Twenty-three 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.
When the pandemic is over, one in six workers is projected to continue working from home or co-working at least two days a week, according to a recent survey by economists at Harvard Business School. Another survey of hiring managers by the global freelancing platform Upwork found that one-fifth of the workforce could be entirely remote after the pandemic. Google announced in July that its roughly 200,000 employees will continue to work from home until at least next summer. Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to be remote within the decade. Twitter has told staff they can stay home permanently. Fewer than one-tenth of Manhattan office workers have returned to the workplace a month after New York gave businesses the green light to return to the buildings they vacated in March, according to the city’s leading landlords, brokerage firms and employers. However, this week, less than three months after its work-from-home announcement, Facebook leased a massive 730,000-square-foot office in Midtown Manhattan. Facebook itself, though, has said that it is going to allow remote work well into the future, but will also build more regional hubs in cities like Dallas. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in May that he estimated that over the course of the next decade, half of the company could be working fully remotely. So why the new New York acquisition? Office space of the size and caliber is hard to find – the 107-year-old Farley Building, which today is the hub of the Postal Service’s operations in New York, with a gorgeous facade abutting Eighth Avenue – which is likely why Facebook pulled the trigger now instead of waiting for more information related to the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the future of work. Nonetheless, the company seems clear in its mentality: workers are going to have more space to come into work, perhaps with some more flexible working arrangements on the side.
These past few months have seen a slew of new CPG expansions, some prompted by the pandemic and others accelerated by it. Cheetos released a line of mac ‘n cheese products, Coca Cola is bringing its coffee-infused soda to the United States, and upstart yogurt brand Lavva took advantage of increased demand to grow its product line. Now Levain Bakery, a New York City staple known for its wrap-around-the-block lines and incredibly loyal customers, will begin selling its famous cookies in select grocery stores this fall. The bakery was founded in 1995 as a bread shop and has since grown to seven locations in the city. This shift to grocery sales comes after growth equity group Stripes became the majority owner of the brand, and is part of a larger movement to go nationwide within the next year or two. Grocery sales will begin in the New York City area and New England, with national distribution planned for the coming months. CMO Rachel Porges said the brand is aiming to bring the same joy customers feel in its stores to cookie lovers around the country. “Nothing can replace the Instagram-worthy moment of breaking open a ginormous cookie at one of our original bakeries,” she said. “But now having a bite of the Levain Bakery experience won’t require a trip to NYC.”
According to the just-released 2020 Ofcom Media Nations report, which covers UK media trends, 15m homes subscribed to at least Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Now TV in the first quarter of 2020. Disney+surpassed Now TV to become the third most subscribed to SVOD service. It has hit 60 million subscribers four years earlier than it expected to. 16% of online adults had subscribed to Disney+ by early July. Netflix was subscribed to by 45% of online adults at this time and Amazon Prime Video by 39%. 95% of Disney+ subscribers also subscribe to one or both of the two main SVOD services. In April 2020, when the UK was in full lockdown, AV content consumption per person per day rose an hour and a half year-on-year, reaching 6 hours and 25 minutes. Broadcast TV secured 3 hours and 46 minutes a day of live, recorded or on-demand watching, which was up half an hour. News consumption drove much of this. SVOD services were up 37 minutes to 1 hour and 11 minutes a day. This medium boasted the greatest increase. By the end of June, TV viewing slowly plateaued at +11% year-on-year. The report makes a prediction about overall TV set viewing. Once lockdowns and restrictions ease,“it is likely to return to something close to pre-lockdown levels”, it says. “There could be an accelerated shift within total viewing away from broadcaster content as people increasingly use on-demand services.” Public service broadcasters’ cumulative revenues declined by 3.5% in 2019 to £2.2bn. An expected decline in TV spot advertising of between 17% and 19% in 2020 will increase pressure. Broadcaster video-on-demand (BVOD) ad revenue increased by an average of 24% a year in real terms between 2015 and 2019, reaching £452m last year. The Ofcom report concludes: ”Whatever the shape of the advertising recovery, it is anticipated that online video advertising will continue to increase at a faster rate than linear TV advertising. By the end of 2021 it is estimated that the online video ad market will be almost as valuable as TV spot advertising.”
New short-form video streaming service Quibi is testing a free version in Australia and New Zealand as it seeks to expand internationally and add subscribers. Since its launch in the U.S. and Canada on April 6, Quibi has been a subscription-based service, offering two options: an ad-supported plan for $5 a month and an ad-free version at $8 a month. But Quibi is now testing a free option for Australia and New Zealand that will be supported by ads, as well as a lower price for its ad-free version at 7 Australian dollars a month or about $5 in U.S. currency. The move comes after a challenging early period for Quibi in which it paced behind its subscriber and user sign-up projections for 2020. Meanwhile, Facebook’s Instagram has launched its short-video feature, Reels, in the U.S., challenging TikTok, which is facing its own issues, with political pressure and a mooted Microsoft buyout looming. TikTok has built a highly successful business on user-generated dance videos, comedy skits and viral challenges, which Reels is trying to emulate. Reels is a major investment for Instagram, showcased prominently within the app and buttressed by video creators being paid to participate in its launch. In a blog post last month, TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer called Reels a “copycat product” and added, “To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on.”
Online furniture retailer Wayfair has finally reported a profit after years of losses, bolstered by a surge in shopping from homebound consumers. As concerns about the close quarters of physical stores grew, Wayfair capitalized on a big shift to online shopping for home goods. The company proved deft at marketing, something it has been criticized for spending too much on in the past, to attract new shoppers and get existing ones to shop more often. The number of active customers rose 46% to 26 million, as of the end of the quarter on June 30. Wayfair CEO Nirah Shah anticipates that shoppers will keep spending on beautifying their homes absent the ability to travel or go to concert as the COVID-19 crisis drags on. Shah says that plays to the company’s strengths – all the more if customers have a good experience. “What we have seen thus far would suggest that even as economies reopen, our customers remain focused on the home and are extremely satisfied with Wayfair,” Shah said.