November: Week in Review
By Carson Schatzman, Senior Copywriter
Each Monday, Athena employees receive a recap of important news stories from the past week. On Thursdays, our morning meeting is dedicated to a quiz testing our ability to retain the information. A free lunch is the reward for the winning team. We’re a competitive group, and the quizzes bring out that spirit. Over time a number of our clients have requested our weekly review as well, so we’ve begun to share it weekly now. See below for what we’re paying attention to and why.
Holiday Shopping Expectation
Post-pandemic holiday shopping is shaping up to be quite different this year than last. With high inflation rates and overall economic uncertainty, billions of dollars are on the line as stores prepare for the holiday season, according to The New York Times.
Getting Ahead: Stores have taken proactive measures, with Costco putting out Christmas trees in August and Target marketing their Black Friday deals in October. Shoppers are facing pressure, too, questioning the usual holiday gift guides and leaning towards experiences instead of physical gifts. Executives and investors are preparing for any number of outcomes as many retailers are finding it hard to predict the buying habits of consumers.
- With stimulus checks, rising wages, and more people staying at home, the pandemic reeled in the biggest annual growth in retail, coming in at 14.1%
- Cyber Monday and Black Friday promotions are expected to skyrocket compared to previous years
- More than three-quarters of luxury shoppers say they plan to spend more than last year
- Inflation has become a heavy influence on this year’s holiday spending as customers are focusing more on necessities rather an excess
A Few Predictions: Customers are also looking for more deals and discounts this year, urging stores to rethink advertising efforts. With that being said, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught all of us the importance of experience after being cooped up for almost a year. As a result, this holiday season we may see a large shift to gifting experiences rather than physical items.
Amazon Healthcare Developments
Amazon is moving into the healthcare sector with new features on the site, having launched “Amazon Clinic” on November 15th, The Economist reports.
Greener Pastures: With the staggering hits big tech companies have endured recently, Amazon has been on the hunt for new areas of expansion, and what better place to move into than America’s biggest business: healthcare. While Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet have dabbled in healthcare and biotech research, Amazon is the first to create an all-inclusive platform for basic healthcare needs.
Amazon Clinic Overview:
- Online service is operating in 32 states
- Offering healthcare services for over 20 conditions
- Amazon bought “PillPack” for $753 million, a digital pharmacy that is now featured on the site
- Amazon will be accepting cash for its services instead of insurance
Advantages: The model is innovative and convenient, allowing users to set up appointments through Amazon Clinic. Following the appointment, they are directed to Amazon Pharmacy to obtain any prescriptions. The clinic signals the newest wave of digital healthcare and connects Amazon’s existing healthcare devices, such as the Halo band, to Amazon Clinic. The company wants to develop features like Halo band reminders to take medicine for a seamless transition from the clinic. Amazon even hinted towards setting up physical clinics in Whole Foods, which they acquired in 2017.
Hurdles: Amazon will face some trouble with regulators regarding who should be allowed to hold health-care data. While Amazon claims they have the ability to separate healthcare data from other information they’ve gathered from products and services bought by customers on the site, there is still some hesitation.
Bottom Line: Overall, Amazon’s new healthcare offerings could have a positive impact on the customer experience and ease the process of acquiring a prescription.
Rare Protests in China over Covid Policy
Citizens in China are voicing their frustration in a rare protest, pushing back against strict Covid protocols, The New York Times reports.
Zero-Tolerance: China’s “Zero-Covid” policy was praised early in the pandemic for responding quickly to outbreaks by instituting massive lock-downs and quarantines that likely saved lives. Now, while most of the world has returned to a version of normalcy nearly three years later, China’s 1.4 billion citizens are still under strict measures.
- Entire apartment building and even regions are locked down to limit the outbreak of infections regardless of individual exposure.
- Strict measures have disrupted China’s economic activity and growth, impacting both local and global markets.
- Some also protest that a recent apartment fire in Xinjiang was all the more deadly because of lockdown barricades.
Leadership: President Xi Jinping was recently re-elected for an unprecedented third term. Some hoped his re-election would come with a withdrawal of the Zero-Covid policy, but President Xi instead reaffirmed the approach. As of mid-November, a third of China’s population, living in areas that account for two-fifths of economic output, are back under some form of lockdown.
