The Brand Move Roundup – July 15, 2020

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

Four 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.

Telecoms brand Verizon has unveiled a new, three-pronged business plan called Citizen Verizon that commits the company to sustainability, human prosperity and digital inclusion. The plan, which has been in the works for several years, has its roots in a 20-year-old commitment to corporate responsibility, according to Verizon‘s head of brand development, Kristin McHugh. Those efforts were accelerated when Hans Vestberg joined the company as CEO in 2018, she added. “It’s really important for us to tell the broader narrative about what we’re doing and why,” McHugh said. Citizen Verizon, she explained, is “our plan for economic, environmental and social advancement.” Verizon is hosting the first of a series of virtual events on July 28 that it’s calling the Citizen Verizon Assembly: Charging Social Change Forward. The event will feature thought leaders, activists and business leaders discussing the importance of corporate responsibility in addressing social issues. The first aspect of the plan – digital inclusion – includes a commitment to providing digital access and skills training to 10 million youths by 2030. The telecom is working on an online education platform that will support teachers, administrators and students in handling the complex learning environment created by Covid-19 while focusing specifically on skills that will serve young people as technology continues to transform our economy. These efforts will be focused on underserved schools, low-income communities and rural populations to increase access to the skills and experience necessary to increase opportunities for students.

The cashless experience seems to be picking up speed, and providing tangible benefits to adopters. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium touted $350,000 in savings after becoming the first professional sports venue to go completely cash-free in March 2019. When it held a virtual seminar this May to teach others about the transition process, more than 200 local hospitality and entertainment companies tuned in. “The pandemic just takes what was a slam dunk and makes it a necessity,” said Steve Cannon, CEO of the stadium’s parent company. Covid-19 has been fueling the rise of the cashless economy as employees and consumers alike worry that the direct handling of paper currency could spread the coronavirus. (Medical and public health experts say there is currently little data to support this, and that cash is safe to use as long as people wash their hands.) But there are concerns for people who don’t have sufficient bank, credit or digital access. In the U.K.,  consumer watchdog group Which? reported that 1 in 10 people were refused service at shops for trying to pay with physical money during lockdown. Despite these concerns, big-name companies like Lululemon and Nordstrom will fully adopt cash-free payments when they reopen, while Starbucks’ CEO recently said in a memo that it would “shift toward more cashless experiences” in anticipation of its mobile app becoming the dominant form of payment. And while not all small and midsize businesses have gone cash-free, many are pushing card and contactless payments – as advised by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in their latest guidelines – or have switched entirely to online and mobile orders. A June report from Square showed that at the start of the pandemic in March, 8% of U.S. sellers were effectively cashless, meaning that at least 95% of their sales were made through credit or debit card. That figure jumped to 31% by the end of April and has since leveled off at 20% in mid-June as cities reopen. In the U.K., cashless sellers jumped from 10% to 60%, according to the Square analysis, and dropped just slightly to 57% in June.

Two of the biggest names in auto racing –  NASCAR hall of famers Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart  – are to launch a new auto racing series that has the potential to be the biggest disrupter to the sport in decades. With top agent Sandy Montag and former NASCAR COO George Pyne rounding out the four-person board, Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) will feature six short-track races starting next summer. SRX already has a TV deal in place with CBS, which has committed to carry the Saturday night races in prime time next year. The CBS deal runs for multiple years. SRX’s board members took pains to say the new group had no plans on competing with NASCAR. But it’s clear that they see openings where they believe NASCAR has fallen short. That includes: A television strategy that will fit races into two-hour prime-time windows, presenting a contrast to NASCAR’s races that can run twice that long; a focus on driver performance, rather than auto technology – Evernham will design the cars so that everyone races with the same equipment, and it will include well-known racers and crew chiefs, with each race having 12 drivers randomly matched with a crew chief; it will feature racing under the lights at short tracks in the American heartland; and it is being positioned as an easier sale for sponsors that want to buy time on TV and at the event. “They make one phone call to be integrated in all aspects of the broadcast and the event,” Pyne said.

UK grocery delivery service Ocado says it has 1 million customers waiting to join its online grocery service after struggling to cope with a surge in demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Tim Steiner, its chief executive, said Ocado, which has about 800,000 customers, could have increased sales more than five times over, given the level of demand during the pandemic, but had been held back by the limits of its warehouses and delivery network.

Sales at the firm rose by 40% in May, bumping up growth for the first half of the year to 27% on the same period a year before. It signed up just 14% new shoppers in the six months to 31 May, with the rest of its growth coming from existing customers buying more items. Steiner said UK sales of online groceries, which have doubled during the crisis, would double again in the next few years. “The world as we know it has changed. As a result of Covid-19 we have seen years of growth in the online grocery market condensed into a matter of months, and we won’t be going back. We are confident that accelerated growth in the online channel will continue, leading to a permanent redrawing of the landscape of the grocery industry worldwide.” He said online grocery shopping would become mainstream, taking enough sales away from physical stores to make some “economically challenged”.

Despite its strong growth taking sales to over £1bn in the half year, Ocado made a pre-tax loss of £40.6m as it invested in expanding its technology services to overseas partners including Kroger in the US. Profit margins in the UK dipped as the group had to bring in extra staff to cover absences during the crisis and purchase virus tests and protective equipment for workers.

Retailer Best Buy will require customers to wear face coverings inside all U.S. stores to protect against the new coronavirus, including in places without mask mandates. Best Buy said its mask rule, which goes into effect on Wednesday, will “help protect not only our shoppers and communities, but also the tens of thousands of Best Buy employees working to serve our customers each day.” It joins a handful of national chains, including Starbucks and Costco, with similar mask requirements as businesses seek to protect staff and patrons amid a surge in coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.

Classic rock legend Alice Cooper has announced that, in conjunction with the Arizona-based Danzeisen Dairy, he’ll be releasing his own design of chocolate milk bottle. The move, a confident one from a man best known for the song Poison, joins many other rock ‘n’ roll beverage collaborations. Admittedly, this one stands out amongst the myriad alcoholic cross-promotions such as, to name just a few, Iron Maiden’s Trooper ale, Kiss’ Shout It Out chardonnay and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck Gin. Cooper’s creative input does seem to end at the exterior of the bottle – however, proceeds will be going to a good cause: his non-profit organisation, Solid Rock. The foundation, started in 1995, provides free music, film, dance and art classes for youths in Arizona. “At Solid Rock, our goal is to provide a landing place for teens. This local sanctuary is provided to support an exciting and creative journey for teens,” reads a statement on Solid Rock’s website. Proceeds from sales of the chocolate milk will help fund the non-profit’s initiatives.