Airbnb, Man United, Twitter: Everything that matters this morning

Good morning and welcome to Marketing Week’s round-up of the news that matters in the marketing world today.

Airbnb expands into hotels as it preps for next 10 years of growth

Airbnb is expanding its service to offer users stays in hotels and luxury properties and is launching a loyalty programme for guests as it preps for the next 10 years of growth. While hotels and people who own B&Bs have long used the platform, Airbnb will now officially recognise this by introducing new search categories. And it is introducing ‘Airbnb Collections’, places to stay that work for different types of travellers such as families and work.

On top of that, Airbnb is adding luxury tiers – ‘Airbnb Plus’, a new tier of homes that the company will personally verify for quality and comfort, and ‘Beyond by Airbnb’, which offers a full-service package and launches in the spring – as it looks to move into the luxury travel market.

Airbnb is also looking to boost loyalty, adding a “superguest” programme that offers benefits including discounts as well as additional services such as flight upgrades and airport pickups. A pilot with 10,000 guests start in the spring and will be introduced more widely over the summer.

There are already more than 4.5 million places to stay listed on Airbnb across 81,000 towns and cities, while there have been more than 300 million guest check-ins. The company hopes this latest expansion will position it for the next 10 years and enable it to reach its target of 1 billion check-ins by 2028.

READ MORE: Airbnb Unveils Roadmap to Bring Magical Travel to Everyone

Twitter clamps down on bots in bid to stop spread of fake news

Twitter is making moves to clampdown on bots on its platform as it looks to stop tactics adopted by some users to make particular tweets or topics go viral.

The social network will no longer allow users to post identical messages from multiple accounts or use software to simultaneously like or retweet from multiple accounts. Accounts have until 23 March to comply or they will be suspended. However some bots, such as those that issue earthquake alerts, will be allowed to continue posting.

The move comes as Twitter, alongside other digital platforms, comes under pressure over the spread of fake news and propaganda.

Yoel Roth, who works on Twitter’s policy teams, says: “These changes are an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter – including elections in the United States and around the world.”

READ MORE: Twitter bars tactics used by ‘bots’ to spread false stories

Manchester United finally launches YouTube channel

Manchester United has finally launched an official YouTube channel as it looks to tap into a growing audience on the video platform. The Manchester club is already the most viewed Premier League team on YouTube, with 843 million views since the start of the 2017/18 season, up 60% year on year. An official presence should help to boost that audience still further.

The channel will offer fans exclusive features of its players, as well as highlights of Premier League matches and classic games celebrating some of its best past players. There will also be behind-the-scenes content featuring both the first team and its Academy, as well as collaborations with YouTube vloggers and celebrities.

In a statement, Manchester United says: “The club’s vision is to be the largest and most engaged sports club in the world and incremental distribution, like the launch of MUTV on iOS and Android, and our presence on platforms such as YouTube will allow us to achieve this vision.

“On the back of our enormous success on other social platforms, YouTube will allow us to continue to evolve our demographics, as well as provide us with analytics and insights to feed not only our media and content plans, but other cross club initiatives.”

The YouTube channel will have no impact on MUTV or the club’s other social media platforms instead the aim is to ensure they each have their own exclusive content.

Facebook looks to offer more clarity on ad metrics

Facebook is updating its ad offering in a bid to clean up the metrics and offer more clarity on how campaigns are performing. The first change will introduce new labels for certain metrics explicitly pointing out if the metric is an estimate and/or in development rather than directly measured.

Secondly, Facebook is getting rid of some redundant metrics, starting with 20 that will stop being available as of July because they are either outdated or not used very often. That includes, for example, its ‘search reach metric’, a measure of how often people saw an ad accompanied by context such as comment from a friend, that has proven to be very similar to its standard reach metric.

Finally, Facebook will launch a new service, called Measure What Matters, that aims to raise awareness of and educate advertisers on how to measure and improve campaigns. The initiative will include live events, as well as online events and content.

The move comes after Facebook admitted to multiple errors in its ad metrics that, in most instances, inflated how successful or popular content from brands was. The changes are the latest attempt by Facebook to increase transparency, which it hopes will increase marketers’ confidence in using the platform.

