The Brand Move Roundup – July 7, 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.

According to Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey 2020, “CMOs dismiss economic pessimism, as 73% expect COVID-19’s near-term negative impacts to be short-lived.” Based on a survey of 432 marketing executives in North America, the UK, France and Germany at companies with $500 million to $20 billion or more annual revenue, the general consensus among CMOs is a positive outlook for business performance in the next 18-24 months, and they expect to increase investments across major channels and resource areas in 2021. According to the report, “As unprecedented as the events of 2020 have been so far, previous points of crisis such as the Great Recession of 2008 have revealed a pattern of business behaviors: initial response, recovery and renewal.” So while budgets will take a cut in 2020, CMOs remain upbeat, expecting them to bounce back in 2021. In fact, the majority of CMOs responding to this year’s survey believe the post-COVID-19 economic curve will be V-shaped. More than half (57%) of CMOs expect a return to business-as-usual performance in the next 18 to 24 months, and 38% actually expect a significant positive impact going forward, making it a surprising 95% consensus on a positive outcome. Travel and hospitality, one of the most impacted industries, has a total 94% positive expectation. Media and High tech CMOs are the most confident, with both having a 98% positive outlook (either business as usual, or a significant positive impact). “For many industries, the immediacy of the COVID-19 crisis meant that in the respond phase, budget cuts were focused on freeing up cash flow,” the report notes. “As we progress to the recover and renew phases, CFOs will turn their attention to how functions support profitability.” Nevertheless, despite their positive outlooks, almost half of CMOs (44%) are facing midyear budget cuts in 2020 as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To reconcile their economic optimism with their budget limitations, CMOs continue to pursue relatively conservative growth strategies, with a sudden spike of interest in branding. 33% of CMOs now cite brand strategy as their most vital strategic capability, surpassing analytics in importance. Brand strategy has leap-frogged to the top of strategic priorities, from its lowly position near the bottom of the list in 2019, and this is the first time brand has surpassed other capabilities like analytics, personalization and marketing technology.

Amid increased pressure from advertisers and campaign groups to quell the volume of hate speech on its platform, Facebook has committed to undergo an audit by the Media Rating Council to assess its brand safety controls and its partner and content monetization policies.

In a blog post last week, Facebook said this, plus earlier announced changes, such as its intention to label “newsworthy content” it would otherwise take down for violating its policies, was a “direct result of feedback from the civil rights community collected through our civil rights audit.” Facebook said it also expects the audit to cover its partner monetization policies and content monetization policies – the rules publishers and creators must abide if they want to make money from their Facebook content through ad revenue – and how it enforces them. David Gunzerath, MRC svp and associate director said the MRC would also like Instagram to be included in the audit. “We think it’s important that our audit be full scope, with as broad a level of coverage as is possible of the various platforms on which Facebook sells advertising,” Gunzerath said. MRC’s audits are carried out by external accounting firms, primarily Ernst & Young. The company being audited picks up the tab and the cost, which depends on the scope of the audit and how many consultant hours are required, can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to over a million dollars. It’s unclear as to how long the audit might take. Audits are also not one-time events. “We don’t go away once we audit and accredit,” said Gunzerath. “We audit again the next year. If we need to update the criteria, we will update the criteria.”

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line are teaming up to create a health and safety panel aimed at helping the cruising industry recover and set new cleanliness standards as it looks to resume voyages following the industry-wide pause that began in March. “We compete for the vacationing consumer’s business every day, but we never compete on health and safety standards,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which also operates Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “While the cruise industry has always had rigorous health standards, the unique challenges posed by Covid-19 provide an opportunity to raise the bar even higher.” The Healthy Sail Panel will be co-chaired by former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, who also served as the US secretary of Health and Human Services from 2005 to 2009. The panel has already been convening for a month and is expected to deliver its recommendations by the end of August. “We’re on a problem-solving mission to help the cruise industry figure out how to adapt to a new risk environment we have never seen before,” said Leavitt.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have said that they will temporarily stop processing Hong Kong government requests for user data as the companies reviewed a sweeping national security law that has chilled political expression in the city. The companies said they were still assessing the law, which has already been used to arrest people who have called for Hong Kong independence. Facebook said its review would include human rights considerations. The surprising consensus from the rival American internet giants, which each used similar language in each statement, was a rare public questioning of Chinese policy. TikTok went even further than the American companies, saying it would withdraw its app from stores in Hong Kong and make the app inoperable to users there within a few days. The video app is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance but is not available in mainland China.

