‘Watershed moment’ for U.S. rail as Biden gives $8.2B to train projects

December 11, 2023

President Joe Biden is a self-described train fan—commuting between Washington, D.C., and Delaware on Amtrak for decades when he was a U.S. senator. Now, in an effort to beef up U.S. passenger rail, his Administration is doling out more than $8 billion—including funds for two high-speed trains in California and Nevada, reports Forbes.

The Transportation Department’s Federal Railroad Administration is releasing $8.2 billion from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help fund ten passenger rail projects nationwide—including about $3.1 billion for California to complete the first 171 miles of its $100 billion bullet train system; and $3 billion for Brightline West, a 218-mile high-speed line from Las Vegas to suburban Los Angeles.

Additional grants will improve busy passenger rail corridors in Virginia, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., and upgrade Chicago’s Union Station.

Biden is to discuss the projects today in Las Vegas. The funds come from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and are the country’s biggest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak a half-century ago, White House Infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu told Forbes.

“This is kind of a watershed moment in the history of rail in the United States of America,” Landrieu said. “As the president has often said, when he talks about Xi Jinping and China and competing with them, the United States ought to have world-class high-speed rail and this is a pretty good stake in the ground toward that goal.”

Japan debuted its shinkansen bullet trains six decades ago, and high-speed rail now connects major cities across Europe, South Korea, Taiwan; and especially China, which has a sprawling 26,000-mile system. New train lines also race across Morocco, the Saudi Arabian desert, and Indonesia’s Java island at 180 miles per hour or more.

The fastest train in the U.S. is the Acela on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor network between New York and Boston, topping out at 150 mph in limited segments. (The Biden Administration announced $16.4 billion of Infrastructure Law funding last month to upgrade tracks, bridges, and tunnels; and faster new trains to help Acelas travel at up to 160 mph.)

Brightline West, created by private equity billionaire Wes Edens and operating passenger trains connecting Orlando to Miami, intends to run at up to 200 mph through the desert when it opens by 2028.

California’s system, built mainly on an elevated viaduct, aims to run trains at up to 220 mph in its initial Central Valley corridor connecting the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced. That segment could open as early as 2030.

Brightline West and California plan to operate their trains on renewable power—mainly from solar farms—and promote them as much greener forms of transportation than driving or flying.

“There’s no turning back now – America’s high-speed rail revolution is coming,” Ray LaHood, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and co-chair of the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition said in a statement. “With climate disasters bearing down on us, it’s time to kick these transformative, planet-saving projects into high gear.”

Edens is studying additional places to build more bullet trains, putting them alongside existing highway corridors connecting major cities with ground-level tracks to reduce construction costs. These include systems connecting Atlanta to Charlotte, cities in Texas and Los Angeles and San Diego, although Brightline hasn’t announced plans to move ahead with those projects.

“This is [an] historic moment that will serve as a foundation for a new industry and a remarkable project that will serve as the blueprint for how we can repeat this model throughout the country,” Edens said by email earlier this week after Brightline’s federal grant was announced.

Research contact: @Forbes

Sydney Sweeney fixes up a Ford Mustang in ad campaign championing women in auto sector

December 8, 2023

When auto brand Ford partnered with Sydney Sweeney—the star of Euphoria and The White Lotus—to launch a women’s workwear collection in March, items began selling out in less than 36 hours. The success inspired the brand and Wieden+Kennedy New York to expand on their partnership, with an advertising campaign aiming to break barriers for women in the automotive sector, reports Adweek.

The initiative launches with a film showing Sweeney working on her 1964 Ford Mustang. Dressed in the Ford x Sydney Sweeney denim coveralls, which are manufactured by Dickies, she replaces a spark plug and air filter, and changes the car’s oil.

In a second film, she sports the collection’s new T-shirt and corduroy hat as she replaces the car’s brakes. Sweeney comes from a family of mechanics and has documented her work restoring a 1969 Ford Bronco on her TikTok channel, @syds_garage.

“We learned that a lot of people, a lot of women, and not just auto enthusiasts, are captivated and inspired by this extraordinarily authentic partnership,” Ford Marketing Communications Manager Erica Martin told Adweek. “They love getting a glimpse at a new side of Sydney and of Ford.

“This time, we aimed to simply do more of what was so successful—hanging out with Sydney (and her dog, Tank) in her garage while she gets her hands dirty and pursues her passion.”

