Next, Vodafone, Lexus: 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.

Next

Next weathers lockdown

Fashion and homewares retailer Next has reported a profit before tax of £342m for the year ending January 2021, and says it saw stronger-than-expected online sales for the first eight weeks of the year.

A year ago the company said that the Covid-19 crisis would cause unprecedented problems for the sector, but that its strong balance sheet and profit margins would help it weather the storm. Chairman Michael Roney says that prediction was correct.

Group sale decreased by less than 17% during the period, despite many stores being closed due to lockdowns. The company has cut payments to shareholders and invested in its online platform to ensure it can meet an expected continued growth in online sales.

Online sales in the first eight weeks of 2021 are more than 60% higher than in the same period two years ago.

“I believe that in difficult times there is a clearer separation between the stronger corporate performers and the weaker ones,” says Roney. “This result is due to the formation of a good management team and the establishment of robust processes during less volatile periods. Our continued investment over many years in our people and our systems has shown resilient results in the past year.”

New tagline for Vodafone

Vodafone is celebrating what can be achieved by combining the human spirit with technology with an update to its brand positioning.

A new Tagline – ‘Together We Can’ – will launch this weekend to kickstart a 12-month programme of TV, print and digital ads that support Vodafone’s stance that a partnership between technology and society can build a better future.

The positioning is based on consumer research by Vodafone that showed technology to have a profound and transformational impact on people’s lives. The research also found nearly eight out of ten people saying that sustainability is a key issue for them.

“’Together We Can’ places the emphasis on ‘we’ and how collaboration between the human spirit and innovation can achieve great things,” says Vodafone group chief commercial officer Alex Froment Curtil.

“The experience of these last 12 months during the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated more than ever the critical role of connectivity and technology to keeping society, businesses and governments connected. Vodafone fundamentally believes that technology can improve lives, and this new brand positioning underpins our purpose to connect for a better future and enable an inclusive, sustainable digital society,” he adds.

The telecoms brand says that it as been bringing its new ethos to life over the last year, providing connectivity services to people in need, encouraging the public and businesses to donate unwanted devices for redistribution, and supporting research into Covid-19 treatments through the DreamLab Corona-AI project.

A new Vodafone ad, The Irrepressible Girl, features a young girl questioning the role technology can play in curing disease, fighting climate change and addressing inclusion issues.

Lexus to be channel sponsor of Sky Arts

Automotive brand Lexus is to be the exclusive channel sponsor of Sky Arts, the UK’s only dedicated arts channel.

Lexus is seeking to reinforce its design-led credentials and commitment to craft while supporting the creative community, which has seen suffered economic hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The deal will see 15- and 5-second cutdowns from a Lexus documentary – about the concept of takumi, which sees a craftsperson invest 60,000 hours in learning their skill – used as a sponsorship ident. The sponsorship starts today and runs until the end of September 2022.

“We have many common values with Sky Arts and are pleased to be supporting the arts community at such a critical time through this partnership. Design and craftsmanship are at the heart of the Lexus brand, so this is a great opportunity for us to bring to life our vision of creativity and our passion for the creative community, making the arts more accessible for all,” says Lexus UK general manager for marketing and strategy Kevin Ledgar.

Sky Arts was made freely available in 2020 as the arts community was hit by the lockdown. “Since then, we’ve continued to further our support of the cultural sector, showcasing the very best of theatre, music and the visual arts along with supporting emerging artists through our Ambassador scheme,” says Sky Arts and Ents director Phil Edgar-Jones.

“We are thrilled to have Lexus as the channel sponsor, with its design and craftsmanship heritage, to amplify the Sky Arts mission to connect with creative minds and nurture the next generation of artists.”

Corona beer celebrates natural connections

Beer brand Corona has launched a multisensory campaign to celebrate its connection to nature.

‘From the Natural World’ highlights that the beer is brewed with 100% natural ingredients, and recounts how the power of nature connects individuals with their ‘best selves’. The campaign encourages people to rediscover the great outdoors after a year of lockdowns and isolation.

“Corona is a brand born at the beach, and we were inspired by the natural world to create this amazing beer. As a brand so deeply connected to nature and brewed with 100% natural ingredients, we wanted to remind our audience how important it is to get outside,” says Corona global vice president of marketing Felipe Ambra.

