Brand Moves for Wednesday July 8

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Nineteen 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.

Walmart plans to launch a new Amazon Prime-type subscription service later this month called Walmart+. Costing$98 a year. It will include perks like same-day delivery of groceries and general merchandise, discounts on fuel at Walmart gas stations, and early access to product deals. Walmart originally planned to unveil Walmart+ in late March or April,  but the retailer pushed back the launch date after the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the US. While COVID-19 panic-buying helped boost Walmart sales to record highs earlier this year, its US e-commerce presence is still only around an eighth the size of Amazon’s. Today, Amazon is valued at $1.5 trillion, while Walmart is worth $337 billion. And while Walmart’s overall grocery business is larger than Amazon’s, one fear at the Bentonville, Arkansas, retailer is that top Walmart customers could eventually turn to Amazon for groceries as well, as they get sucked further into the Prime suite of perks.

When Walmart+ launches, the annual membership is expected to include unlimited same-day delivery of groceries and other goods from Walmart Supercenters, reserved delivery slots and open-slot notifications, as well as some access to Walmart’s new Express two-hour delivery offering, though not unlimited usage. During the pandemic, customers have run into issues securing grocery delivery slots in some parts of the country as companies like Walmart and Amazon struggled to handle drastic increases in demand for online grocery services. Walmart+ perks are also expected to include a Scan & Go service that would allow shoppers to check out in Walmart stores without waiting in line – a tool Walmart briefly tested but discontinued nearly two years ago. A Walmart+-branded credit card will also be introduced at some point after launch. Walmart also has plans to add video entertainment components to the program, though the details remain unclear. This week, Walmart is unveiling an online family entertainment program called CAMP by Walmart, in partnership with the retail startup CAMP and the online video technology firm Eko. This video content, featuring celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris, Drew Barrymore, and LeBron James, will be free to all Walmart app users this summer. But the program could point to a future where similar programming is gated off for Walmart+ members.

Booming video call service Zoom has announced the launch of Zoom Hardware as a Service (HaaS). Zoom HaaS will make Zoom Rooms and Zoom Phone more accessible by minimizing friction around hardware procurement; customers can choose from a variety of solutions from hardware manufacturers DTEN, Neat, Poly, and Yealink and choose from a variety of subscription options for phone and meeting room hardware. Zoom customers can scale video conference rooms and phones with hardware options and technology upgrades at a fixed monthly price. All Zoom HaaS solutions will be supported through Zoom. IT teams will also have the option to be able to add professional and managed services for installation and enhanced end-to-end management. Zoom will expand its implementation of ServiceNow’s Customer Service Management to provide HaaS customer support. “Amazing hardware partnerships are a key part of Zoom’s ecosystem,” said Velchamy Sankarlingam, President of Product and Engineering at Zoom. “With many people globally coping with today’s unique challenges, easy access to hardware is critical for offices, distance learning, telehealth, and more. Zoom Hardware as a Service will help users adapt to new work-from-anywhere environments by making it easier than ever before to get access to the latest and greatest hardware for Zoom Rooms and Zoom Phone.”

After India banned 59 apps and services developed by Chinese firms citing privacy and security concerns, including popular short-form video app TikTok, Instagram said that it is rolling out Reels– a feature that allows users to create short-form videos (up to 15 seconds long) set to music or other audio – to a “broad” user base in India. The Facebook – owned service first began testing Reels, which has been widely referred as a “TikTok clone”, in select markets late last year. “Videos make up over a third of all posts in India,” said Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook India. And in general, about 45% of all videos posted on Instagram are of 15 seconds or shorter, said Vishal Shah, VP of Product at Facebook. TikTok identified India as its biggest market outside of China, saying that it had amassed over 200 million users in the country, and the firm was looking to expand that figure to at least 300 million this year. In TikTok’s absence, a number of startups including Twitter-backed Sharechat, Chingari, InMobi Group’s Roposo, and Mitron have ramped up their efforts and have claimed to court tens of millions of users. Sharechat said it had doubled its daily active users in a matter of days to more than 25 million. Gaana, a music streaming service owned by Indian conglomerate Times Internet, rolled out HotShots on Tuesday, which curates user-generated videos. Gaana had more than 150 million monthly active users as of earlier this year.

E-scooters have been increasingly popular as public transport has become less of an option for many, and now a brand new Electric Scooter Championship has been announced; the eSC will be the world’s first-ever international electric race scooter series, pitting riders against each other on special two-wheeled scooters that can go up to 60 miles per hour. The eSC, also called the eSkootr Championship, will start racing in 2021 in major city centres around the world. The eSC was co-founded by a group led by motorsport entrepreneur Hrag Sarkissian, who will take the reins as eSC’s CEO, and Formula 1 broadcaster and former A1 GP driver Khalil Beschir, who will act as COO. Formula E racer Lucas di Grassi, and former F1 driver Alex Wurz will also collaborate with the eSC to promote the mission. Wurz, the eSC’s safety ambassador, said that the new series is well-suited for the world’s current challenges. “The world is changing, and everything in our society reflects that dynamic change – whether it is anticipated or unexpected,” he said. “[With eSC, we’re] creating a series that can operate from a tiny footprint yet still work as an accelerant for meaningful change within the world’s leading cities, As a racer, I want to create a series that has all the thrill and intensity of the motorsport series we all grew up with, but with the costs and responsibility that make it accessible and appealing to everyone.”

