Week: September 7th  – 11th  

Several weeks ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, Interbrand started regular 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 the brand consulting firm made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Interbrand’s goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.


National Basketball Association (NBA) teams will be offering their facilities as voting locations for the 2020 U.S. general election. According to a joint statement from NBA Players Association (NBPA) Executive Director Michele Roberts and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: “In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID.”

The NBA plans to help the vote in other ways too. The joint statement offered the following as well: “If a deadline has passed, team governors will work with local elections officials to find another election-related use for the facility, including but not limited to voter registration and ballot receiving boards.”  The statement emerged after meetings between NBA players, coaches, and team governors.

Tourism & Travel

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, United Airlines is eliminating the change fee. Announced late Sunday, the airline will no longer charge for changes made to a domestic itinerary, forgoing the $200 fee travelers have grudgingly become accustomed to.

The airline is the first to permanently eliminate the fee. (However, United is not the only airline that is change fee-free: Southwest has allowed customers to make itinerary changes for years without charge.) The airline also announced that starting in January, customers will be able to add themselves to the standby list of a different flight should their plans change.

“You may remember as we emerged from previous tough times, we made difficult decisions to survive financially but sometimes at the expense of customer service, either by adding new fees or cutting the things that made the experience better,” said United CEO Scott Kirby, noting that the fee was often a point of contention among flyers.

The move to earn some goodwill in the industry’s darkest hour is laudable, although in recent months, there’s been next to no revenue associated with the change fee, as it’s been waived since March due to the pandemic. Last month, Kirby called the brand’s last quarter the “most difficult financial quarter in its 94-year history,” as the airline posted $1.6 billion in losses. Operating revenue was down 87%.

As the coronavirus pandemic has halted flights around the world, a growing number of airlines are now selling in-flight meals to grounded customers. Thai Airways began advertising meal boxes in April, when the pandemic struck, selling anything from stir fried tiger prawn to beef cheek with cumin sauce.

In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific is selling meals to airport staff, while Indonesia’s national airline Garuda is offering its food as takeaway dinners on a tray. A fall in passenger demand and continued border closures across vast areas of the world have dealt a huge blow to the aviation industry and airline suppliers.

Disease-prevention measures have meant that, even on the few flights that do still take off, eating is often forbidden. GNS Nuts, which supplies American Airlines and United, was left with about 50,000 pounds of nuts, when the airlines removed the product from their flights. The company is now selling its luxury mixed nuts online. Australia’s Qantas airline, meanwhile, accumulated an excess of business-class pyjamas, packets of Tim Tams, tea bags and hand cream, which it sold off in “care packs” costing AU$25.


The Harvard Business Review has replicated a 2013 study on the productivity of knowledge workers, using the same questions as before and interviewing respondents with similar profiles, to find out how lockdown has changed the work landscape. The key findings are: lockdown helps us focus on the work that really matters.

We are spending 12% less time drawn into large meetings and 9% more time interacting with customers and external partners; lockdown helps us take responsibility for our own schedules. We do 50% more activities through personal choice — because we see them as important — and half as many because someone else asked us to; and during lockdown, we view our work as more worthwhile. 

We rate the things we do as valuable to our employer and to ourselves. The number of tasks rated as tiresome drops from 27% to 12%, and the number we could readily offload to others drops from 41% to 27%. In sum, lockdown has been positive for knowledge worker productivity in the short term. But it has also created some concerns and challenges around longer-term effectiveness, creativity, and personal resilience. However, in 2020, respondents said their work is more important, less tiresome, less easily offloaded and contributes to the company’s objectives.

Since May, Accenture has been surveying close to 1,000 CEOs about their feelings on the economic impact of the pandemic. In the most recent survey from late July, nearly half of the executives polled said they believed the economic recovery will be U-shaped rather than V-shaped.

Many CEOs have started shifting investments to areas that they hope will set them up for long-term success or pushing ahead with things they were just thinking of trialing before the pandemic, according to Jimmy Etheredge, Accenture’s North American CEO.

He said: “I think what companies are looking for is ways to make investments in innovation that is going to be at the core of their strategy. And cloud is where they see the ability to be thoughtful about cash. Because in periods of slow growth, cash is king, so everybody becomes very conscious of that, and they look at cloud as a way of leveraging the technology from some of the big ecosystem players, the hyperscalers, to be able to accelerate that innovation.

