Week: April 27th – May 1st

by Interbrand

The latest of Interbrand’s regular round-ups of brands’ responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic


Audible, the Amazon-owned spoken-word book platform, is offering free content for children to keep them entertained and educated during the lockdown. “For as long as schools are closed, we’re open,” said the company. “Right now, kids everywhere can instantly stream an incredible collection of stories, including titles across six different languages, that will help them continue dreaming, learning, and just being kids.” All stories are free to stream on desktop, laptop, phone or tablet.

Nonprofit COVID Tech Connect (CTC) is asking tech manufacturers to donate WiFi-enabled devices for hospital patients to video chat with their loved ones while they undergo medical treatment, as hospitals are no longer admitting family members or friends due to the risks of spreading the disease. CTC came about after Sara Rodell, CEO of technology logistics company Loop and Tie, heard that people in the New York Nurses Union were trying to organize donations of smart devices so that family members could stay in touch with their loved ones during the chaos of the COVID-19 outbreaks. “We have over 3,000 devices committed and more conversations are underway to get us to that goal,” Rodell said. “We’ve received some great responses from partners willing to donate devices, including Microsoft, PCS Wireless and Presto, with more announcements coming soon.” 

With people forced to work, learn, and socialize from home, apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Houseparty have seen spikes in downloads as they become essential to daily life. According to SensorTower analytics, some of these apps have had downloads increase by more than 1,000% between February and March, when most US lockdown orders were first issued. Perfect Cream, a mobile game where users decorate cakes, had a whopping 11,844% increase in downloads. The game, which had the second most downloads in the Android App Store in March, went from only 36,000 downloads in February to 4.3 million in March.

Business communication platform Slack is offering free plans, specifically for nonprofits and businesses providing crisis relief during the pandemic. The company is offering free access to its paid plan for three months; companies can apply on the brand’s website. The brand is also offering free consultations on how to use the platform remotely.

The UK mobile industry, banking and finance sector and the government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have united to tackle criminals sending scam text messages exploiting the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the cross-industry initiative, the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) has developed a “white list” which allows businesses and organisations to register and protect their sender IDs when sending out real text messages. This makes it harder for criminals to send messages using the same sender ID as a particular brand or government department, by checking first whether the sender is the genuine registered party. Some 50 bank and government brands are currently safeguarded as part of the initiative, with 172 trusted sender IDs registered.

The Block by Blockwest music festival, staged entirely in online world-building environment Minecraft, was so popular – more than 100,000 people logged in, three times what its organizers planned for – that it crashed the server and has been rescheduled. Meanwhile, rapper Travis Scott debuted a 10-minute virtual “concert” in Fortnite. 12.3 million were there for the debut concert, and millions more attended the four other showings over the weekend, which saw a giant hologram of Scott play songs from his new album, and debut a brand new track.

Manufacturing & Retail

In a move aimed squarely at one of the crisis’s big winners, Amazon, Google is advancing plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google. Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google. “With hundreds of millions of shopping searches on Google each day, we know that many retailers have the items people need in stock and ready to ship, but are less discoverable online”, said Bill Ready, Google’s President of Commerce. “For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings. We’re also kicking off a new partnership with PayPal to allow merchants to link their accounts. This will speed up our onboarding process and ensure we’re surfacing the highest quality results for our users.”

The next London Fashion Week is going to be held entirely digitally, and will merge its womenswear and menswear shows, its organisers have announced. The event, in June, will feature a multimedia rollout to include interviews, podcasts and digital showrooms that will also be open to the public, following the lead of fashion weeks in Shanghai and Moscow that have taken place online due to coronavirus physical distancing. Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said: “By creating a cultural fashion week platform, we are adapting digital innovation to best fit our needs today and enacting something to build on as a global showcase for the future.”

Meanwhile, Luxury French fashion house Saint Laurent has revealed that it will no longer show its collections at Paris Fashion Week. “Conscious of the current circumstance and its waves of radical change, Saint Laurent has decided to take control of its pace and reshape its schedule,” said the brand. “Now more than ever, the brand will lead its own rhythm, legitimating the value of time and connecting with people globally by getting closer to them in their own space and lives.” Instead of unveiling its collections in the traditional format, by showing at Paris Fashion Week, the brand will “launch its collections following a plan conceived with an up-to-date perspective, driven by creativity.”

