Unilever, Next, coronavirus latest: 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.


Unilever rolls out £100m campaign to stop the spread of coronavirus

Unilever has teamed up with the UK government on a £100m global campaign to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

The FMCG giant and the Department for International Development have donated £50m each towards the campaign, which is aimed at encouraging a billion people worldwide to wash their hands and disinfect surfaces.

As part of the programme more than 20 million hygiene products will be distributed to the developing world, including in areas where there is little or no sanitation. The initiative is being led by Unilever hygiene brands Domestos bleach and Lifebuoy soap.

The campaign will run across TV, radio, print, social and digital media to help change behaviour in countries across Africa and Asia, including Kenya, Ghana and Bangladesh. Messages will be tailored to communities in these countries to ensure they are effective. The campaign will also be supported by a hygiene behaviour change programme.

“Lifebuoy and Domestos have a proven track record of running hygiene awareness and education programmes successfully, and we hope that the work we will be able to drive jointly with UK aid will help save lives that could otherwise be impacted by coronavirus,” says Unilever CEO, Alan Jope.

“As the world’s biggest soap company, we have a responsibility to help make soap and hygiene products more readily available, and to use our expertise to teach people to wash their hands effectively, whichever brand they choose to use.”

In addition to this announcement, on Tuesday Unilever committed to contribute €100m (£91.4m) to help in the fight against the pandemic through donations of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food.

The FMCG company also pledged €500m (£457m) of cash flow relief to support its extended supply chain, including early payments for its most vulnerable small and medium sized suppliers, and extending credit to selected small-scale retail customers whose businesses rely on Unilever.

Next shuts down online shopping


Next has suspended online shopping and closed its website in a bid to adhere to government restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The retailer said it had taken the “difficult decision” to close its ecommerce site amid a backlash against retailers continuing to sell online. Next, which has stopped taking online orders “until further notice”, said it had listened to employees working in its warehouse and distribution operations who wanted to stay at home in the current climate.

This is despite the fact that on Wednesday Next was reportedly offering staff a 20% pay rise to continue processing orders.

River Island and Net-a-Porter also announced yesterday that they were closing their websites to protect distribution staff from the virus.

The impact on the clothing sector from the closure of high street stores and online operations will be significant. UK expenditure on clothes and shoes in 2020 is expected to fall by 20% or £11.1bn, according to GlobalData.

READ MORE: Next stops online shopping amid UK coronavirus restrictions

Sky and BT could take £1bn hit if sport is suspended until August

Sky Sports BT Sport

Sky and BT could lose almost £1bn in revenue if sporting events remain suspended until August.

The research, conducted by Enders Analysis, suggests that assuming a “worst-case scenario” of a four-month suspension of all sports coverage (British and foreign), and all sports subscribers and wholesale clients pausing their contracts, Sky would lose £700m and BT £228m in revenues.

The Premier League has already postponed matches until 30 April, a deadline which looks likely to be extended amid the nationwide lockdown.

The Guardian reports that Sky has already stopped charging commercial clients that carry Sky Sports and pay-TV subscribers can “pause” their payments, while BT is offering some customers on its flexible pay-TV package the option to drop sport.

In July, the broadcasters will be required to pay the Premier League £530m in total for the six-month licence to show the first half of the 2020/2021 season, while BT will need to pay Uefa £394m for the rights to show the Champions League.

READ MORE: Sky and BT will ‘lose £1bn if sporting events stay shut until August’

BBC ramps up ‘Stay at Home’ messaging

The BBC has launched a series of films featuring clips from classic programmes to help communicate health messages to the public during the coronavirus crisis.

Short archived clips from Miranda, The Thick Of It and The Mighty Boosh will be shown on junctions on BBC television and across social media, each designed to convey the message – ‘seriously, stay at home’.

The fourth film features a clip from series two of I’m Alan Partridge where Alan is organising a James Bond-a-thon, with the message to ‘set a routine, to help staying in’. The aim is to encourage viewers to structure their time to make isolation easier over the upcoming weeks or months.

“We’ve found four classic clips in the BBC’s extensive archive which we hope will raise a smile during these tough times,” says BBC chief customer officer, Kerris Bright.

“But the message behind this series of information films is very serious. We want to do everything we can at the BBC to help spread the message that we must all stay at home to help slow the spread of this virus, and to develop a routine to make our days that little bit more bearable.”