If you look at the survey results, there was a 26-point leap in two months of the companies that said that they were going to accelerate their investments with an emphasis on cloud. The migration to the cloud will be fundamentally accelerated by what’s happened with COVID. I see that in every conversation I have with CEOs of our clients, and we saw that in our research as well.

One of the areas I see that in particular is around the deployment of change. A lot of our clients, both B2C and B2B, have seen the customer experience and the way they interact with their customers completely disrupted, and they have leveraged technology to respond to that. This is often something that clients were thinking about piloting in a couple of stores for a quarter and then thinking about rolling out.

All of the sudden, it was, ‘How quickly can we get these changes in place?’ So some of these were ideas that they had pre-COVID that got accelerated, but I think some of it as well is a fundamental change where the C-suite is stopping, looking and considering, ‘What does this mean for our business, and how do we accelerate?‘.”


Last week, Uber launched a marketing campaign tied to the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington. Its core message tells users, “If you tolerate racism, delete Uber.” The message rolled out via social media, emails, in-app notifications, and billboards in thirteen cities. 

Uber also announced a string of commitments to back up its campaign, including creating anti-racism education for drivers and riders, formalizing a working group that seeks to identify bias in its products, and spending $10 million to support Black-owned businesses in the next two years. 

Even so, some critics saw the campaign as opportunistic, as the company is currently under fire for unfair labor practices, and both Uber and Lyft were recently found to engage in price discrimination in predominantly non-white neighborhoods. Relevantly, Edelman’s spring 2020 brand trust report noted that 63% percent of U.S. consumers agreed with the statement, “Brands and companies that issue a statement in support of racial equality need to follow it up with concrete action to avoid being seen by me as exploitative or as opportunists.

Retail & FMCG

Earlier this year, Amazon-owned supermarket chain Whole Foods temporarily converted a few locations into online-only stores to keep up with higher grocery delivery demands brought about by COVID-19-related lockdowns.

Its new location in Brooklyn isn’t a temporary store, though, but the first one built specifically to fulfill orders placed online. Customers can’t walk in to buy anything even though it has shelves of products laid out like a typical supermarket.

Instead, team members will focus on receiving orders, shopping for customers and preparing items for delivery. Amazon opened the new location on September 1st to exclusively serve customers in the Brooklyn area. The company said that grocery delivery continues to be one of its fastest-growing businesses and that online grocery sales tripled year-over-year for the second quarter of 2020.

“We’re thrilled to increase access to grocery delivery. It’s never been more important,” it said. While the new location could help Whole Foods fulfill the bigger demand for grocery delivery these days, Amazon actually started working on the project a year ago. Since people need access to online services now more than ever, it might not be the last permanent online-only store Amazon and Whole Foods open.

Unilever’s “clean future” initiative aims to develop renewable or recycled alternatives to chemicals derived from the oil industry as part of the company’s pledge to eliminate carbon emissions from its products by 2039. The investment in research and development for eco-products comes on top of €1bn Unilever has already committed over the next decade for environmental projects that will improve the “health of the planet”.

The company, which owns more than 400 brands including Marmite, Dove, Comfort and Sure, has also pledged to reduce the mountain of plastic rubbish that its products generate. With nearly half of the carbon footprint of the consumer goods giant’s cleaning products coming from oil-based ingredients, reformulating with eco-friendly alternatives is expected to reduce their environmental impact by up to a fifth.

A whole “rainbow” of alternatives, varying from well-established palm oil-based chemicals to those derived from algae, plastic waste and carbon captured from energy production, is being investigated. Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s president of home care, said it was essential to investigate a diverse range of alternatives to “grow within the limits of our planet”. He said that Unilever hoped that by sharing details of its “carbon rainbow” – outlining the different possible alternatives for sourcing fossil fuel-based ingredients – Unilever was “calling on an economy-wide transformation”. “A new bioeconomy is rising from the ashes of fossil fuels,” he said.

Social Media

Social media brand Reddit is also encouraging its users to get out and vote with its first brand marketing campaign. Drawing inspiration from how Reddit users engage with one another on its channels – by upvoting and downvoting – the social media company used content from its online pages to encourage real-life voting. The brand marketing campaign will include ads in print, online and out-of-home in New York, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles through Election Day on November 3.

The ad campaign, called “Up the Vote” is part of its wider initiative to encourage users to vote in their local, state, and national elections. Reddit users cast more than 165 million votes across the site every day. “While not originally planned as such, it feels fitting that our first ever marketing campaign is focused on something as intrinsic to Reddit as voting, while also serving a positive purpose for our larger, real world community,” Reddit VP of Marketing Roxy Young said.