“Through immersive creative, our latest campaign aims to provide consumers with an inspiring feeling of escapism to remind them of the unique power that the natural world has in letting people’s best side shine through.”

Evocative imagery and sense-activating sound design are used to show a euphoric journey through natural sights and sounds. An unbroken vertical panning shot follows a lime being pushed into a bottle of Corona, intercut with the stream of a waterfall, a river, and water dripping from a leaf.

To support the campaign, buyers of 12-packs of Corona will be able to claim kits to grow their own lime trees at home.

Global brand campaign for Net-a-Porter

Fashion retailer Net-a-Porter has launched its latest ‘Ready-to-Wear?’ ad campaign, described as a rousing call for fashion fans to return to the joy of dressing up to mark the end of the UK’s current lockdown.

The brand’s first interactive campaign takes an entertainment-first approach, merging fashion, social video platforms and music in a series of vibrant films, according to Net-a-Porter. It will run globally across video-on-demand, social and online channels.

The campaign “Signals the beginning of a celebratory chapter; it’s upbeat, joyful and forward-looking,” says Net-a-Porter CMO Sheena Sauvaire. “It reaffirms our belief that fashion isn’t just about clothes, it has the extraordinary power to transform and uplift. As we all dream about a new sense of freedom and coming together, what better time to inspire and entertain our global community around a bright new future and the joy of dressing up again.”

Wednesday, 31 March

Voltswagen

VW forced to admit ‘Voltswagen’ rebrand is April Fool’s joke

The US arm of Volkswagen has been forced to admit news it was changing its name to Voltswagen of America was an elaborate early April Fool’s Day stunt.

The news was initially leaked to the US automotive media and dismissed as a potential April Fool’s joke given the close proximity to 1 April. In response, Volkswagen released a statement saying it was officially changing its name to Voltswagen of America as a “public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility”.

The car marque said it was using its new name and branding to symbolise the company’s “highly-charged forward momentum” towards the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles. The company even changed its Twitter handle and rebranded its website.

However, amid the confusion a company spokesman was forced to confirm the statement had been an April Fool’s Day joke, leaked to the media early by mistake.

When the news broke VW had suggested that the branding would roll out across all advertising, as well as the website and social media channels. The idea was, it said, to preserve elements of Volkswagen’s heritage by retaining its VW dark blue colour for petrol vehicles and then use a light blue to differentiate the new, electric-centric branding. Moving forward, ‘Voltswagen’ would then be placed as an exterior badge on all electric models, with petrol cars sporting the VW emblem only.

The statement was backed by president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, Scott Keogh, who said that the intention had always been to build electric cars “for the millions, not just millionaires”, adding: “This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”

Senior vice president of brand marketing, Kimberley Gardiner, also claimed in the official statement that the tone of the Voltswagen brand would be a “consistent thread” between the branded communications for its growing electric fleet and its petrol vehicles. She said the brand transition would roll out across all consumer touch points and her team would work to make the transition “clear, consistent, seamless and fun for all”.

It is thought that the stunt was designed to drum up interest in the release across the US this month of ID.4, VW’s first long-range all-electric, zero direct emission SUV. The car marque is targeting a 30% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2025 and net-carbon neutrality by 2050. VW plans to sell a million electric vehicles worldwide by 2025 and launch more than 70 electric models across the group by 2029.

READ MORE: VW rebrand turns out to be April Fool’s joke

British Army enlists YouTuber to share stories of failure

The British Army has released a new film inviting influencers to share their stories of failure, in a bid to show young people that learning from mistakes is a valuable part of life.

The ‘First Time Fails’ film features YouTuber Behzinga (aka Ethan Payne), presenter Cassandra Maria and comedian Lauren Pattison discussing dating disasters, driving test trauma and nightmare gigs that helped shape who they are today. The three influencers were chosen for their honest, accessible style and relatable sense of humour that resonates with the target youth audience.

The film will be supported by a wider campaign of athletes, comedians and social media influencers sharing their stories of first time fails on their own channels.

The idea is to dispel the myth that failure is always a bad thing and builds on the message from the British Army’s 2021 recruitment campaign ‘Fail. Learn. Win’, the fifth iteration of the ‘This is Belonging’ series developed by Karmarama.