While the auto industry is typically male-dominated, Ford wants to inspire more women with passion for the space. The brand is releasing a digital lookbook featuring step-by-step instructions for basic vehicle maintenance and pictures of the apparel modeled by female auto restoration influencers, including Adri Law and Gelica Peralta.

The lookbook and tutorials from Sweeney will be shared in Instagram carousels and story highlights directing consumers to buy the line at merchandise.ford.com.

“Anytime we can show up in a relevant way, in unexpected places for an automotive brand, that’s a win,” Martin said. “It’s all about harnessing the power of pop culture, of Sydney, to get in front of new audiences and drive conversation about Ford in social and in the media. And it would be great if the merch sold out again, too.”

Research contact: @Adweek

Hyatt breaks ground on inaugural Hyatt Studios hotel

December 7, 2023

Hyatt Hotels has broken ground on the inaugural location of its Hyatt Studios brand—the company’s first upper midscale extended stay brand in the Americas—the company announced on Wednesday, December 6, reports Hotel Dive.

The Mobile, Alabama-based hotel, set to open in 2025, is among others in the Hyatt Studios pipeline; including planned properties in Marysville, California, and Portland, Maine.

Driven by developer demand, the hotel company is among several of its peers, including Marriott and Hilton, to expand in the extended stay space this year.

Hyatt, in collaboration with developer 3H Group has begun construction on the first Hyatt Studios location just outside of Mobile at Tillman’s Corner, near Mobile Bay and Mobile International Airport.

Hyatt Studios will be built in locations where Hyatt’s presence is currently limited, including suburban, interstate and small-town markets.

When the Mobile hotel was first announced in August, Hyatt said there were signed letters of interest for more than 100 other Hyatt Studios hotels as well.

That pipeline has since expanded. According to Hyatt, the company recently executed a franchise agreement for a Hyatt Studios location in Portland, Maine, slated to open in 2025. Giri Hotel Management, a hotel group that operates more than 50 hotels across New England, will develop the 122-room property at Portland International Jetport.

“The continued interest from the development community reaffirms the Hyatt Studios brand’s compelling value proposition,” Hansen said in a statement.

Heightened developer demand for the product type bolstered Marriott International and Hilton to similarly launch extended stay brands, StudioRes and Project H3, respectively. During a third-quarter earnings call, Marriott President and CEO Anthony Capuano said the company was in talks for StudioRes deals in more than 300 U.S. markets.

Research contact: @HotelDive

Hellmann’s quadruple dips on Super Bowl with ‘most impactful’ ad yet

December 6, 2023

Hellmann’s will return to the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive year with another spot centered on its program combating food waste, reports Marketing Dive.

Announcing its plans, the Unilever-owned mayonnaise marketer indicated that the annual sporting event is a major source of food waste, providing a timely opportunity to promote “Make Taste, Not Waste,” which encourages creative use of leftovers. Previous Hellmann’s Super Bowl commercials have also focused on the topic, seeking to balance a purpose-led message with the entertainment value fans seek during TV’s biggest night.

“Given what we know about food waste the day after the game, there couldn’t be a more relevant moment to drive awareness and make an impact about the issue,” said Chris Symmes, marketing director of Dressings North America at Unilever, in a statement. “For the last three years, we’re proud to say that our message got people talking about leftovers—we even saw an increase in the conversation about food waste by double digits—and we have plans to make this year the most impactful yet.”

Hellmann’s will run a 30-second ad for the CBS broadcast slated for February 11 during the second quarter, the company confirmed. Agency Wunderman Thompson developed the creative.

The brand’s latest big game play follows a Super Bowl campaign earlier this year that paired actors Jon Hamm and Brie Larson, punning on their food-friendly names. The effort, which ends with a cameo from Pete Davidson, was also made with Wunderman Thompson and received a muted reception.

Hellmann’s has ramped up its football presence in recent months, inking a lifetime endorsement deal with Titans quarterback Will Levis in August. The strategy has extended to the college arena, as well, through a partnership with the SEC that included the inaugural Hellmann’s Award.

The Hellmann’s news arrives as a deluge of Super Bowl-related advertising announcements are expected in the weeks ahead as brands try to stoke anticipation for what are often exorbitantly pricey campaigns. CBS in November said it was “virtually sold out” of Super Bowl LVIII inventory, with reports suggesting the network has sought between $6.5 million to $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime.