Facebook will prohibit new political ads in the week before the presidential election in November, when there won’t be adequate time to rebut misinformation. It will also flag premature claims of victory, adding a label linking to current results. “This election is not going to be business as usual,” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said, noting both the difficulties of voting during a pandemic and likely attacks on the credibility of the results.

Other new Facebook election policies include limitations on the volume of messages that can be sent through its Messenger product and an expansion of Facebook’s rules against voter suppression to cover implicit attempts to mislead Facebook users about voting procedures.

Beauty & Wellness

Estée Lauder is reviewing the language and marketing around its skin-lightening creams, after accusations of cultural insensitivity levelled at rival cosmetics firms. The company, which owns 25 brands including Bobbi Brown, Clinique and La Mer, did not disclose which products would be affected.

It will assess the use of terms such as lightening and brightening on its products and if certain product lines should have a wider range of shades, Estée Lauder’s senior vice-president, Susan Akkad, said. It comes as cosmetic companies are accused on social media of hypocrisy for selling skin-whitening products while supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

In June, employees sent a letter to William Lauder, the executive chairman of Estée Lauder, asking him to do more to address race-related issues. The company subsequently pledged to do better, including committing to working with more black-owned businesses. Estée Lauder is not the first cosmetics company to take action.

In June, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling dark-spot reducers, which lighten skin, within its Neutrogena Fine Fairness and Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear lines, which are sold in the Middle East and Asia. Unilever also said it would rename its Fair & Lovely line, now called Glow & Lovely, and remove the words lightening, light, fair, fairness, white and whitening on all of its brands and products. L’Oréal said it would also remove words such as white and fair from its products.

Fashion & Luxury

Louis Vuitton has just joined TikTok, becoming the latest in a smattering of high-end brands creating accounts in recent months. In July alone, TikTok welcomed Fendi, Balenciaga, Dior, and Stella McCartney, coming on the heels of newcomers like Burberry, YSL, and Gucci earlier this year. While the types of videos shared by these brands varies widely – as does the cadence, with some like Prada and Tiffany & Co.sitting idle with zero posts – it’s clear their presence on the platform is important.

According to a recent survey conducted by YPulse, a marketing firm specializing in Gen Z and millennial consumers, 54% of Gen Z respondents said that they currently use TikTok. This compares to 35% in February 2020. The uptick is largely a result of the pandemic, said YPulse’s Vice President of Content MaryLeigh Bliss.

“Luxury brands are beginning to join the platform and the reason is really clear: the growth of TikTok among the next generation of shoppers has been so enormous,” Bliss said. “Especially in the last six months, we’ve seen TikTok usage among Gen Z skyrocket and quarantines and the pandemic are certainly behind a lot of that activity.” Gucci, in particular, has found success in light-hearted posts like its Gucci Moves series, which features a series of diverse, non-models dancing in Gucci attire.

Since joining in February, Gucci has racked up nearly half a million followers, with many of its videos generating millions of views. According to Thomas Rankin, cofounder and CEO of the visual marketing platform Dash Hudson, TikTok may ultimately become the fashion show of the future. “During the pandemic, and with fashion weeks currently a thing of the past, luxury brands must shift their perspectives on how to engage audiences, and deliver content that is not a replication of fashion weeks, but a reimagination of it that works on new channels like TikTok,” he said.


UK sandwich and coffee chain Pret a Manger is to offer customers up to five coffees a day if they sign up to a monthly subscription service. Meanwhile city centres, saturated with coffee shops, remain relatively deserted as many office workers continue to work from home; Pret has already announced it is closing 30 outlets and laying off a third of its staff.

Pret boss Pano Christou told the BBC’s Today programme: “There’s no doubt that workers will come into the office less often than beforehand. Pret needs to adapt itself to the changes of customer patterns and that’s where we’ve been very focused.” Although many of the sandwich chain’s outlets are in central London, Mr Christou said that 40% of its business was in London suburbs and the home counties, where customers were starting to return “much more swiftly”.

He added that Pret had seen its delivery business grow tenfold through the coronavirus crisis.The chain is launching YourPret Barista next week as part of new digital strategy which it hopes will help revive its fortunes.Briony Raven, Pret’s director of coffee and packaging, said the scheme aimed to help persuade customers to see Pret as the default choice, in the same way they do other subscription services such as Netflix.”It’s Pret’s way of doing loyalty,” she said. “It’s about giving people an easy choice, when they come back into their everyday routine.”

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