READ MORE: Making ad metrics clearer

RBS makes first profit in 10 years

Royal Bank of Scotland has posted a profit for the first time in a decade as its turnaround begins to take hold. The bank, still majority owned by the taxpayer after it was bailed out by the government during the banking crisis 10 years ago, made profits of £752m, compared with a £6.95bn loss the year before. Speaking to the BBC, CEO Ross McEwan dubbed it a “symbolic moment”..

However, the bank is warning that it could tip back in the red this financial year as it faces further additional charges and costs related to legal and regulatory issues. It faces a potential fine from the US Department of Justice over the mis-selling of mortgage-backed financial products.

Separately, Barclays swung to a £2bn full-year loss as it was hit by tax and disposal charges. Revenues were down 2% but pre-tax profits rose 10%. However, the sale of its African business and a one-off cost caused by US Corporate tax reform hit net profit.

READ MORE: RBS reports first profit in 10 years

Thursday, 22 February

Stella Artois and Matt Damon use hidden cameras to show how much people take water for granted

Stella Artois and have launched the next stage of their partnership, a social experiment that aims to illustrate how much people take access to water for granted.

During the video, unwitting consumers in restaurants and hotels in London, New York and Uraguay are told that water will not be available to them for up to six hours. Hidden cameras film each person’s outrage and then their reaction to a video of Matt Damon, who tells them that in the developing world it takes women up to six hours to collect water each day, so many have to choose between work and education or getting water to survive.

As part of the campaign, this month for every pint, bottle or can of Stella purchased, the brand’s owner AB InBev will provide six months of clean water to someone in the developing world.

“We’ve learned this issue is hard for many people to relate to because clean, accessible water is a constant presence in their lives,” says Matt Damon, co-founder of “Yet for millions around the world, this isn’t the case. Our challenge is to help create that understanding.”

“It was important for us to take a fresh approach, putting the issue into people’s everyday lives in a provocative way, to inspire them to think about it differently and take action,” adds Jason Warner, president, North Europe, AB InBev.

“Since 2015, our partnership with has provided more than a million people in the developing world with access to five years of clean water, and we’re excited to continue this momentum. But we also wanted to involve as many people as possible in the UK in helping to end the global water crisis, making it easy to donate as part of their usual routine – their usual shopping trip or pub visit.”

The beer giant’s TV ad featuring Matt Damon failed to resonate with viewers during the Super Bowl owing to its serious nature. In fact it scored just 3 out of 10 (15%) – the lowest score in a ranking of more than 75 ads based on 5,000 viewers’ reactions by Lucid and Realeyes.

Virgin Holidays hires new marketing boss to bolster loyalty

Virgin Holidays has hired former Boots marketer Amber Kirby as marketing and customer experience director to lead its 35-strong team.

She joins from Walgreen Boots Alliance where she was global brand and marketing director, leading on the launch of new global skincare brands, as well as innovation and product development across the retailer’s health and beauty portfolio. Prior to Boots she was at Procter & Gamble, where she held roles including brand portfolio leader for Oral-B.

Kirby will report directly to Virgin Holidays’ managing director Joe Thompson and has been tasked with achieving core business objectives, such as improving customer journeys through the launch of an enhanced loyalty proposition and transforming the digital experience.

She will sit on the Virgin Holidays leadership team alongside four other company directors.

NatWest banks on AI-powered bot to assist customers

NatWest is looking to improve customer experience with the trial of an artificial intelligence-powered assistant called Cora that can help customers with basic banking questions.

Customers can have two-way conversations with the bot who can answer more than 200 basic banking questions, such as “how do I log in to online banking?” and “how do I apply for a mortgage?”.

The move has raised concerns, however, that the bank is poised to make further job cuts.

READ MORE: NatWest recruits AI bot Cora to answer customer questions

Google launches machine learning-powered ad format to optimise placements

Google AdSense has rolled out Auto Ads, a new ad format that uses machine learning to automatically place ads on websites where they are likely to perform well.

It is also designed to help publishers find placements for ad slots that might otherwise go undiscovered, thereby increasing revenue.

Publishers are required to place a piece of code on all the pages they want to include once and then Auto Ads will analyse these pages to find potential ad placements, and show new ads “when they’re likely to perform well and provide a good user experience”, it said in a blog post.