San Francisco-based Imperfect Foods, which delivers off-size/misshapen/surplus fresh produce from growers, and surplus shelf-stable items that retailers don’t want, has stepped up to tackle the effects of the crisis – for example, redistributing broccoli florets grown for restaurants and popcorn destined for movie theaters. “Since large food suppliers have been unexpectedly left with excess supply due to the closure of the restaurant, hospitality and travel industries, we’ve stepped in to redirect some of these items to our customers,” CEO Philip Behn said. “From offering new stir fry mixes created from excess cauliflower previously meant for restaurants to bags of ‘pizza cut’ broccoli florets, our model allows us to be nimble and support new partners in finding a home for their products while ensuring continuous supply for our customer’s weekly boxes,” he said.

Media & Sports

Publishing has been badly impacted by the combination of anti-virus measures and economic downturn – but some top brands are rethinking their strategies as well as helping with fundraising efforts. Hearst Magazines’ luxury and design collection, comprised of Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Town & Country and Veranda magazines, is partnering with Habitat for Humanity New York City to launch “Design Unites,” a virtual auction hosted on the online platform Charitybuzz and featuring “one-of-a-kind” items and experiences curated by Hearst’s editorial teams. Items up for bid include one-on-one Zoom consultations with experts such as interior designer Nate Berkus, Queer Eye‘s Bobby Berk, Town & Country editor-in-chief Stellene Volandes or Elle Decor editor-in-chief Whitney Robinson, a virtual art consultation and custom painting by artist Sally King Benedict and more.

A group of advertising people furloughed from some of London’s top agencies have started a pop-up agency, titled Not Fur’ Long, to support small businesses with creative and strategic help. “We’ve been furloughed,” said the team, “which has left us in the unique situation of being paid not to work. So, instead of starting a podcast or learning the art of baking sourdough, we decided to set up Not Fur’ Long and use our time to help brands and small businesses survive and thrive in these challenging times. Our aim is to offer strategic and creative support to businesses during these uncertain times and help set them up for success later down the line. Most reports suggest this crisis will result in the closure of 1 in 5 small and medium sized businesses. But these businesses are the life blood of every community. And it’s those businesses we want to help.” 

UK media brand The Telegraph is launching a coronavirus-free weekly newsletter to carry news and information separate to the global crisis. It is aimed at those who might be seeking a distraction from the Covid-19 news, escapism or simply a wish to know what else is going on in the world. Kirsten Powley, Editorial Newsletters Editor, said: “We are delighted to introduce our brand-new Telegraph In Other News newsletter, which is delivered free to inboxes every Tuesday afternoon. Coverage of the pandemic is everywhere, and we understand that it can be overwhelming. It’s not easy to get away from it all – made especially difficult when we can’t physically escape either.”

Italian top-flight soccer team Juventus, along with its First Team players and Juventus Women have launched a fundraiser in support of the Piedmont region for the purchase of medical supplies, and for the support of healthcare facilities and all medical staff. The first donation, of €300,000, was made jointly by the club and the players, “with the desire to send a strong message of awareness: #DistantiMaUniti (Distant but United),” said the club, “that in respecting the rules to prevent the spread of the virus, we can win this match.”

Hospitality & Travel

To help the badly affected restaurant and hospitality industries, e-grocer FreshDirect has joined forces with on-site dining management company Restaurant Associates on RA Kitchen, an alliance that expands FreshDirect’s capacity in the prepared food category, enabling the company to serve more customers with a rotating selection of heat-and-eat meals, while bringing furloughed Restaurant Associates employees back to work. 

Arne Sorenson, Marriott International Inc. CEO, has said that the coronavirus pandemic will change the experience of staying in a hotel – at least temporarily. “No one knows when the lodging industry will rebound from impacts of COVID-19. But one thing is clear,” he said. “Marriott is devising new ways to keep guests and hotel workers safe, including improved cleaning, hotel employees wearing masks, and social distancing measures. I’m hopeful those things aren’t permanent, but instead are about communicating through the operating tools that you can be safe in our hotels, whether you work there or are staying there.”

Fast food brand Denny’s is joining in with the boom in online gaming by participating as a gamer on PS4 and Xbox One, where it plays as Dennys247. It’s also on Nintendo Switch, where it hit the limit on its number of friends on the platform in less than a day. The brand is giving codes and discounts to people it connects with in gaming, and it’s leveraging fan engagement with gaming-related posts on Twitter and Instagram.

While restaurants are closed, including those in stores and amusement parks, some brands are continuing to offer their iconic dishes – at least remotely, via home cooking. Swedish homeware giant IKEA, for instance, has released the recipe for their well-known meatballs, while Disney has been posting recipes for some of the dishes offered at its venues.

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