Apple and Google waged an advertising duel at the Grammys: Monday Wake-Up Call

Ariana Grande and Childish Gambino starred in competing commercials from the tech giants

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Childish Gambino stars in a Google commercial for its Playmojis
Childish Gambino stars in a Google commercial for its Playmojis Credit: Google Pixel

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. You can get an audio version of this briefing on your Alexa device. Search for "Ad Age" under "Skills" in the Alexa app.

What people are talking about today
Childish Gambino won four awards at the Grammy Awards and Ariana Grande won one, though neither of them attended the ceremony. At least we had their ads.

Grande starred in one of several Apple commercials for fancy animated emojis that aired during the Grammys broadcast on CBS, while Childish Gambino appeared in a competing ad for next-level emojis from Google's Pixel phone. (As someone wrote on Twitter, "am I the only one who was unaware of a great arms race in emoji tech?")

Grande's singing, pony-tailed Apple avatar -- a "Memoji," in Apple parlance -- belted out "7 Rings," the song she had reportedly hoped to perform at the Grammys before she pulled out in a disagreement with producers.

Google, meanwhile, touted its Pixel smartphone's interactive "Playmoji," and its commercial starred Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover, doing a mesmerizing dance-off with his emojified avatar. Playmoji have an AR effect; as Google says, "You can add [Childish Gambino] to your photos or videos by simply pointing your camera and dropping him into the scene." The ad was fun, with great dance moves (obviously).

More from the Grammys
The battle of the light beers still rages, a week after Bud Light ran Super Bowl ads attacking rivals for their use of corn syrup. MillerCoors lined up support from country duo Brothers Osborne, who tweeted a photo of themselves pre-Grammys raising their Coors Light to toast "the farmers who bring the brews and grub to the table," Ad Age's E.J. Schultz writes. It's an example of how MillerCoors is defending itself from Bud Light's attack. "MillerCoors' communication strategy involves lining up support from the farm belt, especially the corn industry," Schultz writes.

Also: Check out more Grammys ads here on Ad Age, including a new Pepsi ad from Cardi B, who won the Grammy for best rap album. She gave quite a performance, too, rapping and grooving out on top of a glittery grand piano. Okurrr?

Sprint is suing AT&T for false advertising, reports Ad Age's George Slefo. AT&T has been replacing the LTE symbol on mobile screens with "5GE" -- giving the impression its phones are entering the fifth generation of mobile technology, which still isn't here yet. AT&T says the E stands for "evolution," though some observers say it's misleading branding slapped on the old 4G LTE. Sprint is asking the court to block AT&T from using that tag.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, has also criticized AT&T's move -- using snark, not the legal system. Last month it posted a Twitter video of someone affixing a "9G" sticker onto a phone screen, covering up the "LTE" logo. The caption read: "Didn't realize it was this easy."

Just briefly:
Airbnb vs. Paris:
The city of Paris is suing Airbnb for publishing 1,000 rental ads that it considers illegal, and the city's mayor says the suit could cost Airbnb $14 million, Reuters reports.

Huh?: "Rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, who pleaded guilty to making a sex video with a 13-year-old girl and who was recently accused of beating a longtime girlfriend, is starring in an anti-domestic violence Valentine's Day commercial for a New York City chain of sex shops," The Daily Beast writes. The chain in question is Romantic Depot.

Top 5: Check out the Top 5 most creative ideas of the week, including a few you might have missed. (Did you see the ad for Taco Bell delivery poking fun at society's idealization of high-achieving strivers and "hustle"?) Watch the video from Ad Age's I-Hsien Sherwood and Max Sternlicht.

Quote of the day: "Getting people to put the word 'orgasm' on a billboard in New York City was nearly impossible. We got turned down by tons and tons and tons of out-of-home vendors." -- Tara Lynch of creative agency Vitro, talking about a campaign for Astroglide personal lubricant. Read more by Ad Age's Megan Graham.

Ad of the day: What is it with mermaids? They've been in quite a few ads lately, including two Super Bowl ads, for Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer and for Sprint. Now there are male mermaids -- who refer to themselves as "mer-bros" -- in a new ad for Gorton's Seafood, the frozen-food brand. Gorton's is best known for its fisherman-in-a-yellow-raincoat mascot, but it has used mermen before. This time they're a "bit less bro-y and more in touch with their emotions," Ad Age's Jessica Wohl writes. Check out the ad and the strategy behind it here.

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