Marketing.Media.Money

These brands are still going ahead with product launches despite the coronavirus crisis

Energy drink Tenzing launched its blackberry and acai flavor during the coronavirus crisis.
Tenzing

While many companies are putting off marketing spend or postponing launches, others are pressing ahead — or even moving them forward.

Beauty brand Glossier launched a hand cream last week, tapping into the need to soothe hands dry from frequent washing, and used photographs from its social media followers to do so. Meanwhile, Chinese mobile phone company OnePlus went ahead with releasing two handsets costing $699 and $899 via an online presentation to journalists.

These new launches might be a refreshing change for consumers, who have been subjected to a range of coronavirus crisis ad campaigns that appear to follow a formula — somber piano music, shots of empty streets, stadiums or stations and a reassuring message that the company is still there for them, as a montage published on YouTube shows.  

For Huib van Bockel, founder at U.K. energy drinks company Tenzing, this is a good time to launch new products. Tenzing planned to launch a blackberry and acai flavor later in the year but because people are increasing their home fitness regimes and therefore might feel the need for an energy drink, van Bockel felt that now was the right time.

"We said, actually we'll use this period, first of all because our product is really relevant at the moment and secondly, it'll probably be the more visible and more heard if we launch something now as opposed to when everyone will launch in a couple of months' time," he told CNBC's James Wright.

And instead of its usual methods of marketing via billboard and press ads and handing out products at train stations, it launched the new variant via fitness tracking app Strava. People have to complete seven consecutive days of activity on the app to be given an access code that they can redeem for a can of the new drink.

"We launched with the simple goal to get people to exercise more. At this time, exercise is actually crucial, whether you do it in the home or go outside for your daily run and therefore we said if you actually exercise, if you put in the hours, that's the only way for people to access this new drink," van Bockel said.

Healist Advanced Naturals also decided to continue with launch plans despite the virus outbreak. Founded by former Coty executives Lisa Raggiri and Michael Bryce, the company sells a range of tinctures, creams, and gummies, infused with cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. On its website, a "Calm Drops" product retails for $69.99.

Healist launched during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Healist Advanced Naturals

"Our brand benefits, specifically calm and sleep, are very much needed during this time (so) we felt it was right to launch," Bryce told CNBC via email. The company has had to deal with ad agencies closing and supply chain hold-ups, which have meant "a lot more work," he added.

Bryce, who is also the company's global chief marketing officer, said marketing plans had been adjusted. "We had to cancel the out of home (billboard) campaigns we had planned and instead strengthened our influencer marketing program, secured a TV/OTT (over-the-top streaming) mass awareness campaign, and have partnered with several newsletters and review sites that have broad reach," he said. 

While sales forecasts are down, Bryce sees this time as a chance to get the basics right. "We are seeing this as an opportunity, however, enabling us to slow down, focusing on building a relationship and engaging with our new community," he stated.

This week, sneaker brand Allbirds went ahead with the launch of its first running shoe. With only four of its 19 stores open globally, it's hoping people will take up its offer of free returns for up to 30 days when buying online. "In the midst of all this, people are running ... more than ever," its co-founder Tim Brown told CNBC in an interview. "We felt like the product was serving that purpose."

The shoes come in four colors, including this one in light red.
Source: Allbirds

In the same industry, Asics also decided to press on with the launch of three new sneakers despite the coronavirus outbreak. Its original plan was to show off new products to reporters in Kobe, Japan at an "innovation summit," but it quickly realized it would have to live stream the event instead — or so the company thought. When Japan asked schools to close and requested the cancellation of large gatherings in March and the Asics-sponsored Paris marathon was also halted, the company decided it would announce its new range using virtual reality (VR).

It distributed VR headsets to journalists, who could explore a virtual "innovation lab" showing each pair of new shoes, and they were asked to do actions such as jumping in time with a holographic volleyball player.

"Even though the races are closed, they're still top of mind and this is an innovation we know can change (people's) experience for the better and so we really wanted to bring it out," according to AJ Andrassy, the company's global director of performance running footwear, who spoke to CNBC's Wright by video call.

And according to Fiona Berwick, general manager of Asics' global marketing division, this launch might change how the team operates in the future. "It's really important that we keep moving and keep adapting … maybe that's going to make us be much more short-term (in our) planning and get used to these kinds of two-week timescales. It would speed up how we have to respond as marketers," Berwick told CNBC by video call.

CNBC's Lauren Thomas contributed to this report.

VIDEO7:5307:53
To launch or not to launch? The coronavirus conundrum