March 17, 2020
6:00 PM EDT
One Medical ramps up virtual offerings
Health care provider One Medical has always offered 24/7 virtual care to its members, but the San Francisco-based health care brand is intensifying such efforts as more consumers worry about coronavirus. One Medical has added COVID-19 screening questions to its “Treat Me Now” feature in its app, and will route the data to a provider based on answers. As of March 12, the company said that it has seen an 82 percent increase in video visits, and 30 percent of members have sought out virtual care in March, which lessens the burden on hospitals treating those with more urgent needs, a spokeswoman says.
5:49 PM EDT
Starbucks extends star expirations
Starbucks Rewards members don’t have to worry if they can’t or don’t want to leave home right now to redeem their loyalty points, or stars, for free drinks or other merchandise. In its latest update to customers, Starbucks said it will delay the expiration of all stars that were slated to expire between now and June 1.
11:26 AM EDT
Jameson looking out for bartenders
It’s not a normal St. Patrick’s day this year…even the bars in Ireland are closed. Whiskey brand Jameson is stepping up to help support bartenders, a lot of whom are now out of a job due to bars closing for the coronavirus. On social, the Pernod Ricard brand announced it’s pledging $500,000 to support the charity of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. “We know there may be some hard roads ahead for members in this community,” reads a tweet with the hashtag #LoveThyBartender. “To our local bartenders: You’ve always had our backs, and we promise to have yours.” Jameson is also matching every dollar donated by others up to $100,000 to the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program until the end of March.
11:22 AM EDT
Mint Mobile gives out free unlimited data
Mint Mobile and owner Ryan Reynolds is offering all new and current customers free unlimited high-speed data add-ons through April 14. “The last few days have thrown the world into an unprecedented moment of uncertainty where reliable communication is of the utmost importance. As your communication provider, we feel it’s necessary to do something that could possibly help all of us navigate this tough time a little bit better.”
10:17 AM EDT
Facebook pledges small business aid
Facebook says it is prepared to dole out $100 million to small businesses to weather the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak. On Tuesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, announced the program that’s being called “Boost With Facebook.”
“We’ve listened to small businesses to understand how we can best help them,” Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page on Tuesday. “We’ve heard loud and clear that financial support could enable them to keep the lights on and pay people who can’t come to work.” Sandberg said businesses would be able to apply for grants in the coming weeks, but in the meantime asked companies to sign up for updates online. The website for the program says that the grants could be used to cover expenses like rent, employees and other operational costs. Facebook also said it would also provide advertising assistance for businesses marketing on the social network. Facebook says 30,000 small businesses could be eligible in 30 countries.
10:00 AM EDT
More stores close, as household goods sellers make special hours for seniors
The list of temporary store closures has grown to include the likes of Nordstorm, Sephora, J. Crew, Uniqlo, Under Armour and Saks Fifth Avenue’s Manhattan flagship. Ralph Lauren and Foot Locker also announced closures, while JC Penney said it will operate in shortened business hours. Adidas remains open, however, as do several malls. While Nordstrom, which said it will “do our part,” promised a two-week closure, other retailers have more grim predictions. Uniqlo said stores are shuttered “until further notice.”
Meanwhile, several grocers and other chains selling household essentials are offering special shopping hours to seniors, that segment of the population that is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Dollar General announced that beginning March 17, the first hour of operation will be dedicated to seniors, who can avoid the crowds of later, busier hours. Shops will also close an hour earlier each day to restock shelves and clean. Grocery chain Stop & Shop has made similar adjustments for older consumers as well.
9:20 AM EDT
Restaurant woes continue
A number of restaurant chains have announced the shut down of their dining rooms over the last day, including McDonald’s, where customers can no longer fill their own drinks or make use of the PlayPlace for kids. Wendy’s, Dunkin’ and Arby’s are among the other chains that continue to provide drive-thru, carryout and delivery where possible.
March 16, 2020
2:05 PM EDT
Looking for ‘dining bonds’
In a sign of what those in the restaurant industry are trying to do for operators, an initiative called “Dining Bonds” was announced as a way to suggest customers support smaller restaurants that can’t stay open. The idea is for consumers to pay up front for gift certificates, often offered at a discount, from a growing list of restaurants, and is being led by two PR firms, HP-PR and Hall PR. Then, consumers can redeem the gift certificates at a later date once restaurants resume service.
1:13 PM EDT
Show goes on at ANA … for now
The Association of National Advertisers still technically has seven conferences scheduled for the next eight weeks, a period when the Centers for Disease Control said in a guidance yesterday that businesses and individuals should avoid holding events with 50 or more people. As of today, the ANA hasn’t postponed the meetings, but President Bob Liodice in an email this morning the group is “continually evaluating how the spread of the coronavirus will affect the hundreds of events we hold throughout the year. To address concerns and requests, where possible, we are looking at online alternatives for our existing products.”
