In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.
Amazon has been hurriedly trying to remove T-shirts with the words, “Stand back, stand by,” and the Proud Boys logo, after President Donald Trump coined the phrase during his heated, 100-minute debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Asked by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News whether he would openly and directly condemn white supremacists, Trump deflected Wallace’s prompt to call for such groups to “stand down.” “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what, someone has to do something about Antifa and the left.” Proud Boys, an all-male group whose members self-identify as “western chauvinists,” have been called “an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism” by the Anti-Defamation League. The unisex shirts from third-party sellers, available in several colors and styles, were listed at about $25. Diversity advocates and social activists called out the online marketplace, including the anti-extremist Sleeping Giants organization, whose post was shared more than 3,000 times. A few of the items disappeared quickly, while others remained on the site for several hours on Wednesday, captured in screen shots on social media. Amazon has removed Proud Boys items from its site in the past, along with other third-party merchandise like swastika pendants and white nationalist literature, under pressure from members of Congress. The site, in a 2018 letter to Rep. Keith Ellison, said it prohibits product listings that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or that promote organizations with such views.
Advertising spend on e-commerce platforms is set to rise sharply this year – reaching a total of $58.5bn – as brands look to capitalise on the boom in online shopping as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to WARC, the international marketing intelligence service. Advertising investment across e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Tmall and Rakuten, omnichannel retailers such as Walmart and Carrefour, and social commerce on platforms such as Pinduoduo and TikTok is set to increase 18.3% worldwide, growing 30 times faster than the wider online ad market and in stark contrast to a forecast fall of -8.1% for the total advertising industry this year. The uptick in e-commerce advertising spend mirrors a rapid increase in online purchasing; consumers will spend an additional $183bn online this year as a direct result of COVID-19 with total e-commerce sales set to rise by 30.4% – $677bn – to $2.9trn worldwide. Online sales are set to rise 30.4% to $2.9trn worldwide this year, according to data from Edge by Ascential. This represents a forecast upgrade of 8.2 percentage points – $183bn – since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Domestic growth rates range from +19.0% in the UK, to +22.1% in the US and +37.6% in China. Taken together, e-commerce sales will account for 88% of global retail growth in 2020. The top five platforms will tighten their grip on the market this year, turning over an additional $529bn combined as a result of the outbreak. E-commerce platforms Alibaba (+$221bn), Pinduoduo (+$122bn) and Amazon (+$92bn) have seen the sharpest forecast upgrades since the outbreak. Advertising spend – particularly within the FMCG sector – is moving online as a result of the shifting complexion of sales since the COVID-19 outbreak. Over 8% of Unilever’sbusiness is now done online – the company had made 71% (€2.2bn) of its total 2019 e-commerce sales in just the first six months of 2020.
Livestreamed commerce is booming in China – it is set to more than double to a sales value of $171bn this year. This represents 10.2% of all e-commerce sales today, a share which is set to rise to a fifth (20.3%, $421bn) in just the next two years. Data from Yimian, a sister company of WARC, show that the top three platforms – Taobao, TikTok and Kwai– will see over two-thirds (69.1%) of all livestreamed sales this year. COVID-19 has pushed new consumers to the format; three in ten (30%) have spent more than they used to on products sold via livestreams and intend to keep doing so. In total, livestreamed commerce has an estimated audience of 525m, equivalent to 62.8% of China’s online population. Alibaba is set to make $23.5bn from selling ad inventory across its e-commerce properties this year, giving it control of the third-largest ad business by revenue, behind only Alphabet and Facebook. Alibaba’s advertising income – across e-commerce sites like Taobao, Tmall and Lazada– is set to rise 6.6% this year, though this a far slower rate of growth than its competitors. Amazon, the fourth-largest ad seller by revenue, is among the fastest-risers this year – company filings show its ad business grew 4.5 times faster than Facebook and 63 times faster than Alphabet in the first half of 2020. Consequently, Amazon is on course to make $18.1bn from advertising this year, up by 35.6% at a time when the wider internet ad market is flat (+0.6%). Elsewhere, Chinese social commerce platform Pinduoduo is set to see its ad income leap 33.8% to over $5bn, ahead of local rival JD.com on $3.6bn. None of the e-commerce platforms monitored by WARC is expected to witness a fall in advertising revenue this year.
