Business

Heinz puts Super Bowl’s use of Roman numerals on trial

January 30, 2023

International food producer Heinz is having some fun around the number 57 that appears on its tomato ketchup bottles—tying it in with this year’s 57th annual Super Bowl (or LVII, as it’s branded), reports Adweek.

Heinz 57 is an iconic piece of advertising—referring to the number of different varieties offered by the food company. It was first introduced to promote the number of different pickles that Heinz sold in 1896. However, according to the Smithsonian Magazinethe number actually doesn’t refer to anything.

Ahead of the Super Bowl in February, Heinz is choosing to educate fans on reading Roman numerals, explaining that “LVII Meanz 57” and calling on the National Football League to adopt standard numbers instead.

It claims that last year, hundreds of social media users complained about their confusion over using Roman numerals. So, to help, it has launched a dedicated campaign website to allow fans to vote for whether the organizers should retire their use.

A hashtag, #LVIIMeanz57, has also been created to amplify the messaging across social media as well.

Alyssa Cicero, brand manager for Heinz, says: “The annual return of these impractical Roman numerals consistently leave fans vexed and perplexed.

“For over 100 years, Heinz has been synonymous with the number 57, and this year, Big Game LVII is too,” she added. “What better time for Heinz to use its iconic and trademarked 57 to modernize this practice and clarify that ‘LVII Meanz 57?’ We know viewers across North America are invested in this, and we want to use our platform to elevate their frustrations.”

To commemorate the crossover in numbers, special limited edition ketchup bottles featuring “LVII Meanz 57” in place of where the number “57” usually sits have been released. Those who vote in the poll will be given the chance to win one of the bottles to incentivize their involvement.

The vote will be open until the day of the Super Bowl February 12 and will be amplified using OOH and across Heinz’s social media channels.

Research contact: @Adweek

Snapchat’s trippy new brand campaign aims to answer the question, what is Snapchat for?

January 27, 2023

When former Wieden+Kennedy executive Colleen DeCourcy joined Snap last year as the company’s chief creative officer, she said it was “the best known, least understood” social platform, reports Fast Company.

A new brand campaign, called “Wait’ll You See This,” is aimed at remedying that problem.

Whether it’s Apple pulling heartstrings or Amazon getting a bit celebrity silly with Alexa for the Super Bowl, we’re now accustomed to seeing tech brand advertising that includes very elaborate product demonstrations. Snap’s new ad is no exception—except that it feels more like a product demo inside a fever dream.

People with horse heads, dogs with three butts, the dead-eyed goofy gaze of fellow commuters on the subway: It’s all in there. For some, it will be the stuff of social media dystopian nightmares—for others, a peek into the funhouse of creative possibility. The brand is aiming for the latter.

DeCourcy says one of the primary goals is to start a conversation between people who use Snapchat and those who don’t. “As a non-broadcast platform, which is the beauty of it, if you’re not there, you don’t know. So, we’re trying to get people there,” DeCourcy says. “We’re trying to punch a little hole in the Snapchat box and let it leak out into the world so that people can see what it does.”

This is not just a one-off campaign, but the start of what DeCourcy says will be an ongoing brand platform. It was created in-house, under Snap Executive Creative Director Eric Baldwin, who joined the company last August, and previously worked with DeCourcy as ECD at Wieden+Kennedy.

New brand work already has started to trickle out, with a New Year’s Eve billboard in Times Square and a float in the Rose Bowl parade. This work will get its national TV debut during the NFL’s AFC Championship game on Sunday, January 29. “It’ll hopefully be this moment, with people watching a game together, where those who know will get excited and show the others in the room what it’s all about,” Baldwin says.

Snap reports that more than 250 million people engage with augmented reality (AR) on Snapchat every day, with more than 6 billion daily AR plays. The platform has 300,000 AR creators and developers who’ve built more than 3 million AR Lenses for the platform.

“There is this Super Bowl-sized audience on the platform every day,” says DeCourcy. “In a very cynical world, though, people have to experience it to get it. I don’t want to make things about the platform; I want to make things with the platform.”

That’s where this new work gets most interesting. Baldwin and DeCourcy’s creative team worked with Snapchat’s Arcadia Creative Studio to make the spot fully integrated with the app’s AR lenses. Every single frame of the spot, whether you view it online, as a screen shot, or during an NFL game, is scannable and will take you to a new suite of lenses, with a few surprises like a limited edition merch drop mixed in.