Metro Bank posts first profit

Challenger bank Metro has posted its first yearly profit and record growth in lending and deposits, but investors were spooked by potential expansion costs.

The bank, which was founded eight years ago, posted net profits of £10.8m for 2017, up from a £16.8m loss the previous year. Lending saw a 64% boost to £9.6bn, while deposits jumped 47% to £11.7bn.

But its net interest margin (NIM), which is the difference between the interest it receives in loans and pays on deposits, moved from 1.97% at the end of 2016 to 1.93%, while the lender’s core capital buffer fell to 15.3%, down from 18.1%. The drop raised concerns the bank could need to raise debt or equity this year.

The bank’s share price dropped by up to 8% in morning trading before recovering some of its losses to close around 3% lower at £35.04.

Craig Donaldson, chief executive of Metro Bank, says he is “really chuffed” with the results despite the market reaction. “It’s been a year of records and we’re well positioned for the next phase of our growth,” he adds.

READ MORE: Metro posts first profit but stock slides as investors spooked by potential expansion costs

Wednesday, 21 February

Homebase rebrand causes parent company’s profits to slide by 86.6%

The “rapid repositioning” of Homebase has hit its Australian parent company Wesfarmer, which suffered an 86.6% drop in profits during the second half of 2017.

The cost of rebranding the UK DIY business under the Bunnings brand, a popular chain in Wesfarmer’s domestic market, caused the Aussie conglomerate’s profits to fall by $931m (Australian dollars).

According to Wesfarmer 40 Homebase stores could face closure, putting up to 2,000 jobs at risk. This is in addition to the five loss-making Homebase branches that were closed between July and December.

Wesfarmer, which bought the UK DIY company in 2016 and owns Australian supermarket chain Coles, said it was hopeful the Homebase business would improve during the spring and summer months.

READ MORE: Homebase owner Wesfarmers sees profits down 86.6%

KFC chicken shortage could last all week


Some KFC outlets could remain closed all week, while others are operating a reduced menu or shortened hours, after the fast food chain was hit by a chicken shortage.

On Tuesday night around half the fried chicken chain’s 900 UK outlets were still closed, down from the 575 closed on Monday evening. A KFC spokesperson told the BBC the company expected the number of closures to fall in the coming days as teams “work flat-out all hours to clear the backlog”.

The chicken supply issues are thought to result from KFC’s decision last week to switch its delivery contract from specialist food distribution group Bidvest to DHL. The logistics firm’s managing director of retail, John Boulter, has been forced to apologise for the “interruption of supply”.

The GMB Union claims that KFC’s decision to switch suppliers led to 255 job losses and the closure of a Bidvest depot.

As 95% of KFC’s UK outlets are run by franchisees it is difficult to estimate the cost of the shutdown to the business, although the BBC reports some media are calculating a figure of close to £1m a day.

READ MORE: KFC shortages to continue all week

Domino’s becomes the world’s biggest pizza chain

Domino’s has unseated Pizza Hut to become the world’s biggest pizza chain.

With global retail sales in excess of $12.2bn in 2017 Domino’s is narrowly ahead of Pizza Hut, which reported global system sales of $12.03bn. Domino’s praised its “terrific procurement team” for ensuring all the company’s supply partners were aware that it is the “largest and expects to be treated that way”.

In the US alone Domino’s fourth quarter sales at its pizza shops rose 4.2%, compared to the 2% growth generated by Pizza Hut.

However, in terms of a global footprint Pizza Hut takes the lead with 16,748 locations at the end of 2017, compared to the 14,856 shops operated by Domino’s.

READ MORE: Domino’s unseats Pizza Hut as biggest pizza chain 

BrewDog unveils plans for first craft beer hotel

Independent craft brewer BrewDog has unveiled plans to build the world’s first craft beer hotel at its headquarters in Ellon, Aberdeenshire.

Known as The DogHouse, the 26 room hotel is on track to open to guests during the first half of 2019. Pitched as an immersive craft beer experience, The DogHouse’s rooms will feature beer taps and built-in shower beer fridges, while some rooms will overlook the brewery.