The campaign’s focus is driven by research which finds 81% of young people feel held back by a fear of failure, while 78% say social media increases pressure to always succeed.

“This year’s advertising campaign focuses on the moments of failure, learning and winning that people experience in the Army,” says Siobhan Penrose-Johnson, head of marketing at the British Army Recruiting Group in partnership with Capita.

“We also wanted to show and celebrate the kinds of failures that our audiences would find themselves encountering. The stories told in our First Time Fails film show that all different kinds of failure can feel overwhelming at the time, but they all share the same learning experiences that ultimately fuel success.”

Volvo seeks to ‘narrow gender pay gap’ with parental leave push

Parental leaveVolvo is rolling out a new global paid parental leave scheme it hopes will help narrow the gender pay gap and create a more diverse workforce.

All 40,000 of the Swedish carmaker’s global employees will now be eligible for 24 weeks of paid parental leave, receiving 80% of their base pay. The scheme applies to all legally registered parents, including adoptive, foster care and surrogate parents, as well as non-birth parents in same-sex couples. The policy is open to either parent and can be taken at any time within the first three years of parenthood.

Volvo, which is owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, is now presenting the 24 week parental leave as the default option for new parents across its communications.

The roll out of the parental leave scheme comes after a successful trial in 2019, during which 46% of all applicants were fathers.

The car marque says it believes opting all employees automatically into paid parental leave will help boost performance and strengthen the business.

“When parents are supported to balance the demands of work and family, it helps to close the gender gap and allows everyone to excel in their careers,” adds Volvo Cars chief executive, Hakan Samuelsson.

READ MORE: Chinese-owned Volvo takes on Sweden’s family values

Wetherspoon eyes £145m upgrade if Covid restrictions cease

JD Wetherspoon is poised to open 18 new pubs as part of a £145m upgrade that could create 2,000 new jobs, as long as Covid restrictions come to an end.

The pub chain’s chairman Tim Martin says the investment is conditional on the UK opening back up “on a long-term basis” and there being no further lockdowns. The company says it is keen to kick off the development project within weeks of its pubs reopening fully.

“We are geared up to start on the first projects within a few months,” says Martin. “We are also committed to our long-term investment and job creation programme over the next decade. However, the investment is conditional on the UK opening back up again on a long-term basis, with no further lockdowns or the constant changing of rules.”

As well as opening new outlets in locations such as Leeds, Dublin and Glasgow, there are also plans to “significantly extend” 57 existing pubs as part of the project, the BBC reports. Once the first phase of the revamp is complete, JD Wetherspoon is looking to spend a further £750m to open 15 new pubs and enlarge 50 existing pubs each year for 10 years. The decade long project is expected to create 20,000 new jobs.

READ MORE: Wetherspoon plans new pubs and jobs if ‘no further lockdowns’

LinkedIn testing audio experience to take on Clubhouse

LinkedIn is in early trials of an “audio experience” connected to a user’s professional identity, as it looks to claim a slice of the booming audio market and take on the likes of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

The professional networking platform told TechCrunch it is looking at how it can also bring audio to events and groups, giving members more ways to connect to their community. A mock-up of the audio experience shows the speakers LinkedIn members would be able to tune into and then visible below are the profiles of the people listening.

The move into audio comes as the networking site reports a 50% growth in conversations on the platform reflected in stories, video shares and posts. Yesterday, LinkedIn also launched a new ‘Creator’ mode that allows users to set their profile as one that can be followed for updates such as LinkedIn Stories (a 20 second video or still image), LinkedIn Live videos and newsletters.

Audio is becoming a big focus for the social media platforms following the popularity of invite-only social audio startup Clubhouse. In April, Twitter is rolling out its Spaces audio chat room functionality to all users, offering them the chance to “Tweet and Talk”.

Facebook is also reportedly in the early stages of developing its own audio app, while workspace messaging platform Slack is working on a way where users can chat by voice and drop into conversations. Elsewhere, US entrepreneur Mark Cuban has developed Fireside, a service he’s pitching as a next generation podcast platform that prioritises live conversations, in a similar style to Clubhouse.

