June 18, 2021
Victoria’s Secret has sent its world-famous Angels packing. In an effort to redefine “sexy” and boost its business, the lingerie and comfort wear company has said goodbye to the supermodels, who have for years, famously strutted down the runway wearing over-the-top ensembles featuring feathers and rhinestones that weighed in at nearly 30 pounds, The New York Times reports.
In their place, the 40-year-old, Ohio-based company has launched a campaign featuring seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions.
They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor. In addition, the VS Collective comprises Valentina Sampaio, a Brazilian trans model; Adut Akech, a model and South Sudanese refugee; and Amanda de Cadenet, the photographer and founder of #Girlgaze, the digital platform for female photographers.
Facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company wants to become, its chief executive said, a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment.
But will women buy it? An upcoming spinoff, more than $5 billion in annual sales, and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network that includes roughly 1,400 stores are riding on the answer, says the Times.
Indeed, the Times notes, this will be a stark change for a brand that not only has sold lingerie in the guise of male fantasy, but has also been scrutinized heavily in recent years for its owner’s relationship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and revelations about a misogynistic corporate culture that trafficked in sexism, sizeism and ageism.
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
The seven women, who form a group called the VS Collective, will alternately advise the brand, appear in ads, and promote Victoria’s Secret on Instagram. They are joining a company that has an entirely new executive team and is forming a board of directors in which all but one seat will be occupied by women.
Rarely has a company so dominant in its sector been exposed as trailing so far behind the culture as Victoria’s Secret was in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
It was, Rapinoe said bluntly, “patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired. And it was very much marketed toward younger women.” That message, she said, was “really harmful.”
Victoria’s Secret’s cultural influence is a product of its industry standing. Though the company’s share of the U.S. women’s underwear market dropped to 21% last year from 32% in 2015, according to Euromonitor International, it is still a powerhouse. Its next closest competitor is Hanesbrands, with a 16% share.
It has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was dated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.
The stores are becoming lighter and brighter, and mannequins—which have typically been a size 32B—will come in new shapes and sizes. The Angels imagery, which once even appeared on store bathroom TVs, will be phased out. The company will still sell products like thongs and lacy lingerie, but its purview will expand, especially in areas like sportswear.
Victoria’s Secret, which did finally introduce a Mother’s Day campaign last month and even featured a pregnant model, will soon begin selling nursing bras. It also said it would work with its new partners like Rapinoe and Chopra Jonas on product lines set to appear next spring.
While it was “probably time for the Angels to go,” the lingerie powerhouse will have to strike a balance between moving forward and maintaining existing customers, said Cynthia Fedus-Fields, the former chief executive of the Victoria’s Secret division responsible for its catalog.
Still, the question remains: Why would women like Ms. Rapinoe and Ms. Chopra Jonas want to risk their names by placing their stamp of credibility on Victoria’s Secret? The line between selling out and infiltrating from within can be hard to discern.
“Of course there will be people who are like, ‘Does this make sense?’” said Rapinoe, who acknowledged that when she was first approached, “I, too, was like, ‘What? Why do you want to work with me?’” She said she had been convinced by the willingness of the brand’s executives to acknowledge their mistakes and history, and by the fact that her role is not limited to the typical “brand ambassadorship,” but extends to consulting on language the company uses, the assortment of products it offers and narrative it’s putting out.
Victoria’s Secret is betting a chunk of its marketing budget that persuading such unexpected personalities to join its cause will in turn convince consumers, and potential investors, to similarly believe in its shift, giving a new meaning to halo effect.
As Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria has a secret anymore.”
Research contact: @nytimes
June 17, 2021
The Girl Scouts are struggling to sell a heaping pile of extra cookies: 15 million boxes of them, to be exact, according to a report by The New York Times.
Troops with armfuls of cookies used to be a fixture outside grocery stores and on people’s doorsteps. But this year, those cookies are stuck in warehouses after Girl Scouts of the USA was confronted with two major obstacles during the pandemic: membership has declined, and the scouts had to abandon their usual in-person selling methods.
Those problems left the national organization with millions of extra Thin Mints, Samoas and other signature treats. Around 12 million of the 15 million surplus cookies never left the bakery warehouses in Kentucky and Indiana, the Girl Scouts said in a statement on Tuesday, June 15.
