A regularly updated list tracking marketers’ response to coronavirus
Since stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March, the pandemic forced marketers into unprecedented action, including closing offices, stopping agency reviews and tweaking or stopping certain advertising. Now, as major cities begin allowing more business to re-open, brands are trying to resume some normalcy. Still, major hurdles remain, including restoring consumer confidence, while also revamping operations to account for social distancing. At the same time, brands must respond to nationwide protests, rioting and civil unrest in the wake of the police-involved death of George Floyd.
Below, some of the latest actions that major marketers are taking related to the pandemic. For a look back at how brands responded in the first three months, check out our archived coverage here. And for the latest on how companies are dealing with protests and calls for social justice, visit this regularly updated blog.
July 9, 2020
3:43 PM EDT
Masks will be required at Starbucks
Starbucks says it will require customers to wear facial coverings while visiting its company-owned locations in the U.S., starting July 15. The announcement comes as people at places such as 7-Eleven, Costco, Target and Trader Joe’s have argued about wearing masks, including in incidents captured on video and shared on social media. Costco began requiring masks at its warehouses in May and continues to deal with some visitors who don’t want to comply. Starbucks says customers who aren’t wearing facial coverings in locales where they aren’t mandated by the government have other ways to order — through the drive-thru, curbside pickup or delivery.
July 8, 2020
12:00 PM EDT
Burger King puts new plays on passports and online gaming
Burger King is out with two separate campaigns this week with a common thread: the coronavirus pandemic is keeping people home — whether that’s in Sweden or watching gamers in the U.S. First up, Burger King Sweden says its patrons, who can’t currently use their Swedish passports to travel outside the country, can use them to get free food instead. The campaign from INGO Stockholm comes as Sweden’s COVID-19 strategy has faced scrutiny for being too lax. Swedes who bring their passports into Burger King can get stamps good for free burgers from the chain’s new “World Gourmet” line.
In the U.S., Burger King found a workaround to promote offers such as $1 mini shakes and 40 nuggets for $4.99 on Twitch. Burger King isn’t advertising on the popular livestreaming site. Instead, it used the donation feature, donating small amounts to popular gamers and including messages with the $1 to $5 donations. On Twitch, donation messages are automatically read by a bot. So as the gamers play, they and their viewers hear about the BK offers. David Madrid is the agency on that campaign.
July 2, 2020
12:03 PM EDT
Coca-Cola highlights at-home dining in new COVID-19 spot and donates $1 million to World Central Kitchen
Coca-Cola puts an optimistic and delicious-looking spin on at-home dining during the pandemic in a new 90-second spot from Anomaly New York. In the video, bottles of Coca-Cola are seen alongside a variety of dishes being prepared during COVID-19. The spot, which was shot remotely, shows 13 families, couples and housemates in households from around the world including clips from Orlando, Shanghai, Lisbon, Kiev, London, Mumbai and Mexico City. “From now on we’re not going to leave anything on our plates, because we’ve learned to savor the moments that were always there,” a voiceover says toward the end of the spot, which is running in the U.S. and is set to run in other countries.
Coca-Cola also announced a $1 million donation to World Central Kitchen to serve 100,000 meals in the U.S. and Mexico, with plans to expand that effort globally, and to help about 150 restaurants hard-hit coronavirus communities rehire up to 1,400 employees. The donation was announced on July 1, two days before the July 3 release of “Hamilton” on Disney+. In a related move, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton,” and World Central Kitchen Founder and Chef José Andrés will be shown on Coke’s website discussing how the pandemic has impacted people’s access to food.
“Food insecurity, especially among minority communities, continues to rise as Black, Indigenous and People of Color have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” Miranda said in a statement.
June 29, 2020
5:44 PM EDT
American Express commits more than $200 million to recovering U.S. small businesses
American Express has been advocating for small U.S. businesses since the company founded the now widespread holiday Small Business Saturday in 2010. As many small businesses work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the credit company has announced its largest “Shop Small” campaign by providing more than $200 million to small businesses over the next several months to help those struggling to recuperate. According to research conducted by American Express, 62 percent of U.S. small businesses reported that they need to see consumer spending return to pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of 2020 to stay in businesses.
