The Brand Move Roundup – July 1, 2020

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

Three months 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.

Microsoft has pledged to provide free digital skills training to 25m people around the world this year as it predicts a surge in global unemployment as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The initiative will pull together insights from Microsoft’s core software and cloud computing business as well as its LinkedIn and GitHub subsidiaries, and aims to identify skills that are most in demand, offer free access to relevant learning programs, and provide skills certification for as little as $15. According to Microsoft’s own estimates, global unemployment might hit 250m in 2020 as a result of the massive demand shock to the economy. In the US, according to the Congressional Budget Office, about 21m people may lose their jobs this year, taking the unemployment rate from 3.5 per cent to 15.8 per cent.

The company hopes its “system of learning” will help satisfy a demand for more timely and flexible training programs as the unemployed look to acquire new skills and employees adapt to the post-pandemic economy and the mass digitalization of many industries.

German consumers rushed back to shops in May as a wave of pent-up spending drove retail sales up by a record 13.9 per cent from the previous month. The jump in May was the highest since the start of the data series in 1994, the Federal Statistical Agency reported on Wednesday, and it followed a 6.5 per cent monthly decline in April. German retail sales in May were 3.8 per cent higher than they were the same month last year, underlining how the lifting of lockdowns imposed to contain coronavirus has prompted consumers in the country to release pent-up spending. The news from Germany comes a day after consumer spending on goods in France rose 36.6 per cent as shoppers opened their wallets again in May to splash out on cars, shoes and furniture.

Organizers behind the Stop Hate For Profit campaign claim that more than 400 brands have now pledged to not run ads on Facebook this month. Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, Fcuk, Ford, Honda, HP, Microsoft, Pepsi, Starbucks and Volkswagen are among the companies to have backed the movement, cranking up pressure on Facebook to address hateful content on its platforms. A Financial Times report yesterday also highlighted the findings of a previously undisclosed survey of World Federation of Advertisers members, which found falling interest in social media marketing. The poll of 58 WFA member, which are responsible for $90bn of ad spending, found that almost a third will suspend spending on social media or are likely to do so, the FT reported. Facebook is coming under attack on several fronts currently. In addition to criticism over its tolerance for controversial posts, the social media giant – which also owns Instagram and Whatsapp – has also faced condemnation for its failure to tackle Covid-19 misinformation. The under-pressure firm, led by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, yesterday launched a new ad campaign to help users identify false news. The company has also announced plans to begin prioritizing “original reporting and stories with transparent authorship” in its newsfeed. Facebook said it would also begin demoting “news content that does not have transparent information about the publisher’s editorial staff”, adding: “We’ve found that publishers who do not include this information often lack credibility to readers and produce content with clickbait or ad farms, all content people tell us they don’t want to see on Facebook.”

Expedia Group, the online booking conglomerate that owns travel agencies Expedia, Hotwire.com, Orbitz and Travelocity, has announced a $25 million initiative aimed at leveraging the brand’s media and advertising platform to help travel-related business weather the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The initiative will see Expedia match a portion of ads placed by destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and other travel businesses, up to $25 million. That money will come from a previously announced $275 million commitment to support the travel industry, which has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus. “Destinations are a key element [of recovery],” said Wendy Olson Killion, Expedia’s vice president of business development. “We are coming to the table with $25 million of value to extend campaigns. Based on different tiers, we’re able to provide a considerable match on a campaign.” For example, a DMO spending $100,000 on a campaign with Expedia’s advertising platform will get a percentage of that spend in additional paid social across Expedia-owned channels and brands.Although Olson Killion declined to provide specifics on the tiers of matching funds, she said the offer was available to everyone from the “smallest city players” to state and national tourism bureaus. Participants so far include the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Destination Canada and Los Cabos, Mexico. Other initiatives include Expedia covering the cost of a coupon or discount across its brands like Hotels.com, which can be used by travelers to book a stay. Another will let Expedia, on behalf of the DMOs, target curious travelers through email.

Netflix is to move a proportion of its $5 billion in cash to financial institutions that focus on black communities. Netflix will bank up to 2 percent of its holdings, or about $100 million, with such lenders. It will start with $35 million, split two ways: financing a new fund, the Black Economic Development Initiative, that will invest in black financial institutions; and banking with the Hope Credit Union. (Netflix already spreads its cash among about 30 banks worldwide.)  Aaron Mitchell, a member of Netflix’s recruiting team, took the lead in developing it. Mr. Mitchell said that he drew on the book “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap” by Mehrsa Baradaran, who is now a professor at U.C. Irvine’s law school. Professor Baradaran argues that black-focused lenders are under-capitalized, depriving black communities of opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty: “You need capital to build more capital,” she said.

The New York Times has begun capitalizing the word “Black” when describing people and cultures of African origin. “We believe this style best conveys elements of shared history and identity, and reflects our goal to be respectful of all the people and communities we cover,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor, and Phil Corbett, another senior editor, wrote in a memo. The Times will not be capitalizing the word “white.” As Dean and Phil explained: “There is less of a sense that ‘white’ describes a shared culture and history. Moreover, hate groups and white supremacists have long favored the uppercase style, which in itself is reason to avoid it.”

Food delivery is still a thriving market and consolidation is still on the menu. Uber is apparently closing in on a deal to buy Postmates, the food delivery service, for $2.6 billion. It comes on the heels of Uber’s failed attempt to buy Grubhub. Buying Postmates would bolster Uber Eats as Uber’s core ride-hailing business is floundering. And it would be a lifeline for Postmates, one of the first gig-economy delivery services, which has struggled amid competition from Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash. However, a deal could raise antitrust alarms, with regulators wary of consolidation in the sector. Uber walked away from Grubhub over antitrust concerns. Buying Postmates could attract regulatory scrutiny, too. On the other hand, Postmates is much smaller than Grubhub, which agreed to sell itself to Just Eat for $7.3 billion last month, or DoorDash, which was last valued at $16 billion.

The first major online art auction since COVID-19 shut down most of the world’s auction house salesrooms seems to have been a success. The auctioneer stood at a rostrum surrounded by video screens at Sotheby’s London headquarters, where, by the time the nearly five-hour-long session concluded, it was well past 4am, fielding bids from his British colleagues as well as those in New York and Hong Kong. The marathon session spanned three auctions and over the course of nearly 80 lots, the sales brought in a total of $363.2 million, near the high end of Sotheby’s presale estimate of $262.1 million to $368.4 million, with a 93.2 percent sell-through rate by lot.

Men’s Health, the UK’s best-selling men’s magazine, published by Hearst UK, has announced a tie-up with fitness food specialist MunchFit that sees the introduction of ‘Fuel’ – a gourmet meal delivery service tailored by leading nutritionists to assist readers with a wide range of body goals. Fuel, which can be accessed through Menshealthfuel.com, has been designed to boost healthy eating, specifically around fitness and well-being, and will rotate 180 recipes that feed into four different meal plans based on consumer ambitions.

The average price per meal ranges between £7.99 – £9.99 and is dependent on the length of a subscription (either a 1-week trial, 4, 8, or 12 weeks) and also how many meals per day and how many days per week are selected. The delivery service will operate twice a week and is available nationwide across the UK. Commenting on the partnership, Toby Wiseman, Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health, says: “We believe that no other food delivery service can match the combination of tailored nutritional science and restaurant-quality dishes. We know the Men’s Health audience values both, so I’m sure they’re going to love the benefits it will bring to their lives.” The service comes at a time when food delivery services are booming, with the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown pushing the industry forward 3-5 years almost overnight. Healthy food delivery services have seen a particular spike in growth, with consumers becoming ever more interested in health and well-being.