“Given that a majority of cookies are sold in person by girls at booths or other face-to-face methods, a decrease in sales was to be expected,” Kelly Parisi, a Girl Scouts spokesperson, said in the statement.
“It’s exceedingly rare to have significant excess inventory, but the pandemic greatly impacted our cookie program,” Parisi said.
Confronting declining sales, the Girl Scouts announced in January that they were teaming with Grubhub to sell and deliver cookies. The delivery service agreed to waive the fees that it usually charges.
While this year’s surplus is much larger than usual, Parisi said the organization had dealt with previous cookie gluts by donating extra boxes to the military or to emergency medical workers.
And of course, Girl Scout cookies are available to civilians on the organization’s website. The organization debuted a new variety of cookies this year: Called Toast-Yay!, they’re shaped like slices of toast and dipped in icing.
Research contact: @nytimes
June 16, 2021
The website, founded in 2006, earned Internet fame for its trending entertainment and celebrity news, clicky headlines, and library of unscientific quizzes promising to reveal such truths as your Harry Potter doppelgänger predicted from your favorite dessert foods, or whether or not you would be invited to the Met Gala based on an outfit crafted from the Asos clothing catalog.
To build its empire of content, BuzzFeed has long relied on an army of fan contributors—who create essays, lists, and quizzes free of charge via the BuzzFeed Community portal. In the past, it has doled out virtual “trophies” and “Internet points” to top content creators.
But now, for the first time, it’s offering to pay these community members. Last week, it introduced a new program—dubbed the BuzzFeed Summer Writers’ Challenge—that offers payments of up to $10,000 per post for top creators, Fast Company reveals.
Users who publish posts that achieve a minimum number of page views between June 15 and August 15 will be compensated on a tiered scale, with payouts starting at $150 for stories with 150,000 views, and rising to $10,000 for stories that hit 4 million views.
Outsourcing content creation to the public is a business strategy that has been leveraged effectively by a number of publications in the past, including Forbes Media, which began paying all contributors in February 2018. That amount was whittled down a bit amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, with the current rate standing at $250 for those who author at least five posts per month as well as a half-cent bonus for every new reader a post generates.
BuzzFeed may be on to something similar: The company’s executive director of growth and trends, Peggy Wang, told AdWeek, “If we see positive effects from the challenge, it’s certainly likely that we could make the business case for extending this initiative, or bringing it back in other new forms.”
While the publication originated with a focus on viral content, in recent years it has invested in growing its investigative journalism unit and reporting hard-hitting news features. It won its first Pulitzer prize in 2021 for a series on Uyghur internment in China.
Research contact: @FastCompany
June 15, 2021
Like many other retailers, Warby Parker had to improvise last year, even as the pandemic forced some new customers to try shopping at their original online website.. Now, as online sales remain elevated, the eyewear brand also is doubling down on its brick-and-mortar strategy, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Indeed, Warby Parker’s sales nosedived in March 2020, with its roughly 135 stores closed and consumers focusing their spending on stocking up only on essentials.
However, since reopening stores last summer, the company has been aggressively expanding its brick-and-mortar footprint and says it is on track to open 35 new stores this year. Co-founders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa tell the Journal that their 11-year-old business has faced down its toughest year and increased its sales.
Warby Parker raised $245 million from private investors last fall, snagging a $3 billion valuation—higher than before—and sparking talk of a possible initial public offering. The company has been profitable since 2019, according to a person familiar with the matter, but hasn’t disclosed financial results.
Blumenthal and Gilboa recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal about how Warby Parker adapted during the pandemic, the future of eyewear shopping and their potential IPO plans. Here are edited excerpts:
WSJ: You closed all of your stores in March and kept them closed for months. What impact did the pandemic have?
Gilboa: We saw an immediate, dramatic negative impact as the sales from those stores went away. People weren’t thinking about buying glasses, so even our e-commerce sales dipped. But then, when everyone was kind of starting to quarantine from home, we saw a rapid increase in our e-commerce sales. And we saw those sales then stay elevated, and they have continued to be elevated to this day.
What we’re seeing is that this pandemic will end up pulling forward a lot of trends that already existed. A lot of customers that otherwise wouldn’t have shopped online for glasses did so last year, had a great experience, and will continue to do so in the future.
WSJ: Have you experienced any supply-chain or transportation issues this year as economies reopen?