As a follow-up to last week’s news on FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange going bankrupt has had a broader impact than just on digital assets, having spent tens of millions on marketing efforts. Including sports-sponsorship deals and even an FTX arena in Miami, the fall of the cryptocurrency powerhouse is sending ripples through media businesses. [Wall Street Journal]
Microsoft’s proposed $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard is under review in 16 countries, posing the question about just how large Big Tech can become. [New York Times]
U.S. life insurance payouts rose 11% in 2021, following a 15% increase in 2020, to cross the $100 billion threshold for the first time ever. [Wall Street Journal]
This dynamic, long piece takes a look at Hog Island off of the Virginia coast to study the early impact of climate change on communities such as Oyster, Va. [Washington Post]
Cryptocurrency Exchange FTX Collapses
FTX, a major cryptocurrency exchange, went bankrupt overnight, allegedly missing billions of dollars of customer money and leaving investors empty-handed, Forbes reports.
Sam Bankman-Fried, now former-CEO of FTX, is facing a litany of allegations and investor frustration. The 30-year-old billionaire saw an unprecedented collapse with most of his wealth vanishing overnight. As one of the nation’s largest cryptocurrency firms, not only will FTX employees be affected, but the implications will impact the future of digital assets.
- Alameda Research is FTX’s sister company and liquidity provider
- FTT is FTX’s largely unbacked crypto token
- Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance (a rival cryptocurrency firm) had agreed to invest and possibly take over FTX but suddenly backed out, worrying investors and hinting towards the volatility of FTT
In a stock market crash-like event, the incidents that followed happened quickly as customers wanted out, looking to sell their FTT and other digital assets. In an effort to save the company, Bankman-Fried made numerous risky trades, including transferring $10 billion of customer funds to Alameda Research. Showing signs of a potential Ponzi scheme, the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the Bahamas-based company.
Domino Effect (NASDAQ)
- November 2: CoinDesk, a cryptocurrency and bitcoin news site, reported concerns over Alameda’s biggest asset being billions of dollars of FTT
- November 6: Following the announcement, FTX saw $5 billion in withdrawals
- November 10: Trading was halted on the platform
- November 11: FTX filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
Bottom Line: The rise and fall of FTX has broader implications for the value and reliability of cryptocurrency, as the once billion-dollar company collapsed overnight.
What’s Going on at Twitter?
With new product rollouts (and withdrawals), mass layoffs, and ultimatums, there’s a lot going on at Twitter right now, according to The New York Times.
False Start: Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, decided to monetize Twitter’s blue checkmark verification system, creating “Twitter Blue” for $8/month. This led to widespread impersonation of brands and people, and the subscription service was paused.
Seismic Changes: Twitter’s workforce, about 7,500 at the time Musk acquired the company, was first reduced by 50%. Some more public firings came later when Musk removed employees who disagreed with him on the platform.
Then, last week, Musk sent an all-staff communication announcing that “Twitter 2.0” would be “extremely hardcore” and anyone who wanted to stay should indicate as much. The alternative, right before the holidays, was three months paid severance.
Who’s on First?: The Times estimates another 1,200 employees took the money and headed for the door. Crucial teams, like “core services” which handles computing architecture, were reduced from over 100 strong to four employees.
Remaining employees are reportedly “bewildered” and uncertain about who they even report to or which team they are on. Twitter, which averages 6.9 billion monthly visits, is already entering its busiest season, with the addition of the World Cup this year.
What’s Next: Musk claims the platform will no longer promote hateful tweets, potentially drawing back advertisers. He’s also reinstated a number of high-profile accounts that were banned. Whether all of this is enough to keep the platform alive and avoid bankruptcy, and whether the platform can function with such dramatic personnel changes, remains to be seen.
At the pace things have been moving, we may not have to wait long for an answer.
Tech Layoffs and Market Indicators
November, thus far, has proved to be a huge month for tech layoffs with companies such as Amazon, Twitter, and Meta firing thousands of employees, Axios reports.
Overdoing It: Likely stemming from a hiring spree referred to as a “war for talent,” the result left tech giants with too many employees and tighter budgets. For these companies, it’s the first big wave of layoffs, affecting the largely stable work culture. While Amazon’s layoffs are largely in corporate roles, other companies are cutting jobs across the board.
By the Numbers:
- Amazon is planning a cut of around 10,000 employees
- Of the 23,000 tech-industry job cuts in November, Meta’s layoffs account for about half of total tech firings
- In 2022, more than 120,000 tech workers have been laid off
- If Amazon does move forward with cuts, this month will pass April 2020’s record of 27,000 tech layoffs
Market Signals: As tech companies have historically indicated market direction in general, job seeker confidence is significantly decreased from earlier this year. While unemployment is still low, layoffs at these major companies have sent ripples through the tech world and beyond.