Betting ads slammed for making children more likely to gamble as adults

Exposure to betting advertising in childhood makes young people more likely to become gamblers in later life, according to a new report.

TV advertising, social media and the influence of family are among the factors likely to lead young people to gamble, say researchers at Ipsos Mori and the University of Stirling. Concerns are that children will see an increased number of gambling messages during the coronavirus lockdown.

The researchers found that 96% of 11-24 year olds had seen gambling marketing messages in the last month and were more likely to bet as a result. The team concluded that regular exposure to gambling ads can change perceptions and associations of gambling over time, impacting the likelihood young people will gamble in the future.

According to the Guardian, the report estimates that 41,000 UK followers of gambling-related accounts on social media were likely to be under 16 and 6% of followers of “traditional” gambling accounts were found to be children. This number rose to 17% when applied to gambling accounts dedicated to Esports.

READ MORE: Children more likely to become gamblers due to high volume of betting ads

Thursday, 26 March

AB InBev redirects budgets from sports marketing to coronavirus aid

AB InBev is redirecting the $5m (£4.2m) it would normally allocate to sports and entertainment marketing to the American Red Cross as it looks to help in the fight against the Covid-19 outbreak.

The brewer, which owns brands including Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, is also working with sports partners to identify arenas and stadiums that could be used as temporary locations for blood donation. Plus, it is making its tour centres available to the Red Cross and donating media time for the aid organisation’s public service announcements.

As part of the initiative, AB InBev has released a new ad, called ‘One Team’ that shows an empty baseball stadium and then healthcare workers, researchers and volunteers battling the outbreak. It ends with a shout-out to the “home team” – people who are staying in to stop the spread of the virus.

“Covid-19 has changed how we all live our lives, but it hasn’t changed AB InBev’s priorities and our commitments as an employer, a business partner and a corporate citizen,” says the CEO of its US business, Michel Doukeris.

“While we can’t solve this crisis on our own, we are proud to do what we can to serve and support our communities in need and the heroes on the front lines, using our capabilities, our relationships, and our reach to do our part. We invite other companies to use their unique capabilities to join us in this effort, however they can, so that together we can make a difference.”

MPs order Sports Direct and Wetherspoons to explain treatment of staff during pandemic

MPs are asking Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley and Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin to explain how they are protect their staff during the coronavirus outbreak amid heavy criticism of their treatment so far.

The chair of the business select committee, Rachel Reeves, has written to both bosses. It comes after Martin told 40,000 Wetherspoons they would not be paid from Friday while he waited for the government to explain how it intended to cover staff costs. He has since backtracked on this, effectively promising to pay them.

Ashley, meanwhile, told staff they had to go to work at branches despite a government order that most shops shut and people stay at home where possible.

The letter from Reeves includes questions over how many staff will be furloughed, whether they will pay staff until the government’s money comes through and if they plan to pay the remaining 20% of staff wages once government support begins.

READ MORE: MPs demand answers from Sports Direct and Wetherspoons bosses over treatment of staff during lockdown

Barclays to waive overdraft fees

Barclays is to waive overdraft fees for its customers to help those struggling financially during the coronavirus outbreak.

Many banks were set to introduce new overdraft charges that would have led to customers paying significantly higher interest rates. However, Barclays says it will now suspend the charges from Friday (27 March) until 30 April.

Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, meanwhile, are giving customers a £300 interest-free overdraft buffer for three months from 6 April. HSBC is also bringing in a similar buffer on two of its most popular current accounts.

Barclays managing director Gillean Dooney says: “It’s crucial we offer the right support to our customers through this challenging time. We have therefore decided to waive all overdraft interest until the end of April, meaning there will be no charges for customers to use their arranged overdraft. We are reviewing all options to help customers after this time to ensure we support those in financial difficulty.”

Facebook sees ad revenues drop despite rise in use

Increased usage of Facebook’s services, which also include Instagram and WhatsApp, during the coronavirus crisis will not be enough to offset a slump in its digital ad revenues.

In some hardest hit countries, messaging volumes have risen by half this month compared to Februrary. People are also using its feed and stories tools to update followers.

In Italy, for example, time spent on group calls has increased 1,000%, while time spent across Facebook apps was up 70%.

However, many of the services that are becoming more popular Facebook does not monetise. Plus, brands are pulling ad spend in the worst affected countries.