Gilboa: We haven’t seen the same type of acute issues that are impacting other industries. What we have seen is some delays on inbound shipments from other countries where transportation carriers are completely overwhelmed. Sometimes the process to get products through customs takes significantly longer than it did before.
WSJ: How has the pandemic reshaped how customers shop with you, both online and in-store?
Blumenthal: We did see a big shift online. When we started Warby Parker 11 years ago, less than 1% of glasses were sold online. We like to think that we had a pretty big role in increasing that penetration, and pre-pandemic was probably around 5%. Even now, I think it’s maybe a little over 7%, so still way underpenetrated, relative to other categories like apparel or accessories. We’ve continued to still see high e-commerce growth, even after our stores have ropened.
WSJ: You’ve started opening new retail locations again. How did you decide it was time to start launching new stores?
Blumenthal: We were able to work collaboratively with landlords to create flexibility in our leases. So, for example, we’re often able to negotiate percentage rent, which helped reduce risk if sales were depressed because of closures. We’re on track to open up 35 stores this year.
WSJ: What’s Warby Parker’s current split of in-store sales vs. online sales, and how has that evolved in the past year?
Blumenthal: We’ve seen retail sales, especially in the last two weeks, bounce back faster than we anticipated; and when we speak to other retailers, they’re experiencing the same, which makes us hopeful as more and more people get vaccinated, how we hopefully will be living and shopping pretty similarly to how we did pre-pandemic.
They’re not just going to our website or our app to look up a store address or hours of operation, they’re actually shopping and choosing which frames they want to look at when they visit the store in person or when they go to the store for an eye exam.
Research contact: @WSJ
June 14, 2021
With a record number of new golfers teeing off in 202 Carlsbad, California-based Callaway—a manufacturer and marketer of golf balls, clubs, bags and apparel—has been thriving and thinking about “big green” beyond the fairways on which its products usually are seen, CNBC reports.
Callaway announced in May first-quarter net revenue of $652 million, a 47% increase from a year earlier.
“Callaway pre-Covid was already the number one brand in sticks, I call it, which is putters, drivers and irons,” Jefferies analyst Randy Konik told CNBC. “They were outpacing industry growth and they were also number two in balls behind Titleist.”
The 40-year-old company also has made moves to expand. In March, the company completed its merger with golf entertainment business Topgolf, which combines virtual driving ranges with food and cocktails.
“This is a transformative merger. It creates an entity that doesn’t really replicate anything that currently exists, with the leader in golf equipment merging with the leader in golf entertainment,” said Callaway CEO Chip Brewer.
Last year, almost 37 million players teed off at a golf course or participated in an off-course activity like a driving range. Nearly one-third of the U.S. population watched, read about,or played golf in 2020.
But with movie theaters, travel, and concerts expected to rebound, CNBC questions: “Will golf club-makers like Callaway and its rival Acushnet be able to maintain their momentum?” Only time will tell.
Research contact: @CNBC
June 11, 2021
Minneapolis-based insurance giant UnitedHealthcare is cracking down on emergency room visits with a new policy starting July 1 that the American Hospital Association says will jeopardize patients’ health and threaten them with financial penalties, reports the Naples Daily News.
The American College of Emergency Physicians said it fears the change will cause patients to avoid using emergency rooms because they will be responsible for their hospital bills when UnitedHealthcare rejects them.
UnitedHealthcare this month told its network hospitals in 34 states that it will assess emergency room claims to determine if visits are, in fact, medical emergencies.
Claims that are determined not to be tied to emergencies will be subject to no coverage or limited coverage. based on the patient’s insurance plan, according to the insurer’s notice sent to hospitals. As many as 1 in 10 claims could be rejected, said Tracey Lempner, spokesperson for the insurer.
UnitedHealthcare’s policy affects commercially insured patients with employer-sponsored plans and does not apply to patients with Medicare Advantage or contracted Medicaid coverage with UnitedHealthcare, Lempner said.
The policy will take effect in 34 states and the District of Columbia, Lempner said. Included among them are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The policy applies to the hospital portion of emergency room care, so patients could be billed when the claim is denied, said Laura Wooster, associate executive director of Public Affairs for the American College of Emergency Physicians, based in Washington, D.C.
“If United doesn’t cover it, then the patient will be on the hook,” she said. “It looks like they are not on the hook for the (emergency physicians’ bill). We are trying to get more information on that.”
She could not say whether other insurers will adopt a similar policy.