Arcadia Creative Studio’s Global Director Resh Sidhu, says Snap’s AR technology is world-class, and the spot itself is the perfect platform to show off how it all works. “We wanted AR to be at the heart of this campaign, and this was the perfect way to do that,” Sidhu says. “What excites our AR team is how this creates a platform for us to continue to share our work with the world. It’s all about getting it in the hands of people and allowing them to experience it.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Richard’s Rainwater turns wet days into paydays

January 26, 2023

For most people, a rainy day means the inconvenience of carrying around an umbrella or the cancellation of an outside event. But for Richard’s Rainwater, the first U.S. company to bottle rain, the liquid is anything but a hassle as a wet day means payday, reports Food Dive.

Richard’s Rainwater collected roughly 4 million gallons of rainwater from two locations in the United States in 2022, before purifying it and then packaging the liquid in bottles and cans. The water, caught before it hits the ground, preventing the need to add chemicals such as chlorine, fluoride or ammonia, is 100 times cleaner than the strictest bottled water standards even before it’s purified, the company says. 

The company—located in Dripping Springs, Texas—announced the opening of the world’s largest potable rainwater collection site in partnership with Faubourg Brewing of New Orleans and its parent company, Made By The Water, on Thursday, January 19. The collaboration creates Louisiana’s first-ever rain capture facility for drinking water and is expected to collect more than 2 million gallons each year, according to the company’s press release.

Richard’s Rainwater CEO Taylor O’Neil said in the release it makes sense to capture rainwater in New Orleans, since it’s one of the three rainiest cities in the United States.

“I’m on a journey of cleaner water that’s harvested responsibility, is significantly better than municipal water with fancy branding, or bottled water … that travels from a single source on the planet all over the rest of the world with carbon footprints,” O’Neil tells Food Dive.

Sales for the water brand, which have soared from about $100,000 in 2017 when O’Neil and other investors purchased the brand, are forecast to top $10 million in 2023. The product is sold at thousands of locations, including Kroger, Albertsons, and Whole Foods.

Research contact: @FoodDive

King Charles’ Crown Estate is coming after Elon Musk’s Twitter over unpaid rent on London offices

January 25, 2023

Britain’s Crown Estate—an independent commercial business that manages the property portfolio belonging to the British monarch—has filed a case against Twitter over alleged unpaid rent at its London offices, reports Fortune Magazine.

Court lists showed the case against Twitter was filed at the High Court in London last week.

 

The Crown Estate, which is owned by King Charles III and administers thousands of acres of Crown-owned land across the United Kingdom, confirmed the action related to “rental arrears” over its premises at 20 Air Street, London. 

 

The 260-year-old company is one of the U.K.’s largest landowners—including 10 million square feet of property in London’s West End alone. Profits from the collection of land and buildings are collected by the British government, with $3 billion generated for public spending in the last 10 years. 

Since taking over Twitter last year, Elon Musk has been slashing costs, including cutting at least $1 billion in IT spending, auctioning surplus office furniture, and laying off more than half the workforce. 

 

Reports suggest that the tech giant’s London office near Piccadilly Circus has been deserted for some months, with Twitter signage and logos removed.

 

The British court case comes alongside similar trouble in the United States, where Twitter failed to pay almost $6.8 million rent on its San Francisco headquarters in December and January, according to a lawsuit filed by the landlord.

 

Sri Nine Market Square drew $3.6 million from Twitter’s security deposit to satisfy the payment missed in December, but Twitter still owes $3.1 million in unpaid rent for January.

 

Twitter leases over 460,000 square feet of space across eight floors in the San Francisco building, according to the complaint. 

 

The landlord is also seeking to increase Twitter’s letter of credit to $10 million, based on a clause in its lease triggered by the transfer of control of the company—but said Twitter has refused to do so.

 

Meanwhile, earlier this month another San Francisco landlord accused Elon Musk’s company of not paying rent. The owner of 650 California St.—Columbia REIT, an affiliate of Columbia Property Trust—accused the tech giant of dodging $136,260 in rent payments for use of the 30th floor, according to the lawsuit. 

 

Nonpayment has been reported as part of Musk’s overall business strategy to keep costs down. So far the approach has gone from skipping rent to refusing to pay for jet flights taken.

 

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Report: Abbott Labs under criminal investigation over baby formula shortage

January 214, 2023

The Justice Department is investigating Abbott Laboratories’ baby formula plant in Michigan, which was at the center of a nationwide formula shortage that plagued millions of families, reports Fox Business.

In May, Abbott reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reopen the company’s manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan to help ease a nationwide shortage of baby formula, after the facility was closed due to bacterial contamination, according to an earlier story by The Wall Street Journal.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said Abbott, under the conditions of the agreement, would correct unsanitary conditions that led to the contamination and plant closure.

