The Brand Move Roundup – May 21, 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.

Digital learning and talent management brands Skillsoft and SumTotal held a live global experience for learning, talent, and business leaders virtually this year, after a last-minute dash to turn their usual face-to-face event into an online experience. Historically, the in-person Perspectives event drew fewer than 1,000 B2B registrants, but this year more than 40,000 B2B and B2C users registered for the new experience, of which 79% were net new leads with more than 50% considered decision-makers at their organization. While more than 14,000 people attended on the day, the content is still online and the company has seen hundreds logging in, or back in, each day. The reimagined, digital-first experience spanned 24 hours, starting on May 13 at 9am AEST in Sydney, Australia and ending at 4pm EDT in San Francisco, CA. The 24-hours of live content included head-to-head debates on critical and timely topics; keynotes from learning pioneers and industry luminaries; and actionable insights to build a culture of learning. The experience was workshopped and organized by Interbrand Group agency C Space in just nine weeks from kick-off. Going digital had to be about more than just moving an event onto an online platform. It had to be something completely new and irresistible that encouraged people to participate live. The team spent 28 hours over two days in a design thinking workshop, working with members of our customer communities to determine what they wanted from a modern digital experience and sought inspiration from some great global brands such as Peloton, Apple, Superbowl – and The Bachelor. This resulted in a complete ground-up rebuild of the structure and agenda, experiential components, marketing strategy, and the delivery of the event itself. “While I recognize that Perspectives 2020 was ambitious – perhaps overly so,” said Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, Skillsoft CMO, “I do believe it tapped into the zeitgeist of a unique moment in our collective history. For an incredible 24 hours, we welcomed more than 14,000 fully engaged attendees who consumed 1.4 million minutes of content. And while we know this will deliver tangible value to the business for many months to come, we are equally as proud of the ways in which we strengthened the relationships we have with our customers and their learners. Our vision is to democratize learning, and I truly believe Perspectives 2020 helped us on that journey.”

People trying to stay fit in lockdown have been turning to digital publishers’ free online workout class alternatives – in the past two months, PopSugar’s fitness vertical has seen its YouTube channel add nearly 1 million subscribers, bringing its total to 4.6 million. Time spent on its videos is up 90% month-over-month from March to April, making April the channel’s top-performing month ever, according to the company’s YouTube analytics. PopSugar general manager Angelica Marden said that there has been an increased interest from fitness brands who see this time as an opportunity to sell their products to fitness enthusiasts who are stuck at home. “The conversations in the fitness space are completely unusual,” said Marden. “It’s greater than your usual ‘new year, new you’ burst of conversations that we normally have in January with partners. It’s a moment for fitness.”

Cologne-based ad-tech trade show Dmexco has announced plans to welcome attendees this September, coronavirus permitting, under health and safety guidelines like improved ventilation, cleaning stations and more flexible attendee admissions. The 2020 show will look very different to years before, though, with a heavy digital-conference element and likely a lack of booth tours. Last year the trade show had nearly 40,000 attendees, and approximately 40% were international visitors. Most expect a far different event this year, as Germany emerges from lockdown but other countries slowly reopen their economies. One view, though, is that travel to large trade shows will be one of the last economic activities to return. “No way no how. That’s how I would summarize my and other industry executives’ response to an in-person conference that requires air travel,” said Luma founder and Dmexco vet Terry Kawaja. “They need to take Cannes’ lead and skip 2020 as no one will show up.” However, Germany is cautiously easing restrictions and there is a local appetite for the trade show to mark the reopening of the economy. More than 2,000 global exhibitions have now been postponed or canceled as a result of the virus outbreak, according to independent consultant Alex DeGroote and media analyst Colin Morrison. Germany, with 12% of postponements and 16% of cancelations, has been worst hit with a total of 340 shows so far impacted. Simply going ahead will provide the sector with a real boost, said DeGroote. “Perhaps it will run at 30% capacity. However, I’m not sure how profitable it will be.”

United Airlines has announced a new sanitization and cleaning initiative called United CleanPlus that will include a partnership with the cleaning products company Clorox.

United’s program is similar to Hilton CleanStay, which the hotel chain launched in late April and includes a partnership with Lysol. “Safety has always been our top priority, and right now in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it’s our singular customer focus,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “We recognize that Covid-19 has brought cleanliness and hygiene standards to the front of customers’ minds when making travel decisions, and we’re not leaving a single stone unturned in our pursuit to better protect our customers and employees.” The airline will work with Clorox to “enhance” its cleaning program and to “redefine” disinfection procedures. Clorox products will soon be visible at United’s hubs

The airline will also be temporarily shutting down self-service kiosks and in select locations while introducing “touch-less kiosks,” and employees will have their temperature taken before their workdays.

Joe Rogan, comedian and host of one of the most popular podcasts in the world, is taking his show to Spotify in what is said to be a $100m multi-year deal. The Joe Rogan Experience will soon become a Spotify exclusive, meaning episodes’ full audio and video will only be available through the platform starting later this year. Up until now, Rogan’s show has never been available on Spotify, let alone exclusive to any platform. Listeners won’t have to pay to access the episodes, but they will have to become Spotify subscribers. The company will also work with an ad agency to jointly sell ads against the program. Rogan said last year his show reached about 190 million downloads a month. Rogan’s YouTube channel will remain live, but it won’t contain full episodes, just clips or other supplementary content which could benefit from YouTube’s search algorithm and push people to listen to full episodes on Spotify. Spotify has recently made podcasting a core focus. It acquired podcast specialists Gimlet Media, Anchor, and Parcast last year and then signed more Spotify-exclusive deals. It’s working with the Obamas’ production company, has committed to deals with other big names, like Joe Budden and Amy Schumer, and acquired website and podcast network The Ringer.

The legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express luxury train will be returning to the tracks on July 8. The opening journey will be between Venice and London, with further dates and routings to follow shortly afterwards. Roeland Vos, CEO of luxury travel company Belmond which owns the train, said he was “truly excited” at the prospect of the resumption of services. He said there was a lot of pent up demand from travellers for what is considered the ultimate luxury train experience, and offered assurances that the train would be adapted with the introduction of special protocols designed to meet the new need for social distancing. “We will have fewer passengers on board and there will be much more space between them in the dining car,” said Samantha Strawford, Belmond’s Global Brand Director. “There will be more in-cabin dining and not all cabins will be occupied. We are also working through different scenarios for ensuring more distance is kept between passengers on the trains and the introduction of regular deep clean operations.” Travelers on the train starting or ending in Venice will also be able to stay in the city’s celebrated Hotel Cipriani – which on June 19 will be one of the first Belmond hotels to reopen following the virus. Another opening that day will be the Hotel Splendido in Portofino. Belmond plans to announce further dates for train journeys to and from Venice, but also on its other luxury trains, including the Andean Explorer in Peru, the Eastern & Oriental Express in south-east Asia and the Royal Scotsman. There are also a host of  further hotel reopenings in the pipeline. “The pandemic means that we won’t see the world in the same way again,” said Mr Vos. “Rather than travelling so fast, we will probably travel more slowly, but more consciously. It will be a brand new world, but it will still be deeply enriching.”

MediaRadar has analysed gaming companies’ US ad spend between 30 December 2019 and 13 April 2020 to find that April spend was double the total for January, showing a huge surge, despite April usually being a quiet period for new releases. Year-on-year, despite the economic downturn and many budgets freezing, spend was up 18%. Video game retailers were the first to up spend, and they made the biggest moves. In retail, the top five were Gamefly, PlayStation Store, G2A, Steam and GameStop – collectively spending $6.8m in the quarter. The biggest spending titles were Final Fantasy VII: Remake, Best Friends, Doom Eternal, Forge of Empires and RBI Baseball, together hitting $7.6m. In three months, spend was up 60%. Of the consoles, spend was $3m. Nintendo led, followed by PlayStation and then Xbox. On the app front Candy Crush was the top spender, followed by Raid: Shadow Legends, Adventure Academy, June’s Journey and TerraGenesis. The average weekly ad spend from the category went from about $700,000 in February 2020 to over $1.4m in March of 2020 and rose even higher in April, at just under $2m.

A new fashion retail app called The Yes has been launched, built to be “a virtual department store’. The app is the brainchild of Julie Bornstein, who spearheaded the launch of Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters’ e-commerce websites, before serving as chief digital officer of Sephora. Two years ago, she left her most recent role as COO of Stitch Fix, raised $30 million in capital from backers like Forerunner Ventures, and began building The Yes, which launches today on the App Store. The Yes takes a page from the Spotify or Netflix playbook: It offers recommendations that are tailored to your preferences. You start by taking a quick survey about your style, then the algorithm uses AI and machine learning to identify your aesthetic preferences, from favorite colors to dress dislikes. Then the app scans through products from 150 fashion brands (and counting) ranging from Madewell to Dolce & Gabbana to suggest products you might be interested in. You have the option of clicking “yes” or “no” when you see a product, which will help the algorithm better understand your taste. All products come with free shipping, paid for by the brand, and you can pay with a single click using ApplePay. The Yes serves as a middleman, taking a cut of the brand’s revenue, and doesn’t buy or own inventory; instead, when a customer makes a purchase, the brand sends it directly to them. The Yes also uses a brand’s own imagery, so it doesn’t have to pay to shoot all the products on its own models.

Alibaba plans to invest 10 billion yuan ($1.15 billion) to boost its artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem to support its smart speaker, Tmall Genie. This will include integrating Alipay mini-apps as well as more content and services from Alibaba’s wider ecosystem which spans entertainment, healthcare, online shopping, and education.  The Chinese e-commerce giant also plans to develop proprietary AI and IoT technologies to enhance natural voice and visual interactions between the smart speaker and consumers. This development work will be carried out in collaboration with its cloud and R&D units, Alibaba Cloud and Alibaba DAMO Academy, respectively. From July 1, mini-apps currently running on its mobile payment platform Alipay will be integrated with Tmall Genie, Alibaba said. In addition, its live streaming service featuring merchants on its Taobao online marketplace can be viewed on the smart speaker’s screen. More than 1,100 brands currently connect with Tmall Genie, as well as 270 million devices in China, providing various services to fulfil various needs in consumers’ daily lives. Citing research firms IDC and Euromonitor, Alibaba said Tmall Genie accounted for more than a 35% share of the Chinese market and led the country in terms of unit shipment. According to stats from Canalys, some 3.89 million units of Alibaba’s smart speaker were shipped in the third quarter of 2019, up 77.6% from the year before, which accounted for a 13.6% global market share. Genie is currently only available in China.