“As more people practise physically distancing themselves from one another, this has also meant that many more people are using our apps. Much of the increased traffic is happening on our messaging services, but we’ve also seen more people using our feed and stories products to get updates from their family and friends,” say vice-president of engineering Jay Parikh and vice-president of analytics Alex Schultz in a blog post.

“At the same time, our business is being adversely affected like so many others. We don’t monetise many of the services where we’re seeing increased engagement and we’ve seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

Retail sales drop in February ahead of coronavirus closures

Retail sales fell by 0.3% year on year in February, below expectations of a 0.2% rise, as bad weather hit sales, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The data comes from before most stores were impacted by the coronavirus, although some chains said supply was impacted where products were ordered from China.

Annualised growth in retail sales was 0%, compared to an expected rise of 0.8% and 0.8% growth in the previous period.

While the figures are below expectations, coronavirus will have had a much bigger impact this month, with Retail Economics CEO Richard Lim saying retailers are likely to look back on these numbers “with glee”.

“With all non-essential physical retail now shut, most of the industry is in survival mode as companies pivot towards cash, desperately cut costs and prepare to weather the storm,” he adds.

“Over the next few months, the retail survivors will be those that are positioned to weather the storm the longest. Companies that have the deepest pockets, slick online operations and are aligned to needs, rather than wants, are best positioned. Those that are saddled with high levels of debt and weaker balance sheets will fall first. And this is likely to happen quickly.”

Wednesday, 25 March

Amazon and eBay failing to stop coronavirus-related price gouging, says Which?

Online marketplaces including Amazon and eBay are failing to stop third party sellers “brazenly” ripping consumers off due to the coronavirus, according to an investigation by Which?

The investigation found a wide range of household products being sold at “extortionate” prices, including sanitiser, thermometers, baby formula and tampons.

“Online marketplaces have taken some action against coronavirus price gouging, but our investigation shows unscrupulous sellers are still cashing in on people’s fears by selling essential items at extortionate prices on eBay and Amazon,” says Which?’s head of consumer protection, Sue Davies.

“These companies must make good on their pledges to stamp out coronavirus profiteering, and the CMA must be ready to take strong enforcement action.”

Ebay says all the items flagged by Which? have been removed and enforcement action has been taken against the sellers.

“This is a continuation of aggressive action…which has included suspending hundreds of accounts, removing hundreds of thousands of listings, and suspending scores of bad seller accounts,” an eBay spokesperson says.

Amazon says: “We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic-need products during a global health crises and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers. In addition to removing these offers, we are terminating accounts.”

READ MORE: Amazon and eBay failing to stop Covid-19 profiteers, says Which?

BBC Global News offers free ad slots around coronavirus coverage

BBC Global News is replacing up to 20% of its advertising inventory with opportunities for international and governmental organisations to communicate their public health messages relating to Covid-19 at no charge.

This will allow major multilateral organisations and national health ministries, whose aim is to communicate information to help protect citizens and stop the spread of the virus, to broadcast their messages to the BBC’s TV and online audiences outside the UK.

“Our job is to report on the developing crisis around the world in a period when people need news they can genuinely trust,” says BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan. “But if we can support public health agencies in doing their job in these unprecedented times I feel we have a responsibility to help.”

An average of 121 million people used BBC World News and BBC.com each week in 2019. Between 16 and 22 March, more than 60 million (up by 50% on the average) people visited the BBC’s online news services, with more than 80% (49 million) consuming coronavirus coverage.

Channel 4 tells viewers to stay at home

Channel 4 is displaying a ‘Stay at Home’ digital on-screen graphic across its channels until further notice.

The message will be on screen during Channel 4 programming, as well as on E4, M4 and 4Seven.

Channel 4’s CEO Alex Mahon says: “During this unprecedented national crisis we want to use our reach with mass audiences, particularly with young and hard to reach viewers, to spread this vital public health message and remind everyone to follow the latest advice and stay at home.”

Three has 5G ads banned for being misleading

Three has had two ads promoting its 5G service banned by the UK ad regulator.

The tweet and wraparound press ad in the Metro were found to be misleading after BT, Vodafone, an independent consultant in mobile telecoms and five members of the public challenged the claim: ‘If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G’.

