In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.
India’s most valuable company is in talks with domestic assemblers to make a version of its Jio phone that would run on Google’s Android and cost about 4,000 rupees ($54), said the people, asking not to be identified since the plans are private. The inexpensive phones will be marketed with low-cost wireless plans from Reliance Jio, the parent company’s carrier, they said. Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani is aiming to remake the country’s smartphone industry much like he did in wireless services, where his aggressive prices and simple plans quickly made him the dominant force. The billionaire is also aligning himself with the Indian government’s plans to build more domestic manufacturing, a possible boost for local assemblers like Dixon Technologies India, Lava International and Karbonn Mobiles. “We are of course trying to build our domestic companies. We have a sweet spot in entry level phones,” said Pankaj Mohindroo, chairman of the India Cellular & Electronic Association. Reliance’s target of selling 150 million to 200 million phones over two years would represent a massive boost for local factories. India assembled an estimated 165 million smartphones in the year ended March, and about an equal number of basic feature phones, according to Mohindroo’s association. About a fifth of the smartphones cost less than 7,000 rupees, or about $100. “Jio has an opportunity to target more than half billion Indians who don’t own a smartphone and trigger a blue ocean market opportunity,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research. “With Reliance expected to work with Indian vendors, Chinese brands will lose out on a potential opportunity and market share.” The pandemic is spurring people to upgrade and creating new market opportunities. For example, parents are anxious to put a device in the hands of their kids so they can keep up with online lessons. There’re an estimated 250 million children between the ages of 6 and 16, according to UNICEF. “If they’re successful in getting even 10% of this base to upgrade, Jio can become one of the leading smartphone brands of 2021,” Shah said.
Meanwhile, For the first time in more than 20 years since Apple began its operations in India, the iPhone-maker has started selling its products directly to consumers in the world’s second largest smartphone market. Apple launched its online store in India on Wednesday, which in addition to offering nearly the entire line-up of its products, also brings a range of services for the first time to consumers in the country. India is the 38th market where Apple has launched its online store. Consumers in India can now purchase AppleCare+, which extends warranty on products, and access the trade-in program to get a discount on new hardware purchases. The company said it will also offer customers support through chat or telephone, and let users consult its team of specialists before they make a purchase. The company is also letting customers order customized versions of iMac, MacBook Air, Mac Mini and other Mac computers — something it started offline through its authorized partners only in late May in India. The company is also offering customers the ability to pay for their purchases in monthly instalments. The company plans to open its first physical retail store in the country next year, it has said. Apple has also been trying to open its store in India for several years, but local regulations made it difficult for the company to expand in the country. But in recent quarters, India has eased many of its regulations. Last year, New Delhi eased sourcing norms for single-brand retailers, paving the way for companies like Apple to open online stores before they set up presence in the brick-and-mortar market.
This year, India also launched a $6.6 billion incentive program aimed at boosting local smartphone manufacturing. South Korean giant Samsung, and Apple’s contract manufacturing partners Foxconn, Wistron andPegatron,among others, have applied for the incentive program.
Budweiser is launching a new initiative to increase diversity in brewing – an industry where only 0.6% of brewers are Black. The brand has committed $1 million to a new scholarship fund named after the first Black female brewmaster at Budweiser’s flagship St. Louis brewery, Natalie Johnson. Johnson, a chemist by training, started at Anheuser-Busch as an intern. Since then, she’s made a concerted effort to encourage the Black employees at Budweiser throughout her career, serving as a role model for those who don’t always see themselves represented in industry leadership. Through the UNCF Budweiser Natalie Johnson Scholarship, which will support 30 students annually for the next five years through scholarships between $4,000 and $6,000, Budweiser’s hoping to expand that opportunity to a wider range of potential brewers – specifically, Black students in STEM.
Bumble, the dating app that puts women in control of the conversation, took out full page ads in major US newspapers this week to honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. RBG, who passed away last week, was described in the ads (which were yellow – in keeping with the app’s brand marketing) as a “fighter,” “feminist” and “hero.” Bumble also vowed to donate to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU to bolster Ginsburg’s legacy of fighting for women’s rights, though the donation amount was not revealed. In a post on her personal Instagram page, Bumble CEO and founder Whitney Wolfe Herd shared the image of the ads and said RBG “fought for our rights. It’s on us to fight for her legacy. In advocacy of gender equality – a human right that motivates our daily work,” she continued.