Priority booking for the hotel will be given to “Equity Punk” investors, a community of more than 73,000 fans who have helped the Scottish brewery raise over £53m since 2009. BrewDog launched its fifth round of crowdfunding in October 2017, with a view to raise at least £10m to fund its ambitions for global expansion.

In addition to the construction of the hotel, the company is also expanding its brewery to include a 300 hl brewhouse, and canning and packaging hall. The hotel and new brewhouse will be built on a 3.25 acre site adjacent to BrewDog’s current 1 million hl brewery. Just last month the Scottish brewer opened its sour beer brewing facility, The Overworks.

READ MORE: Drink in the view: BrewDog to open its first UK ‘beer hotel’

Red Bull’s “gives you wiiings” positioning is not a health claim, rules ASA

Red Bull

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has refused to uphold two complaints against energy drinks maker Red Bull relating to the potential health claims of its “gives you wiiings” positioning.

The ASA ruled that for the first advert, which featured an animation of a man beating a robot at chess, the “humorous, fantastical tone” and lack of any overt reference to a health benefit meant that consumers were unlikely to understand a relationship between drinking Red Bull and improving their health.

With the second advert a complainant took issue with the claim made by two animated smartphones that “everyone knows” Red Bull “vitalises body and mind”. The ASA ruled that while the claim “vitalises body and mind” would likely be understood as a reference to health-related wellbeing, the phrase had been trademarked prior to 1 January 2005 and therefore was exempt from the regulations.

In response to the complaint Red Bull stated that “Red Bull gives you wiiings” was not a health claim and clearly has a “fanciful” meaning that could not be taken literally by consumers.

Furthermore the drinks giant said both adverts were light-hearted cartoons that employed a fantastical way of storytelling which “should not be, and largely was not, taken literally by consumers”.

Tuesday, 20 February

Sir Philip Green denies ‘rumour-mongering’ reports of Arcadia sale

Sir Philip Green says reports of an Arcadia group sale to a Chinese investor are “rumour-mongering”.

Over the weekend, reports emerged that, after seeking a buyer for some months, Green was in talks with Shandong Ruyi to sell his retail empire, which includes Topshop and Miss Selfridge. 

In a joint statement with Arcadia issued late yesterday (19 February) Green branded the speculation “totally false” and both said neither was in discussions with any party over a sale.

The statement comes after Frank Field, who chairs the work and pensions select committee, wrote an open letter calling for all workers’ pensions to be safeguarded in the event of a sale.

£ READ MORE: Sir Philip Green denies Arcadia sale talks with Chinese investor

William Hill to pay £6.2m penalty package

The Gambling Commission has hit William Hill with a £6.2m penalty for “systemic social responsibility and money laundering failures”.

The Commission said the company did not do enough to ensure prevention measures were effective and as a result 10 customers were able to deposit money linked to criminal offences gaining William Hill £1.2m.

Neil McArthur, executive director at the Gambling Commission, says in a statement: “This was a systemic failing at William Hill which went on for nearly two years and today’s penalty package – which could exceed £6.2m – reflects the seriousness of the breaches.”

Anti-Brexit pressure group begins advertising push ahead of parliamentary vote

Anti-Brexit campaigners are beginning a six-week advertising push in a bid to influence upcoming parliamentary votes on whether Britain should remain in the EU.

Best for Britain, a group funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, is planning a large advertising campaign to promote the EU. “There will be some billboards but there’ll also be a lot of digital spending too,” Eloise Todd, its chief executive, told the Financial Times.

The advertising will be pushed through out-of-home and digital channels and will be targeting  voters in Midlands and north of England. The campaign has a strong following compared to previous Remain campaigns. Best for Britain has more than 500,000 people on its mailing lists.

£ READ MORE: Campaigners to stop Brexit prepare six-week advertising blitz

Jamie Oliver in trouble as flagship London restaurant closes

The Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group is closing two of his Barbecoa restaurants in a severe cost-cutting plan to save the business.

The celebrity chef’s up-market steakhouse in London’s Piccadilly will close just one year after its re-launch, while the St Paul’s outlet was bought back by Oliver for an undisclosed sum via a newly created subsidiary.