Three argued the extent of its 5G spectrum and the infrastructure of its network set it apart from competitors. It said there was a limit to how much technical explanation could be included in an ad but that consumers could find more detailed technical information on Three’s website.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said consumers were unlikely to be familiar with the technical specifications of 5G, and therefore they would interpret the ads to mean that the 5G services offered by other providers would not provide those significantly faster speeds and that there was little value in obtaining 5G from them.

After getting informal advice from Ofcom, the ASA ruled the two ads were misleading. It told Three to ensure future ads did not mislead by, for example, using working which suggested that the service offered by competitors did not provide the significantly faster speeds that 5G was expected to provide.

Pernod Ricard slashes profit guidance

Pernod Ricard is anticipating a hit of around 20% to its current operating profit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The drinks giant is preparing for an 80% drop in business for its travel retail segment between February and the end of June. Sales made at off-licences and supermarkets are expected to decline 10% in the second quarter, while sales at bars, hotels and restaurants will be completely wiped out.

“The environment has very significantly deteriorated due to the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Pernod’s chairman and chief executive Alexandre Ricard.

“We are encouraged to see that, thanks to the implementation of strong measures, China appears to be starting to make a gradual recovery. While we cannot predict the duration and extent of the impact, we remain confident in our strategy.”

Tuesday, 25 March

Sports Direct stores to stay open despite government rules

Sports Direct is reportedly telling its staff that stores will stay open during the coronavirus pandemic because they are “uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible”.

Despite the government announcing a lockdown and closure of a number of non-essential retailers and public places, Sports Direct CFO Chris Wooton has claimed in a letter to all staff that the company’s stores fall in the essential category.

“We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home… indeed home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself,” Wooton wrote.

“Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government’s current social distancing guidance).”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Sports Direct suggests staff are key workers and says stores will stay open

Deliveroo boss calls for greater clarity from government

Will Shu, the founder of Deliveroo has written a letter to Boris Johnson warning that ministers need to provide clearer information to the public if restaurants are to offer take-away services and relieve pressure on supermarkets.

With Wagamama announcing that it can no longer offer takeaway services from Tuesday, Shu stresses in the letter that there is “significant confusion among the public about the transmission of the virus”.

He also calls for ministers to tell the public that the coronavirus cannot be passed on through food.

“This concern is impacting on restaurant orders and putting further pressure on supermarkets as they are viewed as the only safe place to get food, despite the risks of contracting the virus being higher in a crowded supermarket than via takeaway food,” Shu continued.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Deliveroo chief urges PM to back takeaways

H&M planning to lay off thousands of staff


High street retailer H&M has said that it is considering laying off tens of thousands of staff, at least temporarily.

The fast-fashion company issued a statement saying that it has also cancelled its dividend proposal as it looks to contend with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

All stores in H&M’s largest markets, including the UK, US and Germany, have now been closed, 3,441 out of 5,062 around the world.

The statement reveals that the Swedish company is considering job cuts “in a number of markets… due to the negative impact of the corona situation on the business.”

READ MORE: Fashion retailer H&M weighs tens of thousands of job cuts because of coronavirus

Balenciaga to produce surgical masks


Luxury fashion house Balenciaga is to start manufacturing masks at one of its French workshops in an effort to meet increased demand.

Kering, the brand’s parent company, has also announced that it is importing three million masks from China to be distributed across France and has made a donation to the international research and education body Institut Pasteur.

Gucci, also owned by Kering, is looking to contribute up to 1.1 million masks and 55,000 medical overalls for use in Italian hospitals.

Last week, LVMH announced that it was ordering 40 million masks from a Chinese supplier.

READ MORE: Balenciaga and YSL Will Start Producing Surgical Masks, Parent Company Kering Is Donating 3 Million Masks From China

NABS to continue offering services during pandemic

NABS will continue to operate its support services to the media and marketing industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

With all of its staff now working from home, the services are available via phone and video and online.

They include a NABS advice line and wellbeing and career coaching sessions via Skype and online (see the NABS website for details).

It’s also possible to apply for financial assistance via the advice line and apply for talking therapies.

NABS CEO Diana Tickell said: “We understand that organisations across the industry unfortunately face a huge challenge during the pandemic.

“Colleagues are losing their contracts and their jobs; businesses and their people are under immense pressure.

“NABS is here to provide help with people’s finances as well as their emotional health.

Our grants service can provide eligible candidates with vital financial assistance while our Advice Line team can provide guidance on financial wellbeing.”

