The Brand Move Roundup – May 19, 2020

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

We started this series of brand updates on March 12, but the reaction has been so positive, and the crisis so fast-moving, that we’re going to move to a continuously updated rolling news format from now until it’s all over (hopefully soon). Keep checking back here for the latest updates on how brands are dealing with coronavirus.

TikTok, the video app owned by China’s ByteDance, which has become wildly popular among locked-down teenagers, has hired Walt Disney Co’s top streaming executive, Kevin Mayer, as chief executive officer. Mayer led the successful launch of the Disney+ streaming service in November but in February was passed over as Disney’s new chief executive. Mayer’s appointment will be effective 1 June, when he will also become chief operating officer of ByteDance, the Chinese company said. TikTok, which allows users to create short videos with special effects, has become popular with US teenagers doing viral challenges that pair dances with music clips from the app’s library. TikTok has hinted at ambitions to build a music streaming business, announcing in January that it was partnering with the UK-based music rights agency Merlin to expand its musical selections. The hiring also suggests that ByteDance is looking to bring more of its apps to the US, potentially starting with its Facebook-like Helo platform.

Chinese tech giant Baidu will invest $70.3 million into the live-streaming sector, the company said, as it looks to take on rivals Douyin, China’s version of Tiktok, and Kuaishou in that space. The news comes as Baidu announced better-than-expected revenue for the March quarter, causing its U.S.-listed shares to rise 8%. Baidu’s vice president Shen Dou said last week that the company’s new investment will be spent on growing its live-streaming user base and attracting high quality content creators. Baidu, best known for operating a Google-like search engine, plans to boost its short video operations by sending traffic from the rest of its ecosystem to creators’ content. It will add Haokan content to its own search engine results and plans to integrate it with the short video platform run by iQiyi, a major Baidu-backed Chinese streaming platform. Ping Xiaoli , general manager of Baidu App, said that recent changes to consumer demands when it comes to live-streaming gives them a window of opportunity. “Previously, consumers used live-streaming mainly to watch others play games and perform shows, but since this year, we’ve increasingly seen people use live-streaming for a lot of other purposes such as learning,” he said.

The English soccer Premier League is investigating the use of surprise inspections, GPS tracking and video analysis to ensure clubs adhere to new safety guidance as they prepare for the resumption of the League. Teams agreed to start non-contact training in small groups from Tuesday. “Gradually, we aim to ramp that up so we can have an inspector at every training ground,” said Richard Garlick, the league’s director of football. “That will enable us to give confidence the protocols are being complied with.” He added: “We are looking at bringing in our own independent audit inspection team that we’ll scale up over the next few days which will give us the ability to have inspections at training grounds to start with on a no-notice basis.” After Monday’s ‘Project Restart’ meeting with clubs, Richard Masters, Premier League’s chief executive, also revealed that a trophy presentation for the title winners, likely to be Liverpool, remains part of the plans. He said: “We would try to do it unless it wasn’t possible because of safety concerns.” The league had previously identified 12 June for matches to possibly start again, but there is now an expectation this may need to be pushed back.

Retail data analytics firm Skypad is unveiling an app that US consumers can use to find out which stores in their area are re-opening. “We’re excited that stores are re-opening and we wanted to show it,” CEO Jay Hakami said. “That’s why we wanted to give something back to the brands that have been asking us when the stores are reopening. Nobody has that information, [but] we could showcase that information.” The app, called Open Sesame, took 10 days to build and features a map of the country which allows user to search by state and region and also by retailer (e.g. Nordstrom, Saks, Macy’s). Hakami’s team is updating the map in real time.

Cosmetics and skincare company e.l.f. is re-calibrating its product lineup to include more skincare and health and wellness products, as demand for those items has spiked during the pandemic. In particular, the company launched a line of full-spectrum CBD products, which have trace amounts of THC, including a facial oil, an eye cream, a body cream and a moisturizer. The CBD line caters to consumers’ need for a moment of calm and self-care, especially in this anxiety-ridden moment for the world, according to CMO Kory Marchisotto. “What we see now is a blurring between wellness and beauty,” she said. Being first to market with innovative products is one of the things e.l.f. prides itself on, Marchisotto said. “One of things e.l.f. does brilliantly is we build on demands we hear, sentiment we hear.”

Character-collecting AR smartphone game Pokémon Go from developer Niantic went viral in 2016. However, a game that involved going outside and socializing instead of sitting on the couch with the shades drawn was a poor fit in the age of COVID-19. So Niantic has turned Pokémon Go into a game that can be more comfortably played from home. A mid-April update helped players hit PokéStops, hatch eggs, and complete raids without getting too close to other people and without traveling to locations blocked off during the quarantine. They’re also changes that Pokémon Go players who live in rural areas or who have mobility-related disabilities have been asking for for years. “We based our whole company around these three principles: we want our games to encourage people to exercise, to explore new places, and to play together in real life,” Pokémon Go developer Niantic’s CEO John Hanke said. “So all three of those things are challenged in a coronavirus world. We’ve tried really hard to find solutions that adapt the game to the current environment but don’t undermine the core essence of the game.”

Interior design- and lifestyle-focused website Apartment Therapy expected to draw some 10,000 people to Industry City in Brooklyn for its first-ever Small/Cool Experience in April. They had tapped 20 designers to curate 20 shoppable spaces under 120 square feet to highlight forecasted 2020 design trends. However, before Apartment Therapy could begin the physical builds for the two-day pop-up, the Covid-19 outbreak hit New York. So the brand reworked the idea into the Small/Cool Experience at Home, a three-day digital event benefiting Habitat for Humanity New York. The event, which ran May 15-17, featured the designers’ 20 shoppable showcases on Apartment Therapy’s homepage and event microsite. The event also incorporated the designers into three days of live and pre-recorded event programming on Instagram, which also offered interactive design games for its audience. Maxwell Ryan, CEO and founder of Apartment Therapy, said the brand chose to do a virtual event to spotlight design trends that are still relevant amid the pandemic. With the brand’s audience stuck at home and even more invested in customizing or sprucing up their living spaces, Ryan noted the event’s content would resonate. During two- to four-hour windows each day, the brand used its Instagram feed, Stories and Live to offer everything from live designer panels and show-and-tell style chats to design trivia and guided meditation. The brand also offered interactive games including scavenger hunts and mood board templates for the audience to design their own rooms and share on their Instagram Stories. Apartment Therapy also managed to keep four of its eight original sponsors for the virtual experience. The brand integrated Behr, Amazon Handmade, Chasing Paper and Tuft and Needle into the animated showcases and the Instagram programming.