There’s a new Peloton alternative in town. Three-year-old connected fitness brand Echelon has launched the Prime Bike with ecommerce giant Amazon. Officially known as the EX-Prime Smart Connect Bike, it’s $499, or nearly one-quarter the price of Peloton’s $1,895 base model. It’s also a significant markdown for Echelon, which sells its own EX-1 bike for $839.98 plus a monthly membership fee. Echelon promises “an unmatched cycling experience” with the Prime Bike, including access to live and on-demand classes led by trainers, as well as scenic rides. It is offering a free 30-day trial of its membership program with the purchase of a Prime Bike. However, while the Prime Bike “officially hit the online market” on Monday, according to the company, it does not yet appear to be available from either Echelon or Amazon, and it was not immediately clear when the bike would actually go on sale. A statement described the Prime Bike as Amazon’s first-ever connected fitness product. The launch comes just a month after Amazon announced a wellness program, Amazon Halo, which includes a wearable device, the Halo Band, as well as an app and related services to monitor aspects of users’ health such as activity, sleep and body fat percentage. These announcements come at a moment of great interest in at-home fitness equipment among quarantining consumers. Market research firm NPD Group, for example, found sales of stationary bikes were up 170% and adult leisure bikes were up 120% as of May.
Mars is changing the name of Uncle Ben’s rice to Ben’s Original and dropping the image of a bow-tied Black man from its packaging, the latest company to change branding rooted in racist imagery. Mars was one of a handful of food companies that said in June that they would review or change branding on products including Cream of Wheat, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Eskimo Pie. Changes to these supermarket staples come amid a national reckoning over racism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and other Black people by police. Other businesses also are rethinking products and imagery with potentially racist connotations. AT&T’s WarnerMedia pulled “Gone With the Wind” from its streaming platform for a time, Nascar has banned the Confederate battle flag and the Dixie Chicks, the platinum-selling country trio, dropped “Dixie” from their name. PepsiCo’s Quaker Foods North America business has also said it is retiring the Aunt Jemima brand name and eliminating the imagery of a smiling Black woman on its syrups and pancake mixes. The company hasn’t disclosed the new name but said packaging changes would appear throughout the fourth quarter.
Coffee chain Dunkin’ and hospitality stands at sports stadiums are testing a new checkout-free payment system from Mastercard as retailers try to meet shoppers’ desire for speed and reduced human contact. Their initiatives are similar to Amazon’s Go technology, which uses scanners, cameras and software to let shoppers walk out of a store without stopping to pay for their purchases. Amazon has opened more than two-dozen Go-branded stores since 2018 and offered other retailers access to the technology in March. Early customers include OTG Experience at its CIBO Express stores in Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia airports. Now similar experiments are spreading as companies double down on plans to reduce social contact in stores. A survey published by McKinsey & Co. in July found that most consumers in the U.S. and China who changed their shopping habits during the pandemic expect the change to stick after the crisis. “We’re seeing huge growth in this market,” said Catherine Shuttleworth, founder and chief executive of retail consulting firm Get Savvy Marketing. “In a time where speed is really important to retailers, cashierless systems are going to be critically wanted pieces of technology.” Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. is testing Mastercard’s system at an undisclosed store in California that will be rebranded as Dunkin’ Dash. Customers will have to register their credit card at a kiosk outside to receive a QR code that lets them enter. Cameras inside will track them as they select individually packaged baked goods, self-pour coffee and snacks.
One of the largest dance performances to happen anywhere in the world since the coronavirus pandemic began has been announced featuring the full company of London’s Royal Ballet – and while it will be socially distanced, there will be dance duets thanks to couples in bubbles. The company has revealed ambitious details of its “comeback” after a seven-month break from full performances on stage. The plan is for a celebration performance with 100 dancers and a full orchestra on 9 October, livestreamed around the world. The event will be broadcast via Vimeo at £16 per household and will be available for 30 days. “We have to charge, we have had no ticket income,” says the Royal Ballet’s director Kevin O’Hare. “I would say £16 is a real bargain… to have every principal of the Royal Ballet, the rest of the company and the orchestra, it will be extraordinary.” Unless the rules change, there will be a specially invited and socially distanced audience that will include students and health workers.
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