Monday, 23 March

McDonald's ceo leaving

McDonald’s closes restaurants

McDonald’s is closing all 1,270 of its restaurants in the UK by the end of Monday, as fears over the spread of coronavirus escalate. Previously, the fast food giant had closed its seating areas but had continued to offer takeaway and drive-through services.

McDonald’s UK boss, Paul Pomroy, says: “Over the last 24 hours, it has become clear that maintaining safe social distancing whilst operating busy takeaway and Drive Thru restaurants is increasingly difficult and therefore we have taken the decision to close every restaurant in the UK and Ireland by 7pm on Monday 23 March.

“I have been clear throughout this that we would only continue to operate whilst it was safe for our people and together with our franchisees, we feel now is the time to make this decision.”

McDonald’s employs around 135,000 people in the UK, the majority of which are on zero-hours contracts. The chain said staff employed directly by the company would receive full pay for their scheduled hours until 5 April. By that time it expects the government’s financial aid package, announced on Friday, to have kicked in, with staff paid 80% of their wages.

On Friday, the Prime Minister said restaurants and cafes must close, but exempted take-away food places.

Smart Energy appoints former Channel 4 CMO

Smart Energy GB has hired former Channel 4 chief marketing officer Dan Brooke as chief executive.

Brooke takes over from outgoing chief executive Sacha Deshmukh, who is leaving the organisation to become chief executive of Unicef UK.

Brooke will arrive in early May with Smart Energy’s director of finance and operations, Alistair Gibbons, acting as interim chief executive when Deshmukh leaves at the end of the month.

Smart Energy chair Mark Lund says: “Dan stood out from a very high quality field, for his leadership experience and skills, his expertise in consumer engagement across different consumer groups and in his passion for Smart Energy GB’s cause.”

Brooke left Channel 4 in April 2019 and has been running a consultancy since.

Richard Branson pledges £215m boost to protect Virgin jobs

Richard Branson is pledging to invest £215m across his Virgin business to protect jobs following the outbreak of coronavirus.

The founder made the pledge in a blog post in which he said his companies, which includes travel and leisure, are in a “massive battle to survive”.

He notes that COVID-19 was “the most significant crisis the world has experienced” in his lifetime, with his businesses employing more than 70,000 people in 35 countries.

Branson says: “Our airlines have had to ground almost all their planes; our cruise line has had to postpone its launch; our health clubs and hotels have had to close their doors and all bookings to our holiday company have stopped.

“Our people have and, will always be, my number one priority. It is their future job security and their well-being that I am 100 per cent focusing on, in these frightening and unprecedented times.”

However he added that the companies recovery would “depend critically” on governments implementing the support programmes which they had announced.

The entrepreneur’s pledge comes after he was criticised last week after Virgin Atlantic announced it told staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave following a sharp drop in customers.

£ READ MORE: Richard Branson to invest $250m in Virgin empire

John Lewis and Primark close all shops

John Lewis and Primark are temporarily closing all  stores amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This will mark the first time that John Lewis has closed the doors of its shops in its 155 year history.

All of 50 its John Lewis shops will close of business on Monday 23 March as a result of the impact of coronavirus.

The company’s chair, Sharon White, said that the decision to close all of John Lewis’ stores was made “with a heavy heart”.

She explains: “The Partnership has traded for over 155 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods, including two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis.”

However, the John Lewis website, which generates half the brand’s business, will continue to operate as normal.

Meanwhile Primark’s 189 UK stores have closed “until further notice”, as demand drops due to social-distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

It has already shut stores elsewhere and said it wanted to protect the health of employees and customers. The fashion chain’s CEO Paul Marchant says it faces “unprecedented, and frankly unimaginable times”.

Lidl pledges £100,000 for coronavirus crisis

Lidl will donate £100,000 to help feed vulnerable groups during the coronavirus crisis.

The pledge is an extension of the store’s ‘Feed it Back’ scheme which launched in 2017 in partnership with the Neighbourly charity and has so far donated over five million meals to community projects.

It will help put food on the table of those most affected by Covid-19, such as the elderly and families who need help during the newly announced school closures.

Chief executive at Lidl UK, Christian Härtnagel, says: “We are living in unprecedented times, and it’s essential that we look after those who need it most – that’s why our ‘Feed it Back’ scheme with Neighbourly is more important than ever.



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