Brand Moves for Tuesday June 9

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Fifteen weeks 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.

Non-profit Just Capital has been tracking the actions of America’s largest employers as part of its COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker, and surveying members of the public to identify their views of business and their priorities for corporate action during this time. In May, they partnered with The Harris Poll to conduct a survey which asked 1,000 U.S. adults how business should evolve for a better tomorrow and looked at perception across what it sees as the three phases of the coronavirus crisis – Response, Reopening, and Reset. Most Americans (60%) agree that companies have been stepping up to protect the health, safety, and economic security of their workforces during the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost nine in 10 Americans agree that this is an opportunity for large companies to hit “reset” and focus on doing right by workers, customers, communities, and the environment.  Three in four Americans say they will long remember the companies that took missteps in their response to the pandemic, and an even greater proportion – over four in five – will remember those that did the right thing by their workers by ensuring their health and safety or doing their best to avoid layoffs.

IBM will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress. The company will also no longer develop or research the technology, IBM said. Facial recognition software has improved greatly over the last decade thanks to advances in artificial intelligence. At the same time, the technology has been shown to suffer from bias along lines of age, race, and ethnicity, which can make the tools unreliable for law enforcement and security and ripe for potential civil rights abuses. “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” Krishna said in the letter. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.” Krishna also advocated for police reform. In addition, Krishna said that “we need to create more open and equitable pathways for all Americans to acquire marketable skills and training.”

In a terribly English protest, two of the UK’s biggest tea brands have united in support of the Black Lives Matter movement under the #solidaritea hashtag. PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea, the second- and third-biggest tea sellers in the UK, swung the power of their brands behind the worldwide protests during exchanges on Twitter. When a right-wing YouTuber expressed satisfaction that the brand had not come out in support of the movement, Yorkshire Tea, owned by the Harrogate-based Bettys and Taylors Group, replied: “Please don’t buy our tea again. We’re taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism.” It was soon joined by PG Tips which, in response to tweets calling for a boycott of Yorkshire Tea, tweeted: “If you are boycotting teas that stand against racism, you’re going to have to find two new brands now #blacklivesmatter #solidaritea”. PG Tips is owned by the consumer goods conglomerate Unilever, which also makes Marmite and Pot Noodle among many other products.

Many companies have promised to match employee donations to social justice organizations. In Dropbox‘s case, for instance, every dollar is matched both by CEO Drew Houston and the company, meaning any donation gets tripled. “On a personal note,” he said, “I’ve been spending much of the past week thinking about the brutal injustices playing out in front of us, and how I can personally contribute to the solution. I’ve decided to donate $500,000 to the Black Lives Matter Foundation because of its direct work to eliminate violence and systematic racism against Black people. And starting today, I’m making an additional pledge to match every donation made by a Dropboxer in June to the Black Lives Matter Foundation, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Urban League. This is in addition to the company matching program, so it means that your contribution will have triple the impact.” Employees have been asking friends and family to send them money, which they can donate and have matched, something that has also said to have been done by employees at Microsoft and YouTube. And New York-based “ideas factory” MSCHF is even trying to formalize the whole process, with a website that combines donations and transfers them to employees of companies that offer donation matching.

Apple has just been granted a patent for software that would generate “synthetic group selfies,” which could be a way to take group selfies for social media – even if you’re trying to stay socially distant from your friends. According to the patent application an Apple device user could invite others to take part in a group selfie, and the software would arrange them together in a single image. The selfie could include still photos, stored video images, or live streaming images. Users could keep the original selfie as well as the group version, and the original user and recipients of the group image could modify the selfie, for instance, putting themselves in a different position in the group. Even though the idea of a socially-distant selfie seems perfect for a moment when there’s a global pandemic restricting social gatherings, the concept wasn’t developed specifically with the current state of affairs in mind; Apple first filed for the patent in 2018.

Furniture rental subscription service Fernish has seen home office furniture rentals at the company more than triple year-over-year as many Americans continue to work from home.

A service like Fernish may make a lot of sense for people that began working from home on a temporary basis because furniture rental contracts can be structured to be as short as three months with an option to swap items in and out and to add new things along the way, as well as to renew at the end of the period. “That flexibility is helpful to people,” said Michael Barlow, CEO and co-founder. The company has continued to see overall growth throughout the pandemic, he said, which is a snapshot of how the home furnishing retail landscape continues to evolve during the Covid-19 crisis. Home improvement has experienced a lift in sales overall, with consumers not only spending more time at home, but also increasingly viewing their home as a sanctuary. Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware all reported sales increases for their most recent quarter, for example. “People spending more time in the comfort of their homes is likely to persist – whether that be working, recharging or entertaining,” Fernish said in a statement. Fernish also noted it has seen a 90% increase in the rental of accessories and decor, as customers refresh their spaces, as well as a 75% spike in rugs, throws, pillows and tabletop accessories such as vases and bowls, and a 40% jump in lamps to create mood lighting.

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