The Brand Move Roundup – June 16, 2020

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

Sixteen weeks ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, we started daily reporting on how brands were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. What’s now becoming clear is that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption. So we made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

Amazon customers stuck at home during the Covid-19 pandemic have been buying more pet food, kitchen tools, haircare products and athleisure wear. That’s according to a new study from web analytics firm SimilarWeb, which looked at the buying habits of consumers on the ecommerce platform from January to April 2020, and compared it to the same period last year. Purchases of pet supplies on Amazon were up 66% year over year. Pet food sales were up 98%, which SimilarWeb said reflects both Amazon’s goal of driving subscriptions of products with a recurring need to cement customer loyalty, as well as its intent to challenge the ecommerce leader, Chewy, for a bigger chunk of the $21 billion pet food market.

Pet food brands Blue Buffalo, Purina and Nestlé owned 70% of category pageviews on Amazon in the January to April 2020 period. Amazon shoppers are also making more purchases for their homes. While the conversion rate increase is modest from January to April 2020 (3.65%), SimilarWeb said that translates to 14.4 million more transactions.

Kitchen and dining in particular saw a 4.2% increase in conversions in early 2020, an increase of 7.8 million year over year. The top brands on Amazon include Cuisinart, Oxo and Hamilton Beach. Amazon has also become a more popular site for beauty and personal care products during the pandemic, with purchases up 62% year over year; between March and April 2020, the hair care category on Amazon saw visits increase 82%. Electronics brands Asus and Logitech saw a huge jump in March and April as demand for work-from-home equipment increased and there was an increase in customer interest in gaming products.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Monday that the 93rd Academy Awards telecast (AKA the Oscars) has been postponed by two months to April 25, 2021. “For over a century, movies have played an important role in comforting, inspiring, and entertaining us during the darkest of times. They certainly have this year. Our hope, in extending the eligibility period and our Awards date, is to provide the flexibility filmmakers need to finish and release their films without being penalized for something beyond anyone’s control,” Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said. The Academy also announced that the Governors Awards gala, which takes place in the fall, has been postponed to a later, unspecified date. The December opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was pushed to April to coincide with the Oscars.

Pokémon Go maker Niantic has seen significant usage changes as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. “You could see walking distances go down,” Pokémon Go senior product manager Matt Slemon said this week. He said changes varied widely depending on the severity of a country’s lockdowns, and even between cities like New York and San Francisco. Niantic responded by adding shelter-in-place-friendly features like remote raids, and announced details yesterday for the first virtual Pokémon Go Fest in late July. The event will have challenges, games, and “free downloadable and printable paper crafts and decorations” so you can turn your home into conference HQ. Niantic CEO John Hanke recently told reporters that the company has 10 new titles on its roadmap, with plans to roll out two per year over the next 5 years. He hinted at plans to support fitness, shopping and more with future Niantic titles. “We’re eager to do work in that area, where the lines blur,” he said.

For some direct-to-consumer brands, lower cost per thousand impressions combined with hawking in-demand products made the pandemic a good moment to spend more on advertising, with some marketers doubling their planned ad spend for the second quarter. “There were a lot of brands having ‘holiday shopping’ type numbers as a result of pandemic,” said Chris Toy, CEO and founder of MarketerHire, a freelance platform for marketers. “So Christmas came early, basically.” For DTC brands in categories like home goods, wellness, athleisure and beauty as well as office and outdoor furniture, increasing the ad budget generally led to higher conversion rates at cheaper than normal ad rates which allowed them to make “their second quarter bigger than any of their [previous] fourth quarters,” said Kevin Simonson, vp of social at Wpromote, adding that the DTC brands that could increase their ad spend during the second quarter probably spent between 50% to 100% more than planned.  For example, Toy said that “one brand increased their ad budget from low five figures in January to over $1 million in June. They’re seeing profitable growth including their ad spend, so they’ll spend as much as they can.”

This year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report comes in the midst of a global health pandemic whose economic, political, and social consequences are still unfolding. It noted increased consumption of traditional sources of news, especially television, but also online news sources. One problem for publishers, however, is that this extra interest is producing even less income – as advertisers brace for an inevitable recession and print revenue dips. Against this background it is likely the industry will see a further drive towards digital subscription and other reader payment models. The study has seen significant increases in payment for online news in a number of countries. Across all countries, though, most people are still not paying for online news, even if some publishers have since reported a ‘coronavirus bump’. Access to news continues to become more distributed. Across all countries, just over a quarter (28%) prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app. Those aged 18–24 (so-called Generation Z) have an even weaker connection with websites and apps and are more than twice as likely to prefer to access news via social media. Across age groups, use of Instagram for news has doubled since 2018 and looks likely to overtake Twitter over the next year. To counter the move to various platforms, publishers have been looking to build direct connections with consumers via email and mobile alerts. In the United States one in five (21%) access a news email weekly, and for almost half of these it is their primary way of accessing news. Voice-activated smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home continue to grow rapidly. Usage for any purpose has risen from 14% to 19% in the UK, from 7% to 12% in Germany, and 9% to 13% in South Korea. In April the survey found that across six surveyed countries almost a quarter (24%) used WhatsApp to find, discuss, or share news about COVID-19 – up seven points on average on the January survey which asked about usage for any news. Around a fifth (18%) joined a support or discussion group with people they didn’t know on either Facebook or WhatsApp specifically to talk about COVID-19 and half (51%) took part in groups with colleagues, friends, or family. One in ten accessed closed video chats using platforms like Zoom, Houseparty and Google Hangouts – many for the first time. Meanwhile Instagram and Snapchat have become popular with younger groups for accessing news about COVID-19. Almost half of 18–24 respondents in Argentina (49%) used Instagram, 38% in Germany. One in ten (11%) accessed COVID-19 news via TikTok in the US and 9% in Argentina.

Fitness companies have found creative ways to engage their members remotely by expanding online services, lives treaming workouts on social media and offering additional lifestyle content, such as healthy recipes and family workouts, but many leaders in the industry predict that once stay-at-home orders are lifted, members will be ready to head back to the gym. Sharad Mohan, CEO and co-founder of the personal training software Trainerize, said the social element of the gym is what members miss the most, suggesting fitness brands “run in-gym challenges that spark healthy competition and camaraderie, run limited-edition, in-person classes or offer up free trials for in-person training.” Chad Waetzig, evp of marketing and branding at Crunch Fitness, said 83% of its members were anxious to get back to the gym. “There is a certain social component, the benefit of getting proper coaching, and it is incredibly motivating for some people.” Waetzig shared that roughly half of Crunch members were dissatisfied with their at-home fitness program. Mohan also predicted that the industry will see “a long period of transition and apprehension” before members are ready to head back to the gym. In order to combat that reluctance, he suggested fitness companies focus on a hybrid of in-person and remote services while focusing on community-based initiatives. Orangetheory Fitness has done just that, expanding at-home workouts for both members and nonmembers during quarantine. Chief brand officer Kevin Keith said that “the pandemic greatly accelerated the brand’s plans to evolve as a hybrid in-studio and digital fitness model,” adding that its in-home workouts aren’t meant to replace the in-studio experience.