With the live music industry still shut down for the foreseeable future, UK music electronics company Hamstead Soundworks decided to create something that would give back to guitar techs – the professionals that keep top bands sounding great on stage but who have, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, had to pause their livelihoods. The company’s Ascent: Amplitude Controller is a guitar boost pedal hand-soldered by select pro techs, giving paid work to these out-of-work craftspeople. In addition, 10% of the company’s profits from the pedal will be donated to Help Musicians UK to benefit other struggling workers in the live-music industry. The team that Hamstead has compiled includes Simon Murton (AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses), Gert Marckx (Iggy Pop, Nile Rogers), Matt Randall (Queen, Mumford & Sons, Ben Howard, Royal Blood, Bloc Party), Dave White (Biffy Clyro, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Kasabian, Jeff Lynne’s ELO), and many more. Each tech will sign and date every pedal they hand-solder, making each pedal a unique piece. Hamstead explains: “A key part of the concept is to give techs who are suddenly out of work a project to be creative and a distraction from the sad state of the industry that we all know and love. The Ascent project is not just a quick fix, but designed to offer both financial and mental health support to people that make live music happen.”

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has teamed up with intelligent mobility robotics company Ava Robotics and the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) to create a robot that can clean 4,000-square-foot spaces to CDC standards in as little as 30 minutes. The researchers involved believe the CSAIL robot may be the future of keeping shopping centers, grocery stores, restaurants, airplanes and living spaces – basically anywhere with heavy foot traffic – safe from Covid-19. A representative for CSAIL said that the technology was created to “powerfully disinfect surfaces and neutralize aerosolized forms of the coronavirus.” The researchers combined UV-C light, typically used to disinfect hospitals, and Ava Robotics’ mobile robot model, and tested out the resulting machine in GBFB’s warehouse. They found that it killed 90% of coronavirus particles, and the dosage could be increased to kill even more. The robot model is designed specifically to deep clean surfaces and eradicate airborne Covid-19 particles. By mapping out the layout of the space it is cleaning, it can operate autonomously and be trusted to sterilize every corner. The initial rollout of the trial robot took just four weeks. Next steps are focused on finding optimal UV-C dosages, adapting the machine to different environments and allowing robots to work together to clean larger spaces. This comes at a time when consumers care specifically about the cleanliness practices of the stores, restaurants and public spaces they visit. A survey by McKinsey & Company showed that “consumers are actively looking for safety measures when deciding where to shop in-store, such as enhanced cleaning, masks and barriers.”  Hilton, Marriott and Airbnb have all improved their cleaning protocols recently.

City, University of London has announced that its Business School will no longer be known as Cass Business School. The decision was taken by City’s Council on 3rd July, following a broad consultation about the fact that some of Sir John Cass’ wealth was obtained through his links to the slave trade and taking account of the views expressed by a wide range of stakeholders. The decision, which was unanimous, was taken on the basis that continued use of the Cass name was incompatible with City’s values of diversity and inclusion. The Business School was renamed the Sir John Cass Business School eighteen years ago, following a donation from the Sir John Cass Foundation.  The Foundation was established in 1748 and is named after Sir John Cass, whose wealth was used posthumously to create the educational charity. For now, the School will be referred to as City’s Business School while consultations about a new name are set in motion. Making the announcement, Julia Palca, Chair of City’s Council, said: “We acknowledge the great pain and hurt caused to members of our City and Business School community and to many Black people by the association of the School’s name with the slave trade. Any continued use of Sir John Cass’ name would be seen as condoning someone whose wealth in part derived from the exploitation of slavery. This is incompatible with our values of diversity and inclusivity. We have therefore taken the decision to remove the name”.