President Trump's 'brand value,' TikTok's big mistake and other news: Thursday Wake-Up Call

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Credit: Allison Joyce/Bloomberg

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
Was President Trump's entire election campaign conceived as an extended "infomercial" to build up the Trump brand? That's what the president's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, says. In testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen -- a longtime Trump loyalist before turning on his former boss -- argued that Trump

"had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the 'greatest infomercial in political history.' He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign, for him, was always a marketing opportunity."

But wait, there's more: Marketing came up again at another point in the testimony. In 2014, Trump hoped to buy the Buffalo Bills and was looking for a bank loan. As Crain's New York reports,

"Trump gave executives at Deutsche Bank a financial statement showing his net worth was $8.7 billion. That was a hefty 72% jump from the year before. How did his fortune grow so fast? Trump did it by adding a new line to his financial statement that he called "brand value." He said it amounted to $4 billion."

CNN checked in with experts on brand value about the $4 billion number. Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, told CNN that $4 billion is "a strangely round number. Brand valuation is complicated, and to get a round number is unlikely."

In other news (because yes, there was other news yesterday besides the Cohen hearing)
TikTok, the lip-syncing, video and social media app, is hugely popular among tweens and teens -- and now the platform is under fire for failing to protect the data privacy of its youngest users. Ad Age's Orla McCaffrey writes that social video app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, "agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that it illegally stored data from underage children and refused parents' requests to delete it. Data collected from children under the age of 13 included names, email addresses and, for a period, user locations, the FTC said."

A question: Is a $5.7 million fine enough to make tech companies get serious about this issue? To put things in perspective, when Chinese company Beijing Bytedance Technology Co. agreed to buy Musical.ly in 2017, the social app was reportedly valued at up to $1 billion.

Goof-up of the day
In the UK, Netflix accidentally streamed a version of Nicholas Sparks' romantic tear-jerker "The Notebook" with an alternative ending that wasn't as sad as the original. And people have been complaining that they were robbed of a "good, cathartic ugly-cry," as Vulture writes. Netflix tweeted that "an alternate version exists and was supplied to us – we are getting to the bottom of it asap – apparently some films have more than one ending?!" But seriously, how does such a thing happen? Sparks himself told NBC's Today show that he had no clue: "This is above my pay grade. It's above my intelligence grade."

Just briefly:
The robot takeover: Pizza Hut will start testing the FedEx SameDay Bot, an autonomous delivery device, this summer in Memphis. The robot "is fully autonomous and does not require a delivery person to accompany it," an exec says. Read more in the Ad Age Marketer's Brief.

Victoria's Secret: The lingerie brand plans to close 53 stores in North America this year. Bloomberg News writes that "the rough patch isn't new: Victoria's Secret has been under scrutiny for years for failing to keep up with shifting consumer demands, especially involving themes of female empowerment and diversity."

Pedicures + shoe shopping: DSW is trying to boost shoe sales by putting nail salons in more stores -- a way to draw consumers in with experiences. Bloomberg News writes that "some locations will offer waxing services, wine and other beverages."

Paying up: "An arbitrator has ordered Fox to pay $179 million to profit participants in the long-running drama series 'Bones,' finding that top executives lowballed revenue from the show and gave false testimony," Variety writes.

Privacy: "The heads of some of the largest ad industry trade bodies are scrambling to convince lawmakers to pass federal regulation on consumer privacy before California's Privacy Act goes into effect in 2020," Ad Age's George Slefo writes. Trade bodies, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau, met with lawmakers during a Senate committee hearing.

Podcast of the day: "I'm not going to be the one to sit here and say Facebook is why digital media is having a hard time," Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media, says. "It is not." Listen to his full conversation with Ad Age Editor Brian Braiker on the Ad Lib podcast.

Product of the day: Saucony made green-and-brown shoes inspired by avocado toast. They're called Shadow 6000 Avocado Toast sneakers, and they cost $130. "So much for millennials affording a house anytime soon," writes Orla McCaffrey in Ad Age.

Ad of the day: "A lot of advertisers these days have been enthusiastically embracing young consumers' desire for a better world," Ad Age's Ann-Christine Diaz writes. A new campaign from Reese's Puffs cereal and agency Erich & Kallman cleverly plays with that cliché, then gives it a twist. One spot is about a teenager trying on a prom dress. A nosy saleswoman grills her about what she really, really wants, and the conversation takes some very unexpected turns. Read more by Diaz, and check out the campaign here.

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