In an update on the group’s website, the ANA advises “travelers can best protect themselves by following CDC guidelines” but goes on to list eight upcoming conferences during the CDC’s eight-week window. Only the first—the ANA Media Conference set to begin March 25—has been canceled so far. The next one up is the Email Evolution Conference set to begin April 13 in Nashville. As of late Friday, the ANA still was running promoted tweets for its Brand Activation Conference set to begin April 22 in San Diego. But a spokesman says “such promotional tweets are now on hold as of today with the recent updates from the CDC about an eight-week period of no large gatherings.”
The Advertising Research Foundation on Monday postponed its biggest conference of the year, AudienceXScience 2020, set to start April 19 in Jersey City, New Jersey, until Sept. 20-22. The 4As on Monday postponed its biggest show of the year, Decisions 20/20, to sometime in early 2021, and its Management Practitioners Forum from March 30-31 to fall 2020.
10:45 AM EDT
Shake Shack withdraws 2020 financial guidance
Shake Shack has moved to a “to-go” only model in its U.S. company-owned restaurants. The fast-casual burger chain also withdrew its 2020 financial guidance, citing “the current unprecedented market conditions domestically and internationally,” and its shares were down roughly 15 percent in morning trading. “When the time comes to re-open our dining rooms as the community gathering place we were born to be, our teams will be ready,” CEO Randy Garutti said in a statement issued Monday morning. “Until, then we are thankful for the privilege to serve our guests safely.”
9:35 AM EDT
Chipotle offers Zoom lunches with celebrities
Chipotle Mexican Grill is trying to put an uplifting spin on the situation by offering “Chipotle Together” virtual hangouts on Zoom. Each day this week, 3,000 fans will be able to mingle virtually with celebrities in online chats that will also include codes for free entrées. Monday’s chat, scheduled for 2 p.m. ET, is set to be co-hosted by “The Bachelor” Colton Underwood, “who will chat with fans and walk them through a hilarious Chipotle-inspired presentation,” Chipotle said. The company is sharing links to the Chipotle Together Zoom meetings on Twitter.
In more serious details, Chipotle said it is using new tamper-evident packaging seals to reassure diners that food is untouched during delivery.
March 15, 2020
6:50 PM EDT
Starbucks moves to a to-go only model in U.S. and Canada
Beginning Sunday, March 15, Starbucks is making all of its stores in the U.S. and Canada “to go” only for at least two weeks. People can walk up and order at the counter, using the order ahead feature on the app, in the drive-thru and using delivery. There is no seating for customers, and condiment bars are being modified to minimize people touching things such as milk canisters. Some stores in locations such as malls and on university campuses may temporarily close, and stores in areas with high clusters of COVID-19 cases may close or reduce operating hours. Many of the measures are similar to what the world’s largest coffee chain did in China when coronavirus was prevalent there.
5:00 PM EDT
Governors of Ohio and Illinois order restaurants and bars to shut down
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Sunday said the state is ordering all bars and restaurants to close beginning at 9 p.m. tonight, though they can continue to offer carryout and delivery. “Every day we delay, more people will die,” DeWine posted in one of a series of tweets. “If we do not act and get some distance between people, our healthcare system in #Ohio will not hold up.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a similar announcement, ordering all bars and restaurants there to close as of the close of business March 16 through March 30. Delivery, drive-thru and curbside pickup may continue, Pritzker said. “I know how difficult this will be on small businesses around the state,” Pritzker wrote on Twitter. “But we must do everything we can to safeguard the health of the citizens of Illinois, and that requires this urgent action.”
Alcohol brands typically get about a quarter of sales from bars and restaurants, but with so many people making grocery runs to stock up, it’s possible brands could make up for the lost bar visits.
March 14, 2020
2:45 PM EDT
Experiential venues begin to shutter
Museum of Ice Cream, the interactive ice cream-themed experience in New York and San Francisco, is closing its doors temporarily, according to founder and CEO Maryellis Bunn. On Instagram, Bunn announced the coronavirus-fueled decision: “While the world has been fighting to contain COVID-19, we have been fighting to make sure MOIC can get through this unprecedented time. With the growing health concerns and the consideration of the greater public, we made the only possible call, to temporarily shut our doors.”
The closure follows that of interactive venue Color Factory, which recently tweeted that it will be closed for two weeks beginning March 16 to limit the spread of the virus. Experts are not optimistic about the business survival of such venues, which are built on sensory marketing at a time when consumers are unable to touch.
12:50 AM EDT
Taco Bell may close some dining rooms
Taco Bell is putting plans in place to deal with any required closures of some of its dining rooms. “As regions of the U.S. begin to mandate public closures and self-quarantine, we are equipping our restaurants to serve our guests via drive-thru and delivery only where necessary,” CEO Mark King says in a letter to fans posted on Taco Bell’s web site. If Taco Bell’s dining rooms need to close, that would limit millions of interactions, “further enabling social distancing,” King writes. Taco Bell, which is heavily franchised, says that at the U.S. restaurants it owns it will pay staffers who are required to stay home or who work at a restaurant that is closed, and is working with franchisees “to encourage a similar approach.”
