.

Earlier this week, Traeger, maker of high-end outdoor grills, kicked off what it’s calling a “bipartisan election campaign.” Without naming any candidates, the company put up an election page on its website with a button that takes visitors to Vote.org, a voter-registration platform operated by a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) of the same name. “We felt the need to remind consumers that regardless of the intense level of partisan division we’re experiencing, and no matter what side you’re on, we still share common interests,” CMO Todd Smith said. While Traeger’s initiative might ostensibly be about getting out the vote, it’s also using humor to achieve a bit of self-promotion. Its election page features a variety of convention-style banners that visitors can download and use as bumper stickers and yard signs. The slogans include: “Left Wing, Right Wing… Mmmm, Wings” and a poster that endorses a presidential ticket of Ribs and Brisket in lieu of actual candidates. Traeger is hardly the first brand trying to get voters to the polls this election season. HBO, Nike, Uber, Facebook and Absolut are among the big-name brands that began mobilizing last month to increase turnout.