“The DOJ has informed us of its investigation, and we’re cooperating fully,” an Abbott spokesman told the Journal.

The investigation signals further scrutiny of Abbott’s operation of the plant—a major source of baby formula in the United States.

Last January, FDA inspectors found the cronobacter pathogen at the plant after receiving reports of babies who drank the company’s formula and became sick. The bacteria that was detected in the supply found let to at least four infant illnesses—including two deaths.

The inspectors also found standing water, damage to drying equipment, and defects in the seams of formula cans, among other problems at the Sturgis plant.

In a ten-page report published last September, the FDA stated that conditions observed at the Abbott facility “were not consistent with a strong food safety culture.”

Abbott temporarily halted production at the Sturgis factory in February 2022 and recalled baby formula made at the plant. The move sparked a national formula shortage which forced America to airlift millions of pounds of powdered formula from overseas.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness

Microsoft slammed for hosting private Sting concert for its execs in Davos on the eve of firm’s mass layoffs

January 23, 2023

Microsoft has come under fire after details of a bash the company held in Davos, Switzerland, left the company’s workers more than a little stung, reports Fortune Magazine.

The tech firm hosted an exclusive event for around 50 people at the Swiss ski resort on Tuesday evening, January  17, with sources telling the publication that attendees had been treated to a live performance from iconic musician Sting. The party’s theme was sustainability, according to a scoop by The Wall Street Journal

It is unclear whether Microsoft paid Sting to perform at its event on Tuesday evening, at the World Economic Forum, but according to booking agency AAE Music it can cost upward of $500,000 to hire the artist for a private gig.

Invitees to the event—which the Journal described on Wednesday as “intimate”—reportedly included some of the company’s most senior executives.

The next day, Microsoft announced it was slashing 10,000 jobs—almost 5% of its workforce—citing “macroeconomic conditions and changing customer priorities.”

It marked the largest round of layoffs at the company since 2014. Toward the end of last year, the company announced it would be letting 1,000 workers go.

In an email to employees on Wednesday, CEO Satya Nadella said some workers would be told that day that their jobs would be cut, adding that the downsizing would be completed by the third quarter of 2023.

“We will treat our people with dignity and respect, and act transparently,” he said. “These decisions are difficult, but necessary.”

“We’re living through times of significant change,” Nadella also told his workforce. “We’re seeing organizations in every industry and geography exercise caution as some parts of the world are in a recession and other parts are anticipating one.”

Microsoft is just the latest behemoth of the tech sector to announce sweeping job cuts. AmazonTwitter, and Salesforce are among a plethora of tech firms who also announced layoffs in recent months.

Some Microsoft employees told the Journal that the turn of events between Tuesday and Wednesday was not a good look for the tech giant. The firm also faced criticism on social media, with some dubbing the firm’s moves “hypocrisy” and a “bad look.”

Representatives for Microsoft declined to comment.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Regulators announce changes to nursing home rating system for safety of patients

January 20, 2023

On Wednesday, January 18, federal regulators said that they will begin penalizing nursing homes that give residents a false label of schizophrenia—a practice that many facilities have used to skirt restrictions on antipsychotic drugs, which can be especially dangerous for older people, reports The New York Times.

In the announcement, officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that facilities inflating the number of residents with schizophrenia could be punished with a lower ranking in the federal ratings system used to evaluate the quality of nursing homes.

The move—part of a broader effort by the Biden Administration to beef up regulation of nursing homes—could close a loophole that some nursing homes have exploited to sedate dementia patients who would otherwise require expensive round-the-clock care.

Under the federal rating system, nursing homes must report the number of their residents taking antipsychotic drugs. But facilities are allowed to exclude residents who have certain other medical diagnoses, including schizophrenia.

In a 2021 investigation, The New York Times reported that, since 2012, when nursing homes were first required to report how many residents had received such drugs, the share of residents with a questionable schizophrenia diagnosis has soared by 70%. That year, one in nine residents had a schizophrenia diagnosis; in the general population, the disorder, which has strong genetic roots, afflicts roughly one in 150 people.

“We support transparency for consumers and ensuring nursing home residents are properly diagnosed and receive the right care,” said Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, adding, “Our members have been active partners in a national effort to reduce the unnecessary use of antipsychotics in nursing homes, which in the past decade, has decreased by 40 percent,” he added.

A 2021 report by a federal oversight agency concluded that nearly 33% of long-term nursing home residents with schizophrenia diagnoses in 2018 had no Medicare record of being treated for the condition. The Medicare agency, which oversees nursing homes, said it would conduct an audit of medical records in nursing homes to evaluate whether the diagnoses were correct.