The Wall Street Journal paints the picture in a 5-minute video.
Best of the Rest
Happy Thanksgiving! Here are some fun Thanksgiving trivia questions to play with friends and family over the holiday. [Today.com]
The NFL is teaming up with Skydance Media in hopes of launching football media content as mainstream entertainment. Moving towards movie and television content creation, this partnership could be the next big thing for the world of sports. [Wall Street Journal]
With the metaverse growing rapidly, Forbes shares what exactly virtual reality can mean for business, education, and society as a whole. [Forbes]
In global news, world leaders met in Bali, Indonesia this past week at the G20 Summit. Addressing issues like geopolitical turmoil, the potential for a global recession, high inflation rates, and oil production, this summit strategized on how to alleviate some of these threats. [NYT]
What’s Your Brand Worth?
Interbrand recently released its annual Best Global Brands report, which saw brand value grow at the fastest rate Interbrand has ever recorded, demonstrating the increasing impact a company’s brand has in on its bottom line.
What’s Brand Value Anyway? Interbrand’s valuations have three key components:
- The financial performance of the branded products or services
- The role the brand plays in purchase decisions
- The brand’s competitive strength
A Super League: This year, the cumulative value of the top 10 brands clocked in at $1.65 trillion. This figure is greater than the combined value of the next 90 at $1.44 trillion. The top ten include iconic brands like Apple, who claimed the top spot for the tenth straight year, Disney, and Nike. A common thread throughout the top 10 brands is the ability to “move in multiple directions,” which has allowed these companies to exist in virtually every corner of customers’ lives.
‘Tis the Season
You may believe it’s too early to think about the holidays, but marketing departments and agencies around the world disagree. Creative Boom dove into some of this year’s best ads celebrating the most wonderful time of year so far.
Holiday Cheer? In 2021 we saw brands center their campaigns on kindness and optimism as yet another year marred by the pandemic came to a close. While the pandemic recedes, economic concerns grow with rising inflation. So how are brands approaching their festive ads this year?
With Humor: British supermarket chain Asda takes original footage from the holiday classic Elf and retrofits into scenes set at an Asda supermarket. Watch Buddy the Elf bring Christmas cheer here.
With Absurdity: Ocean Spray’s eccentric ad shows how different this holiday season of ads will be compared to that of the past two years.
With a Blend of Current Events and Nostalgia: Aldi, who is known for its holiday ads, takes advantage of the upcoming World Cup and nods to Nike’s iconic 1998 World Cup ad in a spot for this year.
The Bottom Line: Expect to see brands continue to think outside the box this year with themes that harken back to pre-pandemic times.
Fetterman Takes PA
In a highly anticipated and consequential Senate race in our homebase of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman (D) defeated Mehmet Oz (R) in what was the election’s first Senate flip, The Wall Street Journal reports.
How the Votes Fell: Analysts expected a close race in the Keystone state as President Biden only won the state by less than 1.2 percentage points in 2020. And a close race it was as Fetterman garnered 51% of the vote compared to Oz’s 47%. Fetterman’s “Every county, every vote” campaign delivered as he improved on President Biden’s margin of victory in 56 of the state’s 67 counties
Claiming Victory: The hoodie-donning Fetterman tweeted, “We bet on the people of Pennsylvania – and you didn’t let us down. And I won’t let you down. Thank you.”
Best of the Rest
Meta cut 13% of its staff in its first broad restructuring amidst a decline in the digital-ad market and continued hits in the stock market. [WSJ]
Cryptocurrency millionaire Preston Johnson recently purchased one of the lowest ranked English soccer clubs, Crawley Town. Johnson hopes to turn the club into “the internet’s team” through his global following in the crypto world. [NYT]
Within the past year, Netflix has bid for streaming rights for Formula One races and two European tennis tours, indicating the company’s appetite to stream live sports on its service. [WSJ]
As tumult continues at Twitter, decentralized social network Mastodon continues to grow in popularity. Still, advertisers wary of Twitter will not find a viable alternative in Mastodon. [The Drum]
Potential for National Digital IDs
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States offered financial aid to millions of Americans, but much of it ended up in the wrong hands and regulators are now looking for solutions, Ars Technica reports.
The Challenge: COVID-19 brought about a slew of new protocols, one of them may be the usage of digital IDs. Identify scammers took advantage of the COVID relief programs that aimed to help Americans during the 2020 outbreak. It’s estimated that hundreds of billions of relief funds were stolen, urging the government to consider a nationwide digital identification verification system.
