Monday Wake-Up Call: 'American Idol' Gets Disneyfied. And Scientology Gets a TV Network

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What people are talking about today: Sunday brought the return of "American Idol" to Disney-owned ABC, and a handful of critics used the exact same phrase to describe the new rendition: "kinder and gentler." When judges let candidates down, they did it tactfully, without the snark of the Simon Cowell era. Vulture's reviewer gives the reboot three stars out of five and calls it "a fresh, Disneyfied start—unless, of course, you consider the recent sexual assault allegations from Ryan Seacrest's former stylist Suzie Hardy." (Seacrest has denied any wrongdoing.) So, why watch? As Variety writes: "Who are we kidding? It's all about Katy Perry." She's straight-talking, meme-worthy and, as Variety says, "never misses an opportunity for glitter." Also, she gave one 19-year-old contestant his first kiss. Gripe: On Twitter, there was some complaining about how many ads ran during "Idol."

Scientology TV
How do you counter bad press? With enough cash, you can just … launch your own network. The Church of Scientology tweeted that Scientology TV will debut Monday on DirecTV, Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, iTunes, Google Play and online at (A DirecTV spokesman confirmed the launch to USA Today.) The church made preview videos that it said would run atop YouTube's homepage for 24 hours; one flashy ad suggests the network will include original series such as "L. Ron Hubbard, In His Own Voice" and "Meet a Scientologist." The @ScientologyTV Twitter handle tweeted: "It's TIME for us to tell OUR story." There's been high-profile criticism of the Church of Scientology over the last few years, including from the HBO documentary "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" and from A&E's "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath." The group has apparently tried different tactics to counter the bad press: The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Scientologists were emailing advertisers, pressing them to boycott the A&E program.

Quiz show
HQ Trivia had 2 million players on Oscars night and gave away a total of $50,000. It's the big name in the mobile quiz space, but it's not alone: As author and three-time Jeopardy champion Neal Pollack writes in Ad Age, he's "constantly blown away" by the numbers he sees playing quizzes on "Cash Show," "Quiz Biz" and "The Q," which he describes as "a hilariously ramshackle app out of Charleston, South Carolina (that) gets approximately 10,000 players going for as little as $100 per quiz." Mobile quiz games are avoiding ads and sponsored content for now, but down the line, that might change. So is the mobile quiz trend here to stay? Pollack talks to a Forrester analyst who says that despite challenges, the games have something going for them: they're a "modern take on appointment television."

Twitter seems to be cracking down on accounts known for ripping off other peoples' content, or for mass-retweeting schemes, as BuzzFeed News reports. Hugely popular accounts including @Dory, @SoDamnTrue and @memeprovider were reportedly among the accounts suspended. As BuzzFeed writes,

"In addition to stealing people's tweets without credit, some of these accounts are known as 'tweetdeckers' due to their practice of teaming up in exclusive Tweetdeck groups and mass-retweeting one another's — and paying customers' — tweets into forced virality."

That's obviously not good. But given that BuzzFeed's first article on the "tweetdecking" phenomenon was in January, it's interesting to see Twitter taking relatively swift action on this, when it's historically been more laissez-faire (see: trolls).

Value isn't enough
Just two months after awarding its creative business to New York-based Badger & Winters, JC Penney is debuting a new campaign and a tagline to replace "Get Your Penney's Worth." The retailer is now pushing a "Style and value for all" message in its all of its marketing. "While we really stood out in the value play, we ran short on style and inspiration," Marci Grebstein, who joined JC Penney as chief marketing officer last year, tells Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli. "We need to explain to her that it's both." JC Penney is switching up its marketing mix at a time when it's still struggling to attract sales. Unlike competitor Kohl's, JC Penney's holiday sales season missed analyst expectations.

Google Cloud comes to play
Google, which recently secured the right to market itself as "The Official Cloud of the NCAA," has begun the first ad campaign for its cloud computing product with commercials in March Madness coverage. Questions such as "Do players dunk more if they have 50,000 followers?" are featured in two 30-second spots created by San Francisco-based agency Eleven, Alison Wagonfeld, VP of marketing at Google Cloud, tells Ad Age's George Slefo. Google Cloud will also use AI to create several additional 15-second spots at the start of the second half during the Final Four. The activation will specifically use Google technology and NCAA historically data to create real-time ads that attempt to answer questions such as whether the game might "come down to the wire."

Just briefly:
Eaze, a cannabis delivery app, is using data to generate some surprising findings on its users, as Beejoli Shah writes in Ad Age. "The modern cannabis consumer isn't the stoner of the past," Jamie Feaster, Eaze's VP of marketing, tells Shah. "It's a woman, it's a baby boomer and the way they use cannabis isn't necessarily packing it into a bong or rolling up a joint."

Old school: Buying three billboards is the "new global protest method," The Guardian reports. Inspired by the film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," people are using the protest tactic in places from the U.S. to the UK to Kosovo.

In the U.K.: A Unilever marketer, Mark Clarke, "has left his job amid an internal investigation into sexual-harassment allegations by an unnamed contractor," Ad Age's Jack Neff writes. In 2015, the marketer and one-time politician had been banned by the UK's Conservative Party amid a bullying scandal, though he continued to work at Unilever in social media analytics.

"Black-ish": ABC pulled an episode of the show "Black-ish" because it couldn't resolve creative differences with creator Kenya Barris, Variety reports. The episode touched on various social and political issues—such as the "rights of athletes to kneel during the performance of the national anthem at football games."

What now?: Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, tells the Financial Times that tech companies should test new ad models where users can penalise bad ads or pay a fee to prevent their data from being monetized.

Doomsday marketing: "Costco Is Selling a $6,000 Doomsday Preparation Kit That Can Feed a Family of 4 for a Year" is an actual headline from Money.

Creativity pick of the day: You may recall MoneySupermarket's amusing viral ad starring He-Man and Skeletor re-enacting the famous "Dirty Dancing" dance. In the latest spot, Action Man—the U.K.'s answer to G.I. Joe—does a campy strip-tease in the desert. As Ad Age's Alexandra Jardine writes, it's the last MoneySupermarket ad from Mother London. Check it out below, and happy Monday.

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