As part of the $200 million commitment, American Express is offering to give $5 back to cardmembers after they spend $10 or more with a U.S. merchant. Card holders can take part up to 10 times until September 20. The company is also supplying merchants with marketing tools and has created an online map for consumers looking to shop small.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, and now is the time to join together and help them rebound from this global crisis, because their success is critical to job creation, strong economies and thriving neighborhoods,” said Stephen J. Squeri, chairman and CEO of American Express, in a statement.
Separately, American Express is building a $10 million program that will provide grants to Black-owned businesses over the next four years in a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the U.S. Black Chambers, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Business League and Walker’s Legacy. As part of the initiative, American Express is running new 30 and 15-second versions of a new TV and digital spot created by dentsumcgarrybowen, and narrated by American Express Lin-Manual Miranda. The ad highlights local spots like Brooklyn-based bakery Sweet Spot, LA design studio Lot Stock and Barrel and LA BBQ spot The Park’s Finest.
June 24, 2020
12:45 AM EDT
Hennessy’s ‘Unfinished Business’ fund backs business owners of color
Hennessy today released a video promoting its “Unfinished Business” program that pledges $3 million in support for businesses owned by Black, Latinx and Asian American people who have beenhard hit by the pandemic. The video, from Droga5 and New York City-based filmmaker Haley Anderson, spotlights seven small-business owners talking about their challenges. It is backed by music from jazz pianist Julius Rodriguez and also features artists from the gallery at Brooklyn’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA).
The Unfinished Business fund, announced in late May, provides funds to One Hundred Black Men of New York, the Asian American Business Development Center, and the Hispanic Federation “to ensure support is distributed directly at the community-level among those who need it the most,” according to Hennessy.
Droga5 was involved in formulating the program, as well as creating its visual language and web site.
9:13 AM EDT
Domino’s adds a ‘Rain Check Registry’ for pizza fans with weddings delayed
Domino’s Pizza has had a wedding registry since 2017. Now, it has added some very 2020 registry options, aimed at couples replanning their coronavirus-postponed weddings. The Domino’s Rain Check Registry offers gift cards with humorous themes such as the $20 “You Taught a Relative How to Video Call” card and a $30 “vendor call-a-thon” card, since eating pizza might help lessen the pain of rescheduling all of those florists, caterers and so on. "We created Domino's Wedding Registry because pizza-loving couples have shared over the years how Domino's pizza was a part of their big day,” Kate Trumbull, Domino's VP of advertising, said in a statement. "With so many weddings being postponed or scaled back in 2020, we knew those couples might need some extra love from those around them, because everything is better with pizza."
June 22, 2020
2:11 PM EDT
Store loyalty declining
Consumers are becoming less loyal to their preferred retailer of choice amid coronavirus-related stockpiling, one study found. According to a survey from data company Numerator, 64 percent of shoppers are trying a new store because their “preferred store” is out of stock on items they need. Meanwhile, 38 percent of respondents said their regular store is too crowded and 36 percent said they are shopping closer to home than normal because of COVID-19 concerns. The report raises concerns for how retailers should be attracting former loyalists.
June 19, 2020
3:15 PM EDT
End of the roll
Toilet paper’s reign at the top of household shopping lists might be at an end. Bath tissue sales fell 0.6 percent in the week ended June 13 from the year-earlier period, according to Nielsen data. The decline caps weeks of slowing growth as consumers pull back on stocking up on the bathroom item. At the same time, some shoppers are turning to disposable urinals for travel as they avoid public restrooms on road trips.
In addition, Nielsen found that paper towels are still in demand, ending the week of June 13 with sales up nearly 9 percent compared to the year-earlier period. That rise could continue to be good for napkins, which have seen sales rise during the pandemic due to the shortages of other paper products.
June 18, 2020
10:30 AM EDT
Carnival predicts continued losses as it doesn’t know when its cruises will resume
Cruise operator Carnival Corp. says it cannot definitively predict when it will return to normal operations. Earlier this week, rival Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings extended its suspension of cruises through September, except for Seattle-based Alaska cruises still set to sail in September.
Carnival says that there was demand for 2021 cruises even as it substantially cut back on marketing spending. About two-thirds of 2021 bookings in the six weeks ended May 31 were new bookings, it says, while the rest were from guests who applied credits from canceled sailings to future cruises. Carnival posted a second-quarter loss of $4.4 billion and says it expects to post a loss in the second half of 2020.
