The COVID-19 pandemic has forced some brands to radically change their marketing plans for 2020 (see here for a continually updated blog detailing how brands are reacting to the new normal and here to see how agencies are dealing with the changing ad landscape). More recently, the Black Lives Matter protests that arose due to the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahamud Arbery—and even more in the weeks since activists took the streets to march against racial injustice—have challenged brands and agencies in even more complicated and potentially troubling ways. The uproar, combined with the shockingly violent footage of the crackdowns on peaceful protesters, has forced many in the industry to confront whether their own personal and institutional biases, however unintentional or unconscious, may have contributed to a culture of systemic racism (see here for a regularly updated blog tracking brands' responses to racial injustice).
Over the past few years, Studio 30, Ad Age's custom content arm, has created and shared in-depth case studies and trend reports as premium content for Ad Age Insider subscribers (click here to access the Member Content page for the downloadable PDFs). With so much news occurring at such a breakneck pace, we've decided to launch a Studio 30 blog tracking how the brands and industry segments we've highlighted over the past year are faring during the time of coronavirus and social unrest.
June 19, 2020
6:00 PM EDT
Live Nation under fire for leaked memo, retreats on 2020 plans
On Wednesday, Rolling Stone published the details of a memo it had obtained from Live Nation to talent agencies. As the concerts giant deals with the catastrophic effects the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought on its core business, the letter outlined how Live Nation planned to mitigate the massive losses it has suffered this year: by passing on much of the financial liability to the artists themselves in 2021. Among the policies Live Nation is implementing next year: cutting the "guaranteed" payments to artists if a show is canceled from 100 percent to 25 percent, and requiring artists who cancel performances to reimburse the company two times the artist's fee.
Fans and selected artists—those bold enough to criticize the largest live events company in North America—flamed Live Nation on social media, accusing it of greed.
Two months ago, when Studio 30 contributing writer Tony Case reported on Live Nation and Asics' experiential marketing partnership at three of the concert behemoth's biggest festivals, the countrywide quarantine was well under way. But even in the face of that reality, and forecasts of the virulent spread of the novel coronavirus, Live Nation was hopeful that it would be able to make the most out of an incredible, uncontrollable situation: After canceling the first of the big three fests, Governors Ball in New York, the company postponed Bonnaroo until September and announced they were still planning on staging Lollapalooza in late July.
Even with business on pause, Live Nation at the time seemed to have weathered the worst of it. Its stock, after initially plummeting to half its value, bounced back following congressional approval of the stimulus package and the improvement of the situation in China, where the coronavirus originated. Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino commented that Live Nation has the “financial strength to weather this difficult time,” adding, “We will be ready to ramp back up quickly and once again connect audiences to artists at the concerts they are looking forward to.” By early April, one analyst was predicting in Barron’s that Live Nation’s share price could more than double in three years’ time.
Since then, the company has had to deal with the continuing cancellations of concerts and live events—including Lollapalooza, which was officially called off on June 9—and retool plans for the second half of the year, as the country continues to reopen.
“As things start opening up a bit, what does a live experience mean in a world of social distancing?” Russell Wallach, president for Live Nation’s media and sponsorship division, told Ad Age's E.J. Schultz and Jessica Wohl in May. The company, which owns more than 200 venues globally, is exploring events like drive-in concerts and camping events—“based on what’s permissible by the local municipality,” said Wallach.
In othe news, Live Nation Urban, a subsidiary of Live Nation Entertainment, joined the fray of corporate supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement by declaring June as Black Music Month. See the "Brands' Responses to Racial Injustice Blog" for more information.
10:32 AM EDT
Popeyes wins big at the Ad Age Creativity Awards
Back in December, contributing writer Michael Applebaum reported on the Popeyes chicken sandwich phenomenon for a Studio 30 case study. Six months later, it seems almost quaint looking back at the social media battles that gave the Louisiana-based restaurant chain a leg up in the Great Chicken Sandwich Wars last summer—not to mention the very long lines and unforeseen demand IRL that resulted in Popeyes selling out of the main ingredient for the sandwich for months.
But in addition to emerging victorious in the marketing battle, Popeyes has now won three Creativity Awards, as Ad Age announced this past Monday: two for Launch of the Year for GUT Miami's play on #Popeyesgate and for GSD&M's two-word tweet ("y'all good?") that set the internet on fire—which also won the Tiny but Mighty award in the Work category.
On June 3, Popeyes joined a growing chorus of brands supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, after Fernando Machado, global chief marketing officer of corporate parent Restaurant Brands International, which also owns Burger King and Tim Hortons, tweeted "Dear creative community, please do not send me another idea for a stunt to show that we support the African American community. Instead, hire more African Americans for the agency. Or help us evolve the diversity agenda here in my company (cause we need it). Actions, not ads."
On the same day, the restaurant's Chicken Sandwich War rival Chick-fil-A released a statement of empathy and solidarity with its African-American colleagues and the BIPOC community at large—while stopping short of declaring "Black Lives Matter." CEO Dan T. Cathy (who had joined the Atlanta Committee for Progress along with other business leaders including the heads of Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, pledging to work “on concrete actions and solutions to move toward a more inclusive just society”) wrote on his LinkedIn page:
"I recognize that someone like me cannot fully appreciate and understand the gross injustices that are all around us. I also recognize that talking about the systemic inequality, bias, and injustices in our country will draw criticism. But neither of these reasons makes it ok for me to remain silent about the issues that now so publicly confront our nation. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and many others is horrifying and merits our outrage. We should also address the disparate impact of COVID-19 on black and brown communities, as well as the disparity in educational opportunities and access to opportunity.... Let’s be moved to action. Let’s join together to build a world that reflects God’s love for all of us."
For years, the Georgia-based chain has been accused of anti-LGBTQ+ bias due to its charitable foundation's donations to religious-oriented organizations that are outspoken in their rejection of homosexuality. Last November, Chick-fil-A announced that it would stop giving to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and The Salvation Army. Founded by Cathy's father, Truett Cathy, in 1946, Chick-fil-A has been very open about incorporating conservative Christian beliefs into the company's business culture. So it was not surprising that Dan Cathy would agree to take part in a roundtable discussion on race at an Atlanta megachurch on June 14 with the pastor, Louie Giglio, and hip-hop artist Lecrae, among others.
In a gesture of humility and Christian charity, Cathy shined Lecrae's sneakers, but Giglio received almost instant criticism when he commented, “We understand the curse that was slavery—white people do—and we say that was bad, but we miss the blessing of slavery ... that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in,” according to WSB-TV in Atlanta. He further inflamed the situation when he suggested that it would improve uncomfortable conversations about race if people replaced the term "white privilege" with "white blessing."
After the controversial remarks were made public, Giglio apologized publicly. Neither Cathy nor Chick-fil-A has commented as of yet. Update 1:11PM EDT: A spokesman for Chick-fil-A tells Ad Age "we do not have anything to add to this story beyond" Cathy's previous statement from June 3. But the spokesman pointed out that Chick-fil-A is continuing to work toward honoring its pledge to create a more just society by committing "$5 million to Black-led non-profits and those serving the Black community in 2020. This giving commitment, which is part of a new ongoing focus for the company’s True Inspiration Awards, quadruples last year’s True Inspiration Award grants."