Black nursing home residents have been disproportionately affected by the surge in schizophrenia diagnoses. A 2021 study found that Black Americans with dementia have been 1.7 times as likely as white residents to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In its latest announcement, the Medicare agency said it already has conducted a handful of audits of nursing homes’ medical records and spotted instances of residents saddled with phony diagnoses. Some nursing homes failed to perform psychiatric evaluations of the residents. Among those that did, some classified symptoms of dementia as signs of schizophrenia instead.

The agency also said it would begin publishing citations against nursing homes even while the facilities were appealing the charges. The New York Times reported that thousands of problems uncovered by state health inspectors had been hidden from public view because they were being appealed by the nursing homes, in a secretive process. In many cases, inspectors had uncovered dangerous conditions that violated federal regulations, but the nursing homes were allowed to keep their high ratings during the appeals, which sometimes had lasted for years.

The Medicare agency said that, although the number of hidden citations is relatively small, the practice has obscured serious charges. Over the past two years, the agency said, 80 citations that placed residents in “immediate jeopardy” went through the appeals process and were not published on the site.

Research contact: @nytimes

 

Discord acquires Gas, a compliments-based social media app for teens

January 19, 2023

The messaging platform Discord has announced the acquisition of Gas, an app that’s popular among teens for its positive spin on social media, reports TechCrunch.

On Gas, users sign up with their school, add friends, and answer polls about their classmates. But the questions in the polls are intended to boost users’ confidence, rather than damage it. Teens might be asked to choose which of four friends is the best DJ or has the best smile. Then the person who was chosen will get an anonymous message with the compliment, sent from a vague “boy in 10th grade” or “girl in 11th grade.”

Gas was founded by Nikita Bier, who previously sold a similar app called tbh to Facebook in 2017. The tbh app has since been shut down.

According to data from Sensor Tower, Gas reached 7.4 million installs and almost $7 million in consumer spending since its launch in summer 2022. Users can subscribe to a paid feature called “God Mode,” which gives users hints about who their secret complimenters are.

“At this time, Gas will continue as its own standalone app and the Gas team will be joining Discord to help our efforts to continue to grow across new and core audiences,” Discord wrote in an announcement. As of October, Bier said Gas had four team members.

Despite Gas’s popularity, the app has had a rocky road to its exit. The app was the subject of a widespread sex-trafficking rumor, which was completely false, yet still impacted the app’s downloads. Bier told The Washington Post that he and his team received hundreds of graphic death threats as a result of this hoax. Other viral social apps, IRL and WalkSafe, also have been hit with unfounded trafficking accusations.

Gas is one of several anonymous apps—some based around compliments, some not—that have gone viral recently. But TechCrunch found that apps like NGL and Sendit were using bots to simulate engagement.

Like Gas, these apps offer users the ability to pay to see who asks questions. Understandably, some customers felt scammed when it turned out that these questions didn’t actually come from their friends. Meanwhile, 9count, the company that made Spark and Summer, is working on a product similar to Gas called nocapp.

Even though Discord is currently going to keep Gas operating as a stand-alone product, Discord recently announced that it would integrate a selection of apps into its servers. So, it’s possible that we could see these positive community polls on the messaging platform in the future.

“We’re always working to create an inclusive world where no one feels like an outsider and we’re excited to welcome Gas to the Discord community as our next step to fulfilling that vision,” Discord wrote in its announcement.

The terms of Discord’s acquisition of Gas have not been disclosed.

Research contact: @TechCrunch

Workplace bullying has skyrocketed, and remote work might be partially to blame

January 18, 2023

Reports of bullying in the workplace have skyrocketed in recent years as companies increasingly embrace remote work, reports Fortune Magazine

Ethisphere, a firm that aims to promote ethical business practices, surveyed over two million respondents globally and found a nearly 13-point jump in reports of workplace bullying compared to pre-pandemic.

The startling increase in reported bullying comes down to two main factors, says Ethisphere CEO Erica Salmon Byrne: the entrance of Gen Z in the workplace and remote work. 

To clarify, Gen Z’s workforce entrance hasn’t caused an increase in bullying. (Gen X and millennials aren’t ganging up on office interns.) But younger professionals are more willing to identify and call out bad behavior in the workplace. 

“Just think about the nomenclature that our kids are being given in school—the upstander versus bystander language,” says Salmon Byrne. “That is language that not every generation has been given.” This cultural shift bears out in the data. Gen Z survey respondents were more likely to indicate that they’ve observed bullying in the office.