State of Things:
- Countries with digital identification distributed aid most successfully
- Digital IDs will make it easier and quicker to provide financial aid
- Americans would be able to protect information and share only what is necessary for a transaction
- Digital IDs could save the world $5 trillion in data breaches by 2024
- Congress is considering a new law, the Improving Digital Identity Act, which would protect digital identities in public and private sectors
Industry Efforts: The United States may use a digital identification and fraud prevention platform called Socure, a global leader in the space. With almost everything digitalized, it’s not just names and social security numbers that scammers can use, but IP addresses and biometrics. Socure’s VP of Compliance expressed concerns over the future of the metaverse, and how evolving technology calls for more sophisticated forms of data protection.
Other Sectors: Several states in the US have already begun implementing digitized driver’s licenses, and many more are expected to follow suit. The idea of the digital wallet is moving to the automobile industry, with Volkswagen spearheading investments to have a wallet built into the car, named VW Pay. Using your car to pay at a drive through or gas station may just be the new normal.
Interpublic Group and Havas Media, two large advertising agencies, have advised their clients to halt paid advertising on Twitter in response to Elon Musk’s takeover, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Thin Ice: Advertising agencies instructed their clients to wait and see how Twitter’s relatively uncensored content will play out. Hesitant over the direction Musk is taking Twitter, Interpublic group advised clients that “The current situation is unpredictable and chaotic…At this moment, we cannot confidently state that Twitter is a safe place for brands.” The concerns are valid, as there has been a rise in inappropriate behavior on the app since Musk’s $44 billion purchase.
- Twitter’s top ad executive, Sarah Personate, announced her resignation last Tuesday, in addition to at least five other executives
- Twitter has removed more than 15,000 accounts for hateful conduct since Musk’s takeover
- Companies such as Walmart, Pepsi, and Cadillac have plans to pause spending on Twitter
Why it Matters: Paid advertising is vital to the platform, accounting for 89% of the $5 billion revenue. Musk is attempting to appease top advertising executives, assuring them that Twitter will have some content regulations. But this past week, a group of 40 civil-society organizations called on Twitter’s top-20 advertisers to cease all advertising.
Bottom Line: Advertisers are spooked that Musk’s plans for an uncensored platform may create a risky environment for brands, so many are pausing activity on the platform.
Forecasting the Climate Conference in Egypt
Corporations are in the hot seat as discussions get underway at COP27, the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt, according to The Washington Post.
Lay of the Land: Government action has limited impact, and many are looking to private sector companies to set emission standards and provide necessary financing. Meeting climate goals will require about $3.8 trillion annually for the next three years, with only 16% of that currently available. Both development goals and climate goals depend on “a small group of highly motivated actors who go off and do stuff and drag everyone else along,” as David Victor of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative says.
What’s New: Unlike past conferences, COP27 is focused on implementation. Financing and project launches are taking center stage. John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, has worked on raising private capital for years – and he will call for corporate commitments to aid developing nations specifically.
Calls for Climate Justice: Developing countries, which suffer most from climate related disasters, are frustrated about the lack of government follow-through and skeptical about a private sector solution. As The New York Times reports, there is a strong sentiment that the U.S. and other major economies (which are responsible for half of all CO2 emissions since 1850) should lead the charge in both investment and aid.
More to Come: One-third of the top 2,000 companies in the world have committed to zero emissions by 2050, but 93% are on pace to miss their targets. There is still no clear global solution, but this summit will explore bolstering international regulation and incentivizing global, green investment practices.
Best of the Rest
Since his retirement from the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions has gained nationwide attention as the sports broadcasting network continues to flourish. Including various segments like “Peyton’s Places” and the “Manningcast,” the star football player is creating a platform that goes beyond just football, creating an inclusive experience for fans and athletes alike. [Axios]
The $24 trillion Treasury bond market provides clear signs of where interest rates and the economy as a whole are likely headed. Following a pattern that has preceded every U.S. recession for the last 50 years, Wall Street is paying close attention to the market. [The New York Times]
The proposed merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster was blocked, slowing publishing industry consolidation, after the DOJ sued over concerns it would lead to a monopsony, giving Penguin too much control over its suppliers – or, in this industry, top-selling writers. [Wall Street Journal]
There has been a wave of reporting connecting corporate profits and record inflation, and there will likely be some impact in both politics and business; this article takes a look at food and the companies that are raising prices beyond covering their own costs. [New York Times]