READ MORE: LinkedIn confirms it’s working on a Clubhouse rival, too

Tuesday, 30 March

P&G expands inclusion effort for black creators

In a bid to increase the inclusion of black creators across the creative industries, Procter & Gamble has created a new platform to aid with content creation, talent development and partnerships.

The ‘Widen The Screen’ platform will feature films and initiatives that employ diverse storytellers, while increasing investment in black-owned and operated media. P&G has also pledged to employ diverse creators in a way that improves their trajectory for long-term success.

A launch film premiered during the 2021 NAACP Image Awards over the weekend, illustrating how disparities in representation behind the camera lead to misrepresentation of communities and fuel bias in real life. It ends with a call to action to portray a more holistic view of black life and eliminate common stereotypes.

“While we’ve made equality a top priority within P&G and worked with other companies to do the same, we recognise that is just not enough. We have to address the systemic inequalities that exist in our industry, and that’s why Widen The Screen is a critically important initiative, not just for P&G, but for the industry,” says P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard.

“In stepping up and levelling the playing field for black creators, we will enable change that will benefit all under-represented groups and result in higher quality, more relevant film, television and advertising content that deepens our appreciation of the richness of our society.”

Sky unveils £2m fund to champion climate conscious brands

Sky has launched a multimillion-pound fund to help fast-track five sustainability initiatives using the power of TV.

The ‘Sky Zero Footprint Fund’ will be open to brands, media agencies and creative agencies, with the most impactful idea awarded £1m in advertising support. A further four winners will be awarded £250,000 each.

Entering businesses are to be evaluated based on their commitment to a carbon zero future, and are advised to showcase how they operate sustainably, how their products help reduce their carbon footprint, or how they are inspiring behavioural change among their customers.

The judging panel will include advertising legend Sir John Hegarty, Thinkbox CEO Lindsey Clay, GroupM UK CEO Karen Blackett and Advertising Association CEO Stephen Woodford, alongside Sky’s group chief marketing, corporate affairs and people officer, Debbie Klein, and Sky Media’s managing director, Tim Pearson.

“At Sky we have pledged to be net zero carbon by 2030, but we understand that we’re all in this together and as a media industry, we have a duty to use our voice to drive tangible change,” Klein says.

“We’re delighted to announce this new initiative to realise the combined benefits for our planet when we work together.”

WFA launches guide to tackle unconscious bias in the creative process

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has released an open-source guide to help address advertising’s diversity and representation gaps.

‘Diversity & Representation: A Guide to Potential Areas for Bias in the Creative Process’ identifies 12 key areas in the creative funnel where bias can occur, proposing questions which can be used as a “litmus test” at each stage.

The guide also pulls together resources to tackle any additional areas of concern and highlights work by brands including AB InBev, Diageo, Mars, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

It’s the first document to be released by the WFA Diversity Task Force, which launched last year. The group is led by GSK’s senior media director, Jerry Daykin, alongside m/SIX’s CEO Americas, Belinda Smith.

“Many companies trying to drive change don’t know where to start, and often the barriers to representative creative come in the form of unconscious bias,” says Daykin.

“This guide aims to highlight some of the simple nudges and critical questions marketers can use to avoid the gaps in representation that these biases can create.”

Grocery sales growth slows over Q1

Take-home grocery sales rose 7.4% during the first three months of the year, a “marked slowdown” compared with previous months, according to data from Kantar.

Sales over the past four weeks were also down 3% year on year as the market finds itself held up against the record-breaking spending of March 2020, the month the UK went into lockdown. Shoppers made 117 million fewer trips to the supermarket in March this year.

However, while growth has slowed, grocery spending remains 15.6% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

There are also signs that consumers are venturing back into physical stores, with supermarkets visited 13 million more times in March than in February. The largely vaccinated over-65s are particularly growing in confidence as they increase their trips to the supermarkets by 6.5%, more than double the national rate.

Shell proposes plan to align director’s pay with climate targets

British-Dutch energy giant Shell has suggested to shareholders that it links directors’ pay with the business’ climate performance, amid growing concern over the role energy companies play in the climate crisis.

Directors’ bonuses are currently connected to natural gas production volumes, so the move would mark a significant shift in priorities. The changes would see the weighting of the energy transition metric to calculate bonuses increase from 10% to 15%.

Shareholders are set to vote on the plan on 18 May.