Despite the celebrity chef putting £3m of his own money into the business in December, it announced last month that it would be shutting 12 Jamie’s Italian restaurants. The closures are part of an agreed plan with creditors to allow the company to keep trading. Court documents reveal that Jamie’s Italian has debts of £71.5m.

READ MORE: Jamie Oliver closes flagship Barbecoa restaurant

Jeremy Corbyn promises a Labour government would stop hostile takeovers of UK businesses 

Jeremy Corbyn will promise that if the Labour Party gets into power it will “intervene to prevent hostile takeovers”.

In a speech at the EEF manufacturing conference today, the Labour leader will renew his pledge to rebalance Britain’s economy. He is expected to tell delegates in London that if the party wins the next election it will “broaden the scope of the public interest test” to allow the government to intervene on hostile takeovers.

Corbyn will also accuse bankers of taking the economy hostage calling for further regulations of the financial sector so it becomes “the servant of industry not the master of us all”.

READ MORE: We will prevent hostile takeover bids for UK firms – Jeremy Corbyn

Monday, 19 February

Former Tesco UK boss heads to N Brown

The former UK chief of Tesco Matt Davies is set to become chairman of online clothing retailer N Brown, which owns key retail brands include JD Williams, Simply Be, and Jacamo.

Davies was replaced at Tesco by Booker chief Charles Wilson earlier this month, following Tesco’s £3.7bn merger with Booker last year.

He will succeed N Brown’s Andrew Higginson, who is stepping down after almost five years in the role, to become one of the youngest chairmen of a FTSE-350 company.

N Brown is headquartered in Manchester and has a market value of ‎just over £535m.

READ MORE: Former Tesco UK boss to chair retail company N Brown

Baidu posts strong Q4 results

Baidu’s revenue reached $3.62 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017 – up 29% year-on-year.

Mobile revenue represented 76% of total revenues, compared to 65% for the fourth quarter of 2016.

Over the year, revenue for the Chinese multinational technology company totalled $13.03 billion – 20% higher than in 2016.

In a statement, the company’s CFO, Herman Yu, said in 2018 Baidu plans to continue its strategy to exit non-core businesses and increase investments in its mobile and new AI businesses, “which we believe play to Baidu’s strengths as a technology leader and will sow the seed for Baidu’s future growth in autonomous driving and conversational AI, particularly in the home environment.”

M&S unveils new film partnership

Marks & Spencer has launched a new film partnership based around the new British romantic comedy-drama film, Finding Your Feet.

To celebrate the film’s release on 23 February, M&S will be rolling out a promotional offer to its Sparks members, themed around Mother’s Day.

The newsletter campaign, brokered by cinema ad company Pearl & Dean, will promote a prize exclusively available to Sparks members, inspired by Finding Your Feet, which stars Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Timothy Spall and Joanna Lumley.

“Finding Your Feet is a natural fit for our core customer base,” says Rachel Mercer, membership benefits assistant manager at M&S customer team & loyalty.

“The characters of this heart-warming romantic comedy are sure to resonate with our most loyal M&S customers.”

UK tech industry writes warning letter to ministers

The British tech industry has written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, to warn that dropping EU data security laws post-Brexit will “undermine” the UK’s opportunity to remain one of Europe’s leading tech hubs.

In an open letter, Julian David, the chief executive of lobby group TechUK, fired caution against “the misunderstanding that adherence to the EU data protection regime is incompatible with securing high-quality trade agreements.”

TechUK, which represents nearly 1,000 UK tech firms, said its members had already invested significantly in order to make sure they are GDPR-compliant and that they have made very clear they do not want to diverge from new EU regulation laws after Brexit.

READ MORE: Tech industry warns ministers not to drop EU data security laws

Weibo revenue surpasses $1bn mark

Chinese micro-messaging app Weibo passed the $1bn revenue mark in 2017 following strong growth in advertising and marketing.

Revenue was up 75% on the previous year to $1.15bn, which the company’s CEO Gaofei Wang described as an “important milestone”.

Ad and marketing revenues were also up 75% year-on-year to $996.7 million.

The platform added 79 million monthly active users year-on-year to reach 392 million in December 2017 – 93% of which came from mobile.

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