Research contact: @ndn
Editor’s Note: In the face of growing opposition from hospital and doctors groups, UnitedHealthcare said on Thursday it would delay its plan to stop paying for emergency room visits that it deemed nonurgent, at least until the pandemic has ended.
June 10, 2021
The Biden Administration announced on July 8 that it is investigating how tax information on several of the world’s richest people—among them, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett—has been leaked to the public, according to a report by CNN.
“The unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information is illegal,” said Treasury spokesperson Lily Adams. “The matter is being referred to the Office of the Inspector General, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, all of whom have independent authority to investigate.”
The investigation comes after a report that showed new information from a trove of never-before-seen IRS records. Earlier Tuesday, ProPublica reported on exclusively obtained IRS documents which showed how the likes of Bezos, Musk, Buffett, Bill Gates, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg have legally avoided paying income tax.
“Any unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information by a person of access is illegal and we take this very seriously,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during Tuesday’s briefing.
Psaki also reiterated the Biden administration’s stance on having wealthy Americans pay more taxes to fund the President’s proposals.
“I’m not going to comment on specific unauthorized disclosures of confidential government information. I can tell you that, broadly speaking, we know that there is more to be done to ensure that corporations, individuals who are at the highest income are paying more of their fair share. Hence, it’s in the President’s proposals, his budget and part of how he’s proposing to pay for his ideas,” Psaki said.
Research contact: @CNN
June 9, 2021
On June 7, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the experimental drug aducanumab for patient treatment during the early phases of Alzheimer’s disease—overriding the conclusion of an FDA advisory committee last year that there was not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of the treatment.
The FDA has not approved a novel therapy for Alzheimer’s disease since 2003.
The FDA approved aducanumab, also known as Aduhelm, using its “accelerated approval” program, which allows for the earlier approval of a drug for a serious or life-threatening illness even though more study into the drug’s benefits may be needed.
“There has been considerable public debate on whether Aduhelm should be approved. As is often the case when it comes to interpreting scientific data, the expert community has offered differing perspectives,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in Monday’s announcement.
“At the end of the day, we followed our usual course of action when making regulatory decisions in situations where the data are not straightforward,” she said, noting that the FDA ultimately decided to use accelerated approval and “concluded that the benefits of Aduhelm for patients with Alzheimer’s disease outweighed the risks of the therapy.”
“FDA will continue to monitor Aduhelm as it reaches the market and ultimately the patient’s bedside,” Cavazzoni said.
In November, the FDA’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee was asked to vote on several questions about evidence of the drug’s effectiveness. In response to a question about whether it was reasonable to consider data from one positive study as the primary evidence of aducanumab’s effectiveness for the treatment of early Alzheimer’s disease, none of the committee members voted yes; ten voted no and one was uncertain.
The committee’s opinions were then left with the FDA as the agency mulled whether to approve the drug or pump the brakes.
“In all studies in which it was evaluated, however, Aduhelm consistently and very convincingly reduced the level of amyloid plaques in the brain in a dose- and time-dependent fashion,” Cavazzoni said on Monday. “It is expected that the reduction in amyloid plaque will result in a reduction in clinical decline.”
The pharmaceutical company Biogen and its Japanese partner Eisai developed aducanumab—administered through intravenous infusion to treat early Alzheimer’s disease. The drug was developed for patients with mild cognitive impairment, not severe dementia.
Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York, who had patients in the original aducanumab clinical studies, told CNN the drug targets the earliest symptomatic phase of the disease, called mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s. Treatment of the pre-dementia period was the focus of the FDA’s decision.
“We have to really temper expectations and explain to people that this drug is meant for the earliest symptomatic phases,” he said. “It pains me to say this, but if I have a severe Alzheimer’s patient that can no longer speak or interact much with others and their family member is begging me to give them this drug, I won’t be able to do it.”
Some groups, including the nonprofit Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, argued that the FDA should not approve aducanumab for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease due to lack of evidence of its effectiveness.
There have also been concerns around cost: Biogen announced on Monday that the wholesale cost of treatment with aducanumab—which requires an infusion once every four weeks—is about $4,312 per infusion, making the annual cost around $56,000 for a high dose.
However, the participating companies said, “Biogen and Eisai are committed to providing access to ADUHELM for patients across a spectrum of financial situations,” the company noted in its announcement. “For qualified, commercially insured ADUHELM patients, co-pay and infusion cost assistance programs may reduce out-of-pocket costs to as low as $0. Patients who are covered by Medicare through a Medicare Advantage plan have a maximum annual out-of-pocket cap.”