Travel industry intelligence website Skift has become the latest publisher to put membership at the forefront of their business. CEO and founder Rafat Ali announced the launch of Skift Pro on Twitter, saying that “Skift is now officially a Subscription-First business information company.” Skift joins a growing number of publishers turning to reader revenue as a way to diversify revenue streams and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on other aspects of the business, like events and advertising. Skift’s other major revenue streams are from its content studio, which works with travel brands to develop bespoke content for them, and its events. Both have suffered as a result of coronavirus, making reader revenue a more urgent consideration. But the travel industry as a whole is also under immense pressure, with many furloughed or laid off. Skift’s decision to launch a membership product marks an important shift in the publisher’s relationship with its readers. Rather than simply adding another revenue stream into the mix, Skift Pro is intended to help build business resilience and audience engagement. “The reality of business is that direct from consumer revenue is vital to just about any media business,” said co-founder and Chief Product Officer Jason Clampet. “We also know that the people who are still at companies in Europe and Asia, which is waking up again, need actual information to do their jobs better and make smarter decisions. We’re still here providing that, so in that sense, it is a good time [to launch].”

Brazil-based fashion brand Amaro is engaging customers in video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons to help create its next collection. Amaro created a virtual influencer, Mara, to model clothing amidst restrictions on in-person photo shoots, and then created an avatar for Mara in Animal Crossing. Players can visit Mara’s ‘island’ to interact with her and show off their own avatars’ unique outfits. Amaro’s designers are analyzing players’ outfits and picking their favorites, which will be produced and sold in real life as part of Amaro’s next collection: The Cross Collection. Gamers will be rewarded with vouchers if their designs are chosen. As of this month, at least 13 styles are in production. The Cross Collection will be released later in 2020. For many consumers spending less time out in the real world, the ‘real world’ is increasingly in-game environments like Animal Crossing. Thanks to COVID-19, the number of gamers globally is expected to jump to 2.7 billion in 2020, up 135 million from last year. Brands, observing this, are meeting those customers where they’re at. Beauty brand MAC, for example, is letting fans of The Sims create customizable makeup looks for their characters, while Warner Bros just held a movie night within Fortnite. Amaro’s initiative also reflects another popular COVID-era engagement strategy, especially for those brands considered less ‘essential’ during the outbreak: calling on consumers to unleash their creativity – and promising fame (at least, social media fame) to the most imaginative among them. Alexander McQueenis spotlighting ‘McQueen Creators’, whom it challenged to create art based on select images, on its Instagram while The Getty Museum tweeted its followers’ hilarious renditions of classic paintings.

The COVID-19 outbreak has put the idea of mortality squarely into focus for many people. Farewill, a UK startup that’s building out a suite of services related to that, has announced a £20 million ($25 million) round of funding on the back of a boost of growth in business. It provides a platform for people to write online wills, organise probate services (such as sorting out death duties and taxes on a person’s property) and order cremations. “We want to help by destigmatising death,” said CEO Dan Garrett. “We all have to face death. It lives inside everyone. But for most of us, we are psychologically hardwired not to think about it, and as a process people have been largely at the behest of an industry that doesn’t think about its customers.” Farewill is currently only live in the UK but longer term has plans to expand to more. In its home market, Garrett says that in the five years that Farewill has been operational, it’s become the biggest will writer in the country in what is a highly fragmented market: the startup accounts for one out of every 10 wills written, or a 10% market share. In the US – itself home to a number of startups focusing on death-related services – will-writing companies have seen huge spikes in their business in the last several months. And even with the economic slowdown much of the globe is now seeing as a result of COVID-19, death care services (which don’t include will writing but everything after death), is projected to be a $102 billion industry this year.

Each Saturday for the next seven weeks, Italian art museum the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, will release a new video exploring representations of overlooked African figures, both real and imagined, in its Renaissance-era collections. “The event will focus on a series of artworks in which ‘black’ people play a major role, embodying a pivotal character in the dynamic of the painting,” writes the Uffizi. Justin Randolph Thompson, co-founder and director of Black History Month Florence, is set to lead the museum’s virtual discussions. Per the Florentine, the initiative – dubbed “Black Presence” – is an extension of the gallery’s “On Being Present: Recovering Blackness in the Uffizi Galleries” exhibition, which debuted online earlier this yearThe show encourages visitors to explore 11 Renaissance paintings featuring African servants, kings and nobility.

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