Airbnb, Uniqlo, Shell, Netflix: Brand reputation winners and losers after Russia invades Ukraine

The news: Companies including Airbnb, Uniqlo, netflixand Shell all continue to debate the pros and cons of operating in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine prompted a global rebuke that made the country a commercial pariah.

Airbnb softened its reputation: Airbnb said it would host 100,000 Ukrainian refugees for free, while simultaneously halting operations in Russia and Belarus.

  • The company has benefited from a grassroots campaign to put money in the hands of Ukrainians. Last week, a social media user encouraged his followers to book Airbnb apartments in Ukraine, not with the intention of staying, but to help local hosts receive instant cash assistance. The campaign has since been endorsed by the CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky.
  • Guests booked more than 61,000 nights in Ukraine in two days, bringing in more than $2 million, according to Airbnb data. Hosts are typically paid within 24 hours of guest arrival time.

Netflix pulls the plug: Netflix halted all operations in Russia due to the invasion.

  • Netflix has announced that it will not comply with a new Russian law requiring major streaming platforms to host Russian propaganda channels.
  • The streaming giant later announced that all productions and acquisitions in Russia would be stopped.
  • Netflix has around 1 million members in the country, according to Bloomberg.

Shell-shock: Energy giant Shell defended its decision to buy Russian oil at a discount until just hours ago when it changed course.

  • “We are fully aware that our decision last week to buy a shipment of Russian crude oil…was not the right one and we are sorry about that,” CEO Ben van Beurden wrote in a statement.
  • The company says the proceeds from the purchase would be used for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. The move had been condemned by Ukraine’s foreign minister and others who argue that purchases from Russia support the invasion.

Uniqlo’s misstep: Quick Retail Co., Asia’s biggest retailer and parent company of Uniqlo, would continue to operate in Russia, with CEO Tadashi Yanai arguing that the clothes are a necessity. It should be noted that the Russians already own clothes.

Elsewhere: Other companies are mobilizing to highlight their humanitarian efforts in the region:

  • google will use offices and other resources in Poland to help Ukrainian refugees, enabling nonprofits to provide legal and psychological help from its Warsaw campus.
  • Uber offers free trips between Ukraine and Poland.
  • Meta blocked Russian state media from using his network to advertise or make money. The Russian government has retaliated by saying it will partially restrict residents’ access to Facebook, accusing the social media giant of “censoring” Russian news.
  • Apple and Nike both closed stores, with Apple saying it would halt all product sales in the country.
  • Visa and MasterCard announced that they would cease their activities in Russia.
  • BMW and General Motors halted vehicle deliveries.

The big takeaway: Russia is not a huge market, but it is not a small market either. The real reason brands are cutting ties with Russia is because consumers are ready to punish brands that don’t take positive action.

  • 82% of business leaders agree that broader societal concerns cannot be ignored, and this can lead to “negative financial consequences” by a study by risk intelligence firm Crisp.
  • 63% of consumers believe they have the power to force brands to change, 78% want to exercise this power to improve society, by a 2021 Edelman study.
  • Three in four Americans said they support brands that cut ties with Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine, according to to a Morning Consult poll last week. And at the end of the day, the US market is far more valuable to most brands than Russia’s economy, which is smaller than New York State’s.

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