In May, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review released a draft report estimating that the drug should cost between $2,560 to $8,290 per year, and noted that “the evidence is insufficient to conclude that the clinical benefits of aducanumab outweigh its harms or, indeed, that it reduces progression” of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, have supported approval of the drug.
“This approval is a victory for people living with Alzheimer’s and their families,” Harry Johns, the association’s president and CEO, said in a post on Twitter on Monday.
Research contact: @CNN
June 8, 2021
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in an Instagram post on Monday, June 7, that he will be one of the inaugural travelers on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, during a flight scheduled for launch from West Texas on July 20, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Bezos said that his brother, Mark Bezos, also will be among the crew members in the pressurized capsule, which has room for six astronauts.
Named after NASA’s Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, New Shepard is a reusable suborbital rocket system designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line—the internationally recognized boundary of space.
“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Bezos said in a video posted to Instagram. “It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”
Bezos, who has said that he will step down as Amazon’s chief executive on July 5 after leading the company for more than two decades, has invested heavily in Blue Origin, contributing as much as roughly $1 billion in some years. He will continue to hold the title executive chairman after his lieutenant Andy Jassy becomes CEO.
Blue Origin has said it aims to support widespread commercial activity in space in the future. In addition to its space-tourism efforts, Blue Origin is also working on rockets that could launch payloads for NASA.
The passenger list for Blue Origin’s July flight also is set to include the winner of a charity auction that will conclude this month. The auction boasted nearly 6,000 participants and the highest bid is at $2.8 million, Blue Origin said Monday.
SpaceX last year became the first company to launch NASA astronauts into space.
Both companies competed to design a new capsule that could land astronauts on the moon before NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX in April. Blue Origin has filed a petition challenging the contract award.
Billionaire Richard Branson also has invested in commercial spaceflight. Virgin Galactic Holdings, a company he founded that also plans to offer space tourism, went public in a 2019 merger with a blank-check company.
Research contact: @WSJ
June 7, 2021
United Airlines has announced that, by 2029, it hopes to bring back supersonic travel—which vanished into thin air along with the Concorde, a British-French turbojet-powered supersonic passenger-carrying commercial airline that operated from 1976 through 2003.
The Concorde fleet was retired because of high costs and concerns about the noise that the planes generated.
Parent company United Airlines Holdings said on June 3 that it intended to acquire small jetliners being developed by Boom Technology, which will not only cut travel times, but bring in higher ticket prices, The Wall Street Journal reports.
United said it would buy 15 of Boom’s planned Overture jets, provided that the planes meets safety, operational, and sustainability standards. Boom hopes to fly a scaled-down prototype later this year or early in 2022, with the full-size, 88-seat version targeted to carry passengers by 2029.
Denver-based Boom was launched in 2014 and has raised $270 million from investors.In 2017, Japan Airlines invested $10 million in Boom and signed nonbinding options to purchase 20 planes.
Boom said its Overture jet would be capable of flying at Mach 1.7—or 1.7 times the speed of sound. That could allow the planned jet to reduce the flight time between London and United’s hub in Newark, New Jersey, to 3½ hours from over six hours—and cut the journey from San Francisco to Tokyo to six hours from over 10 hours.
Some industry observers are skeptical about the supersonic market. Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant at the Teal Group, recently told the Journal that there are only a handful of routes with enough traffic to support enough full-fare premium passengers, and not enough to justify the development and production of a supersonic jetliner.
Boeing decided continued investment in supersonic air travel didn’t make sense for its business, Chief Executive David Calhoun said Thursday. “It’s got to really stand on its own, and our decision on supersonic was that––it didn’t,” Calhoun said at an analyst conference Thursday. “We didn’t believe in it quite as much as we thought we could.”
Still, Calhoun said United would be on the leading edge if the technology can be developed in a reasonable time frame.
Mike Leskinen, United’s head of Investor Relations, said the airline believes there will be ample appetite for supersonic trips from business travelers concentrated in United’s coastal hubs “Demand is not the issue here,” he said.
Leskinen said he is confident Boom will be able to raise the additional funds it will need to develop and certify its supersonic jet. “We spent a lot of time picking the right partner,” he said.
Research contact: @WSJ