Hellmann’s factoring a purpose-driven theme into its Super Bowl strategy also comes as parent Unilever reassesses the tactic that it helped popularize. The packaged goods giant, which is in the midst of a leadership transition, has stated that it will not force-fit purpose on all of its brands after its approach became unfocused in recent years.

Research contact: @marketingdive

McDonald’s’ secret new spin-off chain CosMc’s prepares to open

December 5, 2023

From Big Macs to nuggets, McDonald’s has already given us so much—but now, they fast-casual food chain on the verge of opening a new spin-off restaurant, reports MetroUK.

Earlier this year, Maccies bosses announced CosMc’s—described as a ‘small-format concept with all the DNA of McDonald’s, but its own unique personality.’

The first location is well on the way to opening in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and—after a passer-by managed to take pictures of their menu screens being tested—MetroUK writer Kristina Beanland says she finally has some insight into what CosMc’s might serve.

While it’s unclear if the menus were simply dummy place holders, or the real deal, glimpses from the screens reveal an array of items, including iced teas, lemonades, slushies, sandwiches, and smaller bites.

Beanland is “particularly excited” by the sound of a Churro Frappe and Tumeric Spiced Latte; or perhaps, she says, the Blueberry Ginger Boost will be more to your liking.

Sandwiches include the Spicy Queso or a more traditional Sausage McMuffin.

As well as posting the menu pictures to X, formerly Twitter, user Iman Jalali also added: “It’s not open yet and there was a full team of actors in the drive-thru filming a commercial so the menu was up and I was able to snap a few pics from afar …. Four drive thru lanes to boot.”

It’s been speculated that the new CosMc’s will be extension of the already existing McCafe menu, and a rival to popular chains like Starbucks.

McDonald’s revealed they’d be launching the new ch in back in the summer, named after a mascot from the 1980s and 1990s: CosMc was an alien from outer space with a passion for McDonald’s French fries, who featured in adverts for the chain from 1986 to 1992.

And , while McDonald’s is being fairly tight-lipped about what CosMc’s has in store for us, it’s fair to say that fans of the Golden Arches are excited.

‘Suspense is killing me,’ wrote one user on X.

However, some aren’t impressed by the potential menu: ‘I feel like I need to brush my teeth just looking at that sugary drinks menu,’ wrote an unimpressed user.

There is still no set date for the big opening of CosMc’s.

Research contact: @MetroUK

Advertisers say they do not plan to return to X after Musk’s comments

December 4, 2023

Advertisers said on Thursday, November 30, that they did not plan to reopen their wallets anytime soon with X, the social media company formerly known as Twitter, after its owner, Elon Musk, insulted brands using an expletive and told them not to spend on the platform, reports The New York Times.

At least half a dozen marketing agencies said the brands they represent were standing firm against advertising on X, while others said they had advised advertisers to stop posting anything on the platform. Some temporary spending pauses that advertisers have enacted in recent weeks against X are likely to turn into permanent freezes, they added—noting that Musk’s comments giving them no incentive to return.

Advertisers are “not coming back” to X, said Lou Paskalis, the founder and chief executive of AJL Advisory, a marketing consultancy. “There is no advertising value that would offset the reputational risk of going back on the platform.”

Musk has repeatedly criticized and alienated advertisers since buying Twitter last year. At one point, he threatened a “thermonuclear name & shame” against advertisers who paused their spending because they were concerned about his plans to loosen content moderation rules on X.

In recent weeks, more than 200 advertisers had halted their spending on X after Musk endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy theory and researchers called attention to instances of ads appearing alongside pro-Nazi posts on the platform. The company, which has made most of its revenue from advertising, is at risk of losing up to $75 million this quarter as brands back away.

The situation was compounded on Wednesday when Musk made incendiary comments against advertisers at the DealBook Summit in New York. In a wide-ranging interview at the event, Musk apologized for the antisemitic post, calling it “one of the most foolish” he had ever published, but also said that advertisers were trying to “blackmail” him. He singled out Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, who also attended the DealBook Summit.

“Don’t advertise,” Musk then said, using an expletive multiple times to emphasize his point.

Hours later, Linda Yaccarino, X’s chief executive, tried to mitigate the damage. In a post on X, she shifted attention to Musk’s apology for associating himself with antisemitism and appealed to advertisers to return.

“X is enabling an information independence that is uncomfortable for some people,” Yaccarino wrote. “X is standing at a unique and amazing intersection of Free Speech and Main Street—and the X community is powerful and here to welcome you.”