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is embarking on a renovation of its stores. The new store experience will be built around the retailer’s mobile app and inspired by the design of airport terminals to create a digitally enabled shopping environment, said Alvis Washington, the company’s VP of marketing, store design, innovation and experience. It’s part of a multi-year transformation at the value-oriented department store chain, further integrating its physical locations with digital to create a more navigable omnichannel destination. “We’re excited to evolve and reimagine the customer experience in our stores for a mobile-first world,” said Washington. The company plans to initially complete renovations at 200 locations this fiscal year and 800 next year. Though Walmart last refreshed its stores in 2015, this is the most comprehensive overhaul of the store environment in the company’s history, according to Washington. The aim is to make the overall shopping experience more efficient, helping customers more quickly locate the items they need. Recent events will likely contribute to the concept’s success. While the process began prior to Covid-19, the pandemic underscored the already recognized need for a more contactless shopping experience, so the discounter emphasized tools such as a product finder and touch-free checkout with payment solution Walmart Pay and self-checkout kiosks.
The pandemic is leading fashion brands and retailers to try anything to convince customers that stores are safe, disinfecting constantly, limiting foot traffic and making as much of the shopping process contactless as possible. QR codes are the latest way brands are making that appeal. QR codes are becoming a common sight at huge retail hubs like Hudson Yards, all the way down to small pop-ups. Seek, a company that makes QR code technology, has seen a 600% increase in demand for augmented reality and QR code solutions since the pandemic began in March. Brands have newly started using QR codes in the past three months like Sperry and Puma, tech giants like PayPal and Apple have begun integrating them, and companies that were already using QR codes have expanded their use as well. in-store QR codes are serving multiple functions. At Hudson Yards, Brian Gaus, VP and general manager, said the QR codes allow customers to interact with the many digital kiosks around the mall without touching anything and were implemented in collaboration with Mount Sinai Health System when the mall reopened on Sept. 2. The idea is to make navigating the space easier, especially with new precautions in place like a one-way foot traffic system. Hudson Yards has been noting the use of QR codes in all of its safety and precaution notices. Multiple spots on the mall’s web site reference QR codes among the new safety features. “This is a big change for us, and for retail in general,” Gaus said. “Our biggest focus is on making the experience both comfortable and safe for the retailers and the customers, and QR codes seemed like the best way to do it.” DTC brand Bobblehaus, meanwhile, hosted a pop-up in September where every product had a QR code on it so that customers could scan it, see the product page on their phones and order it for delivery that way. The brand’s Instagram posted multiple times about the safety precautions in place, saying customers “are encouraged to shop using QR codes” whenever possible.
The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) is pushing back on U.S. President Donald Trump’s new executive order that prevents federal contractors, including ad agencies, from implementing diversity training that would seem to cover such issues as unconscious bias. Alison Pepper, executive VP of government relations for the 4A’s, said that the trade body for advertising agencies is joining “several leading trade associations and companies that represent a broad array of industries to push back on this Executive Order.” Marla Kaplowitz, 4A’s president and CEO, added that the order, signed by Trump on Sept. 22, would upend the programs that agencies have “heavily invested in to hire, recruit and retain diverse and inclusive workforces and boards.” All of the holding companies and many agencies have made even further investments in diversity training in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. “As this Executive Order prohibits employee training on topics such as ‘stereotyping’ and ‘scapegoating’ based on race or sex – ambiguous terms that even courts of law have trouble parsing and applying – it complicates how agencies can evaluate their employee training programs for compliance,” Kaplowitz says. “At large, this Executive Order undermines important investments agencies are trying to make at a time when many Americans are asking what they, and the industry, can do to create a more diverse and equitable workplace.”
A Japanese-themed street in China’s Guangdong province has become a hit with young people unable to travel abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 100m-long road in Foshan city, called Ichiban Street, has been outfitted by a local property developer to resemble famous commercial streets in Japan, complete with a sakura tree, an icon of Japan. Japanese lanterns have been hung along the street in Foshan, while buildings have been fitted with an array of signboards written in Japanese. Even the traffic lights, street signs and road markings are modelled on those used in Japan. Many of the neon signs refer to Japanese anime characters such as Astro Boy, Inuyasha and Sailor Moon, which are popular in China. The street is still being outfitted and has not officially opened, but word has spread quickly via social media and locals are flocking to the area.