Mercedes puts Ludacris in its Super Bowl ad, and Starbucks confronts its Howard Schultz problem: Thursday Wake-Up Call

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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
It's freezing -- err, well below freezing -- in the Midwest. It was so cold yesterday (minus 23 degrees in Chicago!) that people threw cups of boiling water in the air and watched them turn instantly to snow. On Twitter, McDonald's let people know they could stay home and order McDelivery via UberEats. Canada Goose seized the opportunity to plug its ultra-warm, ultra-expensive parkas. And Florida's tourism board posted annoying photos of palm trees and sunny beaches. Read more about polar vortex marketing in the Ad Age Marketer's Brief.

Mercedes + Ludacris
Mercedes-Benz made a superhero tale for its Super Bowl commercial. It's a CGI-enhanced story about a guy with the power to make his wishes come true -- so he can change red lights to green, or make a boring night at the opera morph into a Ludacris performance. Ad Age's Alfred Maskeroni and E.J. Schultz have a video with behind-the-scenes details and insights into the creative process from Mercedes and agency Merkley & Partners. There are fun details -- like how Ludacris was a good sport about wearing an opera costume and wig, but he preferred keeping his sneakers on. And somehow, the outfit totally works.
Also: We've got three days to go until the Super Bowl; here's where you can watch all the ads released so far.

Elephant in the coffeeshop
Starbucks is in an awkward position. So are its baristas. What do you do when your longtime CEO announces he might run for president as an independent, annoying a big swathe of your customer base? The company circulated guidelines for how baristas should talk to customers who bring up Howard Schultz, HuffPost reports. If a customer shares "aggressive political opinions," employees should try to calm things down. Starbucks is reportedly suggesting this script: "We respect everyone's opinion. Our goal is simply to create a warm and welcoming space where we can all gather, as a community, over great coffee." Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? We suspect there are a lot of cringe-y conversations going on at Starbucks' across America.

Breaking records
Before Facebook released its fourth-quarter earnings, there were questions over whether the company's highly publicized data breach and a constant stream of bad press would hurt business. As Ad Age's Garett Sloane writes, "They didn't." Facebook's ad revenue "rose 38 percent year-over-year to a record $16.64 billion in the quarter, with a record $6.8 billion in profits," Sloane writes. Incidentally, Fast Company's headline for this news was: "Facebook grew even bigger and richer while you were all mad at Zuck."
Also: Facebook and Apple are in the midst of a spat, and Apple disabled an iPhone app that Facebook was using for consumer research. Confused about what's going on? Garett Sloane explains.

Just briefly:
Spam:
"Roughly 26.3 billion robo-calls were placed to U.S. phone numbers last year," The Washington Post reports, quoting data from Hiya, a spam-monitoring service. The number is up from 18 billion in 2017. "Americans are now getting so many robo-calls on a regular basis that many are simply choosing not to answer the phone altogether," The Post says.

A digital alliance: "BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media and Vice are teaming up to try to solve the nagging puzzle of measurement in digital media," Ad Age's Garett Sloane writes.

New logo alert: "Quicken Loans has a new logo for its Rocket Mortgage product, and there are no rocket ships involved," Adrianne Pasquarelli writes in Ad Age.

Ad of the day: Spike Jones directed a short film starring Idris Elba. Must-see, right? The actor (and People's "Sexiest Man Alive") plays an astronaut, a boxer and a pastry chef. It's actually a Squarespace ad -- and though it's not totally clear on what Elba's role-playing has to do with making websites, it's fun and a change of pace for an actor known for hard-hitting roles. Read about it by Ann-Christine Diaz, and watch it here.

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