The Brand Move Roundup – July 30, 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.

The 2020 Emmy awards are going virtual. Shortly after the nominations were announced, this year’s Emmy executive producers, including host Jimmy Kimmel, sent a letter to key acting nominees informing them that this year’s ceremony will be virtual, and asking them to prepare to participate from home, or wherever they want to be. “As you’ve probably guessed, we’re not going to be asking you to come to the Microsoft Theatre in downtown LA on September 20th,” the letter says, in part. “This year, it’s still going to be TV industry’s biggest night out… but we’ll come to you!” Details are still forthcoming, but the letter says, “We are assembling a top notch team of technicians, producers and writers to work closely with Jimmy Kimmel and with you and your team, to make sure that we can film with you (and loved ones or whomever else you choose to be with) at your home, or another location of your choice. We’re going to make you look fabulous – we’re exploring the cutting edge of technology to allow to use good cameras and lighting and look forward to working with you to produce your unique ‘on screen” moments.’” The telecast’s producers are still mulling specifics, including what elements will be live, or if winners will be informed beforehand.

Retail giant Walmart is expanding its use of voice technology. The company announced that it’s taking its employee assistance voice technology, dubbed “Ask Sam,” and making it available to associates at over 5,000 stores nationwide. The tool allows Walmart employees to look up prices, access store maps, find products, view sales information, check email and more. In recent months, Ask Sam has also been used to access COVID-19 information, including the latest guidelines, guidance and safety videos. Ask Sam was initially developed for use in Walmart-owned Sam’s Club stores, from where it was rolled out across the U.S. in 2019. Because of its use of voice technology, Ask Sam can speed up the time it takes to get to information versus typing a query on the small screen, which allows employees to better engage with customers instead of spending time on their device looking for information. In addition to common functions like price look-ups and product locators, Ask Sam can also help employees with printing, email or viewing staff birthdays or other events. An included Emergency Alert feature allows managers to quickly and efficiently alert all employees of emergency situations. This is not the retailer’s first experiment in using voice technology – in addition to the Ask Sam product’s launch within Sam’s Club stores, Walmart itself also partnered with Google last year on voice-ordering across Google Assistant-powered platforms, in a bid to counter Amazon’s advances with Alexa in the home. Three years ago, Walmart had worked with Google on voice-based shopping on Google Home devices, before Google Express shut down. Walmart has not yet said whether it would create a version of the Ask Sam technology to serve retail customers.

Pepsi is partnering with social media app Houseparty on its first soccer quiz as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) prepares to host its yearly competition next month. The Pepsi Football Trivia Deck has more than 250 multiple-choice questions that soccer fans can answer as they share a video chat with friends in Houseparty. Pepsi’s sponsorship aims to build on the excitement surrounding the return of the UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious tournament among European soccer teams, after the pandemic forced organizers to change its format and host all remaining games in Portugal. While the U.S. audience for the tournament is in the low millions, the event generates a massive audience of more than a billion viewers in Europe and worldwide, giving Pepsi a global stage for its promotional efforts. Houseparty, which was acquired by “Fortnite” developer Epic Games last year, has seen a surge in usage among people stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Fifty million people signed up for Houseparty during the first month of lockdowns in the U.S. and Europe, according to company data. Pepsi’s sponsorship follows recent digital promotions to connect with younger audiences on their mobile devices. The brand ran a cross-channel campaign in March to promote Pepsi Vanilla Zero Sugar and the return of Pepsi Wild Cherry Zero Sugar that included video spots and a library of clips on GIF-sharing platform Giphy. Pepsi also has developed campaigns using augmented reality (AR) technology to engage with mobile consumers, including a campaign in February that used QR codes on packaging to unlock soccer-focused AR experiences and the introduction of AR filters on photo-sharing app Instagram last year.

Changes are coming for the Chicago Blackhawks but the team’s name isn’t one of them.

The Illinois-based NHL team has announced a number of initiatives and new policies that came out of an “ongoing dialogue with local and national Native American groups.” The most notable of those changes is that from now on, the organization will prohibit fans from wearing Native American headdresses to games and other team events. “We have always maintained an expectation that our fans uphold an atmosphere of respect, and after extensive and meaningful conversations with our Native American partners, we have decided to formalize those expectations,” according to a statement from the team. “These symbols are sacred, traditionally reserved for leaders who have earned a place of great respect in their tribe, and should not be generalized or used as a costume or for everyday wear.” The team also announced an intention to build “a platform that will further integrate Native American culture and storytelling across our organization,” which will impact games, the team’s social channels and staff members. The roots of the Blackhawks name lie in Black Hawk, a Native American leader, warrior and member of the Sauk tribe. He lived during the late 1700s and early 1800s. The name was selected by the team’s first owner, Frederic McLaughlin, in honor of his army division during World War I, which was nicknamed the Black Hawk Division, after Black Hawk himself. The team first announced its intention to “expand our efforts, serve as stewards of our name and identity, and raise the bar even higher” on July 7, as changes to brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s were making headlines across the country. In the sports world, the Washington Redskins have been the most prominent, announcing earlier this month that they would retire their name and brand identity.

Best Buy, Kohl’sDick’s Sporting Goods, Target and Walmart have all announced nationwide store closures for Thanksgiving Day. While Black Friday has typically been the kickoff point for gift purchasing, in recent years stores have opened doors as early as Thanksgiving morning. “As we move into the holiday season of this very unusual year, we are adapting our plans in response to changing customer expectations and behaviors,” said Michelle Gass, Kohl’s chief executive officer. “Given the importance of safety and convenience, we expect more customers to shop earlier, search for great deals throughout the season, and take advantage of our online and omnichannel conveniences.” Minnesota-based electronics brand Best Buy has made a similar declaration, promising an “enhanced” holiday shopping experience amid the pandemic by prioritizing adding more pick-up options and making sure digital orders arrive on time. Target will get a head start on the season by rolling out holiday deals starting as early as October, and plans to expand its curbside grocery pick-up service, as well as making 20,000 more gifts and essentials available via its same-day delivery feature. Macy’s is also said to be considering a marketing push after Halloween in anticipation for Black Friday.

UK high street retailer Argos will stop printing its iconic catalog as shoppers’ habits continue to change.The firm, which has printed around one billion copies of the catalog over 47 years, will now list products online instead. Branches over the years have been slowly moving away from the books, which have played a key role in Argos’ business model. Customers have been opting to use digital screens to browse through the pages of items instead. Simon Roberts, chief executive of Argos’ parent company Sainsbury’s, said: “As most customers are now browsing and ordering online, we have decided that the time is right to stop printing the Argos catalog. Removing the printed catalog helps us to flex our range and offers and to be more competitive on price.” Two editions of the catalog have been printed since 1973, with customers able to use one to browse in store or to take home with them. Argos made so many copies of it at one point that it became the most printed publication in Europe. A total of 93 editions of the bi-annual catalog were produced over its lengthy stay in shops. Mark Given, chief marketing officer at Sainsbury’s, said: “Over the decades the Argos catalog has charted the nation’s changing tastes and trends in everything from must-have toys to the latest gadgets and devices. Just as our customers’ tastes have changed over the years, so have their shopping habits. We’re seeing an increasing shift towards digital shopping, using our mobile app, website and in-store browsers.”