A representative for X did not respond to a request for comment.

Among the brands that have been big spenders on X and that have recently halted their campaigns are Apple, Disney, and IBM. Other brands have remained, including the National Football League and The New York Times’ sports site, The Athletic.

At the DealBook event on Wednesday, Musk acknowledged that an extended advertiser boycott could bankrupt X. But the public would blame the failure on brands, he said, not on him.

“I will certainly not pander,” he said.

Research contact: @nytimes

Geico Gecko serves as on-set consultant for Netflix’s ‘Leo’ in co-branded ads

December 1, 2023

Netflix is running the first custom creative campaign for its ad-supported tier in partnership with Geico, according to news shared with Marketing Dive.

The effort pairs the insurance firm’s Gecko mascot with Leo the lizard, who is the protagonist of the streamer’s new animated film “Leo” starring Adam Sandler.

The reptilian duo appear together in a 30-second spot that shows the Geico Gecko doling out on-set advice.

Creative includes TV and online video ads, out-of-home placements, and social media elements. Through the deal, Netflix is adapting a co-branded marketing strategy that it views as key to unlocking future growth: About a year after launching its ad-supported tier, Netflix is experimenting with co-branded partnerships that could appeal to marketers trying to strengthen the connection between their products and the streamer’s original programming.

The “Leo” campaign—which launched November 21 around the film’s release and runs through the end of December— shows Netflix tapping into a playbook that’s previously helped drive engagement but with the addition of more traditional commercials.

Past co-branded Netflix marketing initiatives include Domino’s work with “Stranger Things” and Old Spice’s collaborations with “The Witcher.” Geico’s tie-in with “Leo” is different because the ads actually run on Netflix, giving the insurance firm a more direct line to viewers.

“Bringing the iconic Geico Gecko together with the new reptile on the block Leo, is a great example of delivering more entertaining ad experiences for members and more contextually relevant messages for advertisers,” said Magno Herran, Netflix vice president of Marketing Partnerships, in a statement. “While this is the first, we look forward to building more of these opportunities for our brand partners and members.”

The new ads, which were developed with creative studio Framestore and animation experts Animal Logic, depict the Geico Gecko as an on-set consultant giving his scaly peer Leo tips, including vocal warmup routines; and finding the right lighting for a shot. Leo, who’s portrayed as an advice-giver in the movie, eventually laments that he’ll have to get up early to repeat the process the next day.

“Leo” stands as the biggest debut for an animated film on Netflix, attracting 34.6 million views within six days of premiering. The Adam Sandler vehicle landed at the front of the pack for the service’s English-language top ten list.

Netflix’s ad-supported tier earlier this month reached 15 million active monthly users, the streamer said. The offering is a priority for Netflix as the focus in the streaming category shifts from subscriber growth to profitability.

Research contact: @marketingdive

Hilton tops ‘World’s Best Workplaces’ ranking

November 30, 2023

Hilton has been named the World’s Best Workplace by Fortune Magazine and Great Place to Work—beating runners up DHL Express, Cisco, and AbbVie, reports Hotel Dive.

The recognition marks the first time a hospitality company has achieved the top spot in the annual ranking program. Based on 14.8 million employee opinions worldwide, organizations were assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces and positively impact people and communities across multiple countries.

Hilton made efforts this year to enhance its workplaces and attract talent, as the hotel industry recouped from pandemic era labor losses. But challenges persist, particularly in Southern California, where workers at several Hilton properties are on strike.

Hilton was selected for the top spot on the World’s Best Workplace ranking after eight consecutive years of appearances further down on the list. In 2022, it took second place, just behind this year’s runner-up DHL Express.

The World’s Best Workplace survey found that 90% of Hilton employees said the company is a great place to work, while 88% said their work has special meaning to them. And 84% of Hilton employees said their management involves workers in decision making that impacts their job or work environment.

The ranking comes after a year of “unwavering focus on creating a workplace that is inclusive, offers strong growth opportunities, [and] is driven by purpose,” Hilton said in a release.

In May, the hotel company launched a campaign aimed at attracting talent and uplifting the work of current team members. The “Every Job Makes the Stay” campaign video featured Hilton employees discussing the impact their work has on daily hotel operations and guest satisfaction.

A lower percentage of Hilton employees surveyed, however, were satisfied with their wages—75% of workers think they receive a fair share of the profits made by Hilton.