He added: “We are going to redefine what it means to be a social brand during this coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time keeping our team members safe, and continuing to provide our fans with the delicious Taco Bell food they love.”
12:45 AM EDT
Domino’s updates its plans
Domino’s, the world’s biggest pizza chain, has stepped up the frequency of disinfecting surfaces and delivery bags, CEO Ritch Allison said in a letter issued March 14. “It’s also important to note that all of our freshly made products are baked in a 450-degree oven,” Allison writes. Domino’s also pointed out that customers should put instructions in their order if they want contactless delivery. That practice, of having the delivery person leave the item at a designated spot so that the customer can then pick it up separately, is quickly becoming the norm in food delivery. Domino’s is also expanding paid leave for full- and part-time hourly employees at its company-owned stores and its supply chain centers.
8:23 AM EDT
Hyundai brings back ‘Job Loss Protection’
As the coronavirus spreads and the economy sinks, brands will be hard-pressed to stir demand for big-ticket items, like cars. Hyundai and sibling brand Genesis are trying to spur purchases by relaunching a recession-era program called Assurance Job Loss Protection. The brands promise to make up to six months of payments for drivers who lose their jobs and have purchased or leased their vehicle between March 14 to April 30, 2020. The brands, owned by Hyundai Motor America, are also allowing buyers to defer payments for three months if they buy certain models. For Hyundai that includes: Santa Fe, Tucson, Elantra, Elantra GT, Kona, Venue and Accent. Hyundai first created the program in January 2009 amid the Great Recession.
“We understand the extreme uncertainty created by the coronavirus and the anxiety experienced by our customers, and wanted to tap into Hyundai’s legacy of having people’s back,” José Muñoz president and CEO of Hyundai Motor North America stated in a press release. “Bringing back the job loss protection program in this unprecedented time will allow our customers to have one less thing to worry about if something unexpected happens to their employment status.”
March 13, 2020
8:21 PM EDT
Patagonia closes all stores
Patagonia is temporarily closing its stores, offices and other operations, effective at the close of business on March 13. “We apologize that over the next two weeks, there will be delays on orders and customer-service requests. We ask for your understanding and patience. We will reassess and post an update on March 27, 2020,” Patagonia CEO and president Rose Marcario stated in a letter posted on the company’s web site. Employees will get their regular pay during the shutdown. “The scale of impact is still unknown, and we want to do our part to protect our community especially while testing availability is unknown,” Marcario stated.
7:30 PM EDT
Hershey’s Chocolate World to shut down
Hershey Co. announced on March 13 that it will close its Hershey’s Chocolate World locations in Hershey, Pennsylvania and New York City for two weeks, beginning when the locations close at their usual times on March 15. For now, Hershey’s Chocolate World locations in Niagara, Canada, and Las Vegas, Nevada are set to remain open until further notice.
The company, an NCAA sponsor since 2009, also provided an update on its March Madness plans, saying it “is fully committed to continuing to support the NCAA and our annual program in partnership with many of our retailers—even in a time when the physical games and tournaments have been cancelled,” it said in a statement issued Friday. “While our hospitality and events programming surrounding Final Four activities have been cancelled, our products, including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, will still be found at all major retailers with corresponding NCAA-themed merchandise.”
5:20 PM EDT
Ford delays Bronco announcement
Ford had planned to make a splash next week with an announcement related to the Bronco, the SUV that the automaker is bringing back after last selling it in 1996. But like so many other brand plans, the announcement is being delayed as a result of the coronavirus. Ford earlier announced a policy instructing much of its global workforce to work from home (see more on that further down). “The decisions we are making are based on the health and safety of our employees, dealers, customers, and partners who are always Ford’s highest priority,” a spokeswoman stated in an email. “We have dedicated teams closely monitoring the coronavirus situation, including the latest directives and guidance from national and regional authorities, and across our supply chain. We are planning and acting accordingly.”
3:17 PM EDT
Jersey Mike’s ‘Sub Guy’ plans are altered
Jersey Mike’s had timed the launch of a campaign emphasizing the friendliness and knowledge of its sub shop staff for mid-March, including a heavy rotation of ads during sporting events including March Madness. But the chain must now shift gears after the tournament was cancelled, joining the list of other brands that are scrambling to adjust their marketing. “The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament and other sporting events is, of course, unprecedented,” Rich Hope, chief marketing officer of Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc., said in a statement to Ad Age. “We are in wait and see mode. For now, the campaign will still run on a broad cable buy.” The campaign, which features an enthusiastic “Sub Guy” at one of its shops, now comes as many people are likely to skip restaurant visits as they stay home with office and school closures. The work comes from Planet Propaganda.