Carnival is scaling back its operations, with preliminary deals in place to dispose of six ships and plans for additional deals.
June 16, 2020
3:04 PM EDT
Cycling industry hits $1 billion in monthly sales
Consumers are continuing to buy bikes as they turn to at-home fitness equipment and new, non-public modes of transportation outside due to coronavirus concerns. After growth in March, the cycling industry revved up even more in April, according to a recent report from trend research firm NPD Group. April sales of bikes, including outdoor and indoor bicycles and accessories, grew 75 percent from the year-earlier period to $1 billion, the firm found. Typically, cycling sales are between $550 million and $575 million. Experts say brands should expand their marketing focus beyond the single cycling enthusiast to a family of recreationists.
“For far too long the cycling industry has been solely focused on the pinnacle athlete, but these results show that a broader, family and beginner focus can reap gains,” said Matt Powell, NPD’s sports industry advisor, in a statement. “This is a silver lining, and one of the important sports retail lessons to come out of the pandemic.
June 10, 2020
4:55 PM EDT
Men more likely to try on clothes post-pandemic
As stores reopen, not all consumers will be comfortable trying on clothes in fitting rooms even after the pandemic ends, suggests a new poll from YouGov. According to the poll, 43 percent of Americans say they are somewhat or very comfortable trying on clothes at a store when COVID-19 is over and 43 percent say they are somewhat or very uncomfortable doing so. Yet more men say they would be comfortable than women.
June 9, 2020
4:45 PM EDT
Zaxby’s brings romance to the drive-thru line
Chicken chain Zaxby’s held a “Drive-Thru Date Night” on a recent Friday at one of its Tennessee locations to appeal to couples looking for a break from pandemic meals at home. Zaxby’s says customers were treated to roses, a violinist and a caricature artist as they waited in the drive-thru line, where the chain has been doing well during COVID-19. The chain worked with creative agency of record Tombras on the May 29 event, which promoted its Zax Pax for Two, which includes eight chicken fingers, two regular crinkle fries, two slices of Texas toast, two Zax Sauce dipping cups and two 22-ounce drinks.
3:59 PM EDT
Store closures to skyrocket following coronavirus lockdowns
The pandemic is continuing to pummel the retail industry, and one research firm says the struggle will continue. In a new report, Coresight Research said store closures in the U.S. will be between 20,000 and 25,000—even higher than the firm’s March estimate of 15,000 closures and more than double the 9,821 closures of 2019. Last week, struggling Gap Inc., which has begun reopening its stores following COVID-19 shutdowns, reported quarterly sales declines and announced it will permanently shutter its two-year-old menswear brand Hill City. Signet Jewelers, which owns mall-based brands including Zales, Jared and Kay, said it will close more than 150 of its locations; bankrupt JC Penney recently announced it will close 242 stores, leaving just 600 open. Coresight expects that as much as 60 percent of the retail closures will be from mall-based stores.
June 8, 2020
12:20 PM EDT
A majority of U.S. consumers want brands to continue COVID messaging
More than half of U.S. consumers say brands need to continue messages about a new set of concerns and messages around protecting workers and consumers, even as the COVID-19 threat subsides, according to new survey research by GfK. But it’s a relatively thin majority – 55 percent – with the other 45 percent believing brands should return to pre-coronavirus themes as soon as possible. The survey was conducted with more than 1,000 people in the U.S. ages 16-65 conducted May 28 and 29. It finds women, millennials and Gen Z more likely to believe brands should change messaging in a post-COVID world. People with children under 3 prefer brands return to pre-virus messaging, such as innovations, promotions and general product information.
11:05 AM EDT
Men playing a much bigger role in shopping during pandemic
Men are playing a much bigger role in grocery shopping during the pandemic and are now the primary grocery shoppers in 54 percent of U.S. households where only one person does the shopping, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people commissioned by Emodo.
Like most surveys about household chores, it bears scrutiny. Women now report they’re the primary shopper in 60 percent of households where only one person does the shopping, and men report they’re the primary shopper in 54 percent. That adds up to over 100 percent, so someone is fibbing.