Union workers at several California Hilton hotels, including DoubleTree San Pedro, Hilton Pasadena, and Hilton Glendale, are striking over wages they say don’t keep up with the rising cost of living. These workers, along with thousands others from Marriott and Hyatt hotels, are part of the region’s largest multihotel strike in history, which has been ongoing since July.

While workers’ demands have been met by some of the properties involved, disputes continue in the region.

In conjunction with the World’s Best Workplace ranking, Hilton launched a scholarship and financial assistance program that will provide $500,000 to team and community members who are passionate about building and growing careers in hospitality.

The program is a way for Hilton to “thank [its] team members and demonstrate [its] commitment to expanding talent in the hospitality industry,” the company said.
Research contact: @HotelDive

Peacock signs documentary deals with accused Gilgo Beach murderer’s family, reports say

November 29, 2023

Streaming service Peacock is paying the family of a Manhattan architect accused of killing three women whose remains were found along Gilgo Beach on Long Island to participate in a documentary series about his trial, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, November 28.

According to a later report by Forbes—and follow-up coverage by a slew of publications—the move drew ire from victims’ families as the decades-long mystery was immediately thrust back into the spotlight.

Asa Ellerup—who filed for divorce from longtime husband, alleged Gilgo Beach killer Rex Heuermann, days after he was arrested in July—was recently seen in court with a Peacock film crew, the Times reported, although the streamer has yet to comment on the planned production.

The couple’s two adult children also have reportedly sold their life rights, according to Deadline, and will receive payments for their participation alongside Heuermann’s attorneys.

Ellerup’s lawyer, Robert Macedonio, told the Times that the production will be partially developed by G-Unit, 50 Cent’s production company.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, whose office is prosecuting Heuermann’s case, told the Times that the documentary is “going to affect (Ellerup’s) credibility,” and Rodney Harrison, Suffolk County’s outgoing police commissioner, called it “a smack at the family members who lost a loved one.”

Representatives for NBC and G-Unit did not immediately respond to Forbes’ request for comment Tuesday.

“Disappointed, disgusted, flabbergasted, frustrated are a few words that come to mind right now,” Sherre Gilbert, sister of murder victim Shannan Gilbert, wrote in a post on X about the upcoming documentary. “The way that the media will buy stories to further re-victimize, re-traumatize, and exploit the families & victims of serial killers is evil!”

Research contact: @Forbes

Snickers maker Mars to buy UK chocolatier for $665M

November 28, 2023

Mars is paying US$665 million (€534 million) to buy Royston, England-based Hotel Chocolat, as the U.S.-based Snickers and M&M’s manufacturer expands its presence in the U.K. and increases its exposure to premium confections. Mars has operated in the U.K. since 1932, reports Food Dive.

Andrew Clarke, global president of Mars Snacking, said his firm has “long admired” Hotel Chocolat, which is known for its lower sugar and higher cocoa content. Clarke called Hotel Chocolat a “differentiated brand.”

While Mars is bes- known for its mainstream confections, the acquisition of Hotel Chocolat will give the New Jersey-based company a premium brand that it can expand in the U.K. and “potentially, in new geographies.” Mars said the purchase will add to its portfolio a brand with “distinctive capabilities in product development, luxury gifting, and immersive brand experiences.”

Even though premium offerings have been hit hard by inflation, having another brand that plays in this category could benefit Mars by complementing the lower-priced sweets synonymous with the more than century-old company.

At the same time, Mars acquires a chocolatier that has attributes that are increasingly popular with consumers, including the use of natural ingredients, a commitment to use every part of the cocoa bean, and guaranteeing its growers receive a living income in exchange for meeting sustainable and ethical labor targets.

In buying Hotel Chocolat, Mars will bring to the mix its larger global footprint, supply chain connections and relationship with retailers that immediately provide a platform to grow the nearly 20-year-old brand. Mars also will benefit from Hotel Chocolat’s physical stores and digital commerce platform.

Hotel Chocolat’s international expansion plans have run into problems before; so having Mars as its parent will be valuable, should it decide to grow into additional markets. CNBC noted that Hotel Chocolat shuttered its direct-to-consumer website sales in the United States in September 2022, months after closing its high-street stores in the country.

“We know our brand resonates with consumers overseas, but operational supply chain challenges have held us back,” Hotel Chocolat said. “By partnering with Mars, we can grow our international presence much more quickly using their skills, expertise and capabilities.”

Research contact: @FoodDive