But don’t let their gumption fool you. Although young employees are likelier to raise their concerns than other generations, they’re not reporting bullying to higher-ups. Almost 39% of Gen Z employees responded that they chose not to report misconduct when they witnessed it, whereas Gen X was most likely to report the behavior (53%). 

 “The Gen Z population, in particular, is less likely to raise concerns because they don’t have a lot of comfort in the system,” says Salmon Byrne. “They’re not completely convinced that they won’t experience retaliation as a result, and that’s consistent with what we see in EEOC data.” The federal agency has seen an influx of harassment and discrimination reports in the last two years. 

The shift to remote work plays a role in this as well. Virtual work requires employees to rely more heavily on written communication and informal chat functions than in the past, making it easier for people to misconstrue messages. Additionally, the lack of visibility with dispersed work has made misconduct or bullying behavior, in some instances, easier to conceal and harder to witness and report.

So, what does this mean for HR heads? They should be training managers to promote a culture where all employees feel safe speaking up.

“As we think about what the workforce of the future is going to look like, it really comes down to manager preparedness,” Byrne says. “We can publicize hotlines all we want, but people are going to people, so the real key is, are the people they go to prepared?”

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Drone racing gives tech fans a league of their own

January 17, 2023

In a synchronized movement in a darkened arena in San Jose, California, four pilots pick up their drone controllers. Suddenly, their drones—each lit with thousands of tiny red, yellow, green, or blue LED bulbs—zoom through the curves and gates of the course before 5,000 audience members, who cheer while holding up their phones to catch clips.

But they are not alone. Around the world, millions more fans also are catching the action of the 2022-2023 season kickoff of the Flatiron District-based Drone Racing League on their devices—arguably the natural environment for spectators of the eight-year-old professional league for a sport that can feel like a simulation, reports Crains New York.

“When fans started calling us a real-life video game, we knew we had realized our expectations,” said league founder Nicholas Horbaczewski. “We had so many examples of it from Hollywood and video games for decades”—including iconic examples such as “podracing” in Star Wars, a fantasy generated by computers. “That is a high bar.”

Horbaczewski does not disclose revenue, but in 2021 the league began a $100 million, five-year partnership with Boston-based blockchain-tech company Algorand for title rights to the league’s world championship circuit and has signed on sponsors including Google, T-Mobile, the U.S. Air Force, and New Balance. The company has raised around $100 million in capital—including a $22 million Series D round last summer—and has about 65 employees.

In 2015 Horbaczewski was working in business development at endurance event Tough Mudder when he took note of drone racing, then an amateur-run underground sport growing in popularity. “I thought it was the most amazing thing,” he remembered.

When he launched a league for the sport shortly thereafter, he followed a traditional model for sports leagues, with a season of multiple live events broadcast on television and other live-streaming platforms and sustained by sponsorships and advertising.

The hardest hurdle was the tech itself. Hobbyist and consumer drones were too slow for the league, and they didn’t have the tracking, diagnostic or transmitting abilities needed for an exciting race. Unable to buy drones that met its specifications, DRL built its high-performance drones from the ground up, in its own lab on a floor of the Manhattan office. Each drone is the same, which highlights the skill and techniques of the 12 young, male pilots who come from around the world to compete each season.

“If tech is the center, and it breaks down, it ruins the sport,” Horbaczewski said. “The tech has to be so good, it’s invisible.”

About half of the staff works directly on the drone tech—manufacturing and maintaining a fleet of 600 that can go from zero to 90 miles an hour in less than one second—while maintaining a nearly instantaneous transmission to the pilot, who is on the ground reacting to a remote camera feed in real time. The drones must work both inside and outside. (New York City prohibits most outdoor drone flying, so testing outside the lab occurs elsewhere in the region.) The league has to track and score each drone in real time, to be able to display winners and losers immediately.

In the early days, nearly every race led to a step forward, tech-wise. Now, the ease of doing deep tech integrations is part of what attracts sponsors to the league. The season opener in San Jose on October 11, for example, integrated sponsor Google Cloud Platform by releasing live drone data that allowed Cloud developers to analyze race data and help pilots optimize their techniques. With T-Mobile, DRL built out the tech to enable a drone to fly on the company’s 5G network. Part of the partnership with Algorand includes a way for players to fly drones in the metaverse while earning rewards like digital collectibles. All are ways to relate to a very tech-friendly demographic, according to Horbaczewski.

“Our fans hang on every Elon [Musk] tweet and iPhone release rumor—they don’t care how far Tom Brady can throw a football,” he said. “Now they get all the great things that come with sports fandom in a way that they can relate to.”

Research contact: @crainsny