But, significantly, the survey found the number of women in all households who self-report that they’re the primary shopper has fallen to 59 percent during the pandemic from 74 percent before – a 15 point drop. Emodo behavioral data, based on tracking mobile devices in store, also confirms the shift, with the ratio of men to women shopping at CVS and Walgreens rising substantially in March and early April. Emodo also finds that dads have taken a more active role across every aspect of shopping – most notably in store but also with online delivery and pickup orders.
There are big implications for packaged-goods marketers. Survey responses suggest men are less brand loyal and more willing to buy alternatives, particularly private labels, if they have any trouble finding their favorite brands.
The survey didn’t indicate exactly why men are playing a bigger role in shopping now – whether it’s because they have more time on their hands due to unemployment or working from home, being noble by taking the risk, or just eager to volunteer for something that gets them out of the home. Jake Moskowitz, VP of data strategy at Ericsson Emodo, sees signs that the pandemic could lead to permanent changes, with people of all ages shopping for food more, but particularly people ages 25-34. With 68 percent of people reporting that they’ve increased cooking from scratch, and 58 percent saying they’ve tried new recipes during the pandemic, they’ve developed skills they may continue applying for years. More than half of respondents also say they won’t immediately go back to normal activities even with government encouragement, and 40 percent say they won’t do so even if there’s a vaccine.
June 4, 2020
4:32 PM EDT
Americans get fatter, snack more, but willing to wear masks
Americans are snacking more and getting fatter during the pandemic, according to the latest wave of surveys from Acupoll. Its survey found 29 percent of more than 5,000 respondents May 7-18 reported having gained weight—3 percent of them more than 10 pounds. Balancing things out, 20 percent said they’ve lost weight. Of the gainers, 46 percent blame eating more; 28 percent blame less exercise; 17 percent blame less healthy eating habits, and 7 percent blame emotional reasons.
On those eating habits, 33 percent said they’re eating more or larger portions of snacks, and/or using single-serve snack packs less. For single-serve snack marketers, Acupoll sees an opportunity to focus on the health value of portion control, tacking away from the more cynical approach of just piling displays of value-size cheese puffs higher at Walmart.
Despite masks becoming a culture wars flashpoint, Acupoll found 91 percent of respondents are willing to wear them to enter a business, at least grudgingly. Actually, 36 percent said they wouldn’t go into a business that lets people in without them. Another 44 percent said they don’t like it, but wear masks anyway when they go to businesses. And 11 percent said they’re willing to wear masks but can’t find them. Overall, 83 percent of respondents agree with public health restrictions on businesses and public gatherings at least to some extent.
June 2, 2020
5:26 PM EDT
Perdue’s latest coronavirus ad doesn’t star any Perdue family members
The latest Perdue Farms commercial is a first for the poultry brand — the spot doesn’t star a member of the Perdue family or a brand spokesperson. “Keep Cookin’” features non-actors preparing meals in their homes that, of course, feature some Perdue chicken products. The work plays on the idea that people are spending more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic learning new recipes and trying to have moments of joy while dining. The effort relies on a montage of remote production shots, like many other campaigns have done over the past couple of months, but doesn’t specifically mention the pandemic. It comes from The VIA Agency, which in March worked with Perdue on selfie-style spots that showed Chairman Jim Perdue thanking frontline food workers.
June 1, 2020
6:30 PM EDT
Ice cream, canned foods among big e-commerce winners
COVID-19 has been a huge boost for e-commerce, with sales up ranging from 29 percent last quarter for Amazon (North America) to 141 percent for Target (U.S.) But the growth hasn’t been uniform, according to Numerator.
E-commerce sales of ice cream and novelties were up ninefold from year-ago levels during the 10 weeks from March 1 to May 15. Other top growing categories were canned and frozen foods (up more than sevenfold); toothpaste and soda, sports and energy drinks (up fivefold); makeup (up 4.6 times) and shampoo and conditioner (up 2.1 times). Overall grocery e-commerce sales levels are 20 months ahead of where they were trending before the pandemic, according to Numerator, which expects the elevated sales to continue based on prior patterns of people continuing to buy categories online once they start. Numerator collects online and offline sales data from a panel of more than 100,000 consumers.