According to Shell, the business’s carbon emissions peaked at approximately 1.7 billion tonnes in 2018, including greenhouse gases from oil and gas products Shell did not produce itself but sold to its customers.

READ MORE: Shell suggests linking director’s pay with climate performance

Monday, 29 March

KFC Just Do It

KFC adopts famous brand slogans

Fast food brand KFC has been trying out various slogans made famous by the likes of Marmite, Specsavers and Nike in a social media campaign.

In an age of strict hygiene and social distancing, KFC’s ‘It’s Finger Lickin’ Good’ feels somewhat inappropriate, prompting the brand to have some fun and try on Nike’s ‘Just do it’, Snickers’ ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ and Red Bull’s ‘Gives you wings’.

The slogans appeared across the KFC social channels, on digital out-of-home panels and on the side of a KFC van cruising around central London.

“Pausing the use of our beloved slogan wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do,” says KFC UK and Ireland marketing director Jack Hinchliffe.

“We miss it and can’t wait to bring it back one day, but in the meantime, we hope brand managers across the country don’t mind us borrowing their slogans for the next day or two.”

Ikea facing supply chain headache after Suez blockage

Swedish furniture brand Ikea admits it is facing potentially damaging constraints on its supply chain as part of the ongoing fallout from the container ship Ever Green blocking vital transport links through the Suez Canal.

The Ever Green has been set partially afloat, raising hopes that the ship could be freed sometime today, allowing traffic to move through the canal.
Ikea currently has over 100 containers stuck on board the ship, according to the Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

With 12% of global trade passing through the canal each year, it’s been estimated by Lloyd’s List that the blockage is costing roughly $400m (£289m) an hour.

“We are currently monitoring the development and hope to see a swift solution,” an Ikea spokesperson said.

“As with any other case where our supply chain is somehow disrupted, we will consider all supply options available to secure the availability of our products.”

READ MORE: IKEA says it could have supply chain issues because of the Suez Canal blockage

Eurostar in emergency talks over £400m debt

With passenger numbers falling by up to 95%, Eurostar is holding talks with its lenders to avoid potential collapse with a deadline looming for the repayment of a £400m debt.

Loans from banks including Santander and France Agricole must be paid back by June and the operator has been lobbying both the French and UK governments for assistance.

The company is 60% owned by French state rail firm SNCF, with the UK government selling its 40% stake in 2015 for £757.

The service is running just one service a day, to Paris and Amsterdam, due to lockdown border controls.

READ MORE: Eurostar in crunch talks with lenders over £400m debt pile

Dunelm celebrates the realities of home life

Homeware retailer Dunelm’s ‘Home, We Get It’ aims to represent notions of what it means to truly feel at home, featuring stories from people across the country.

The campaign kicked off with a 30-second ad, aired on ITV over the weekend, and will continue with across in-store, social and PR, created in partnership with the Goodstuff media agency.

Later next month, the brand will develop ‘Great British Bin Week’, aiming to “inject some magic in the mundane”, by singing the praises of those who regularly take out the bins, as well as highlighting unsung heroes of the pandemic, the refuse workers and collection crews.

“Our spring campaign will continue to share the joy in everyday life, through our evolved Home, We Get It platform,” explains Dunelm’s director of brand and marketing Jemma Williams.

“These stories are not clichés. They’re real moments of humour, joy, frustration and love; shared with us and voted on by our community of customers.”

Strike action called at German Amazon sites

Trade union Verdi has called for staff at six Amazon sites across Germany to go on strike this week in an attempt to force the big tech brand to recognise collective bargaining agreements.

The industrial action is seen as being a shot across the bow ahead of wage talks, due to begin later on next month. The union is reportedly seeking a pay increase of 4.5%.

Germany remains Amazon’s most lucrative market outside of the US. There has been tension between the brand and the union for a number of years, with Verdi pressing for improved pay and conditions.

“Amazon is making a mint in the coronavirus crisis,” says Verdi representative Orhan Akman. “For this reason alone, wage evasion must be stopped there.”

In the US, disgruntled staff at an Alabama Amazon site are voting on whether to organise a union, while in the UK the Unite union has set up a helpline for any members of the British Amazon workforce who are unhappy with conditions at retail giant.

READ MORE: German union calls four-day strike at Amazon sites ahead of Easter

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