Super Bowl ratings drop, Google ad sales jump (again), and Adidas backtracks: Tuesday Wake-Up Call

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Tom Brady of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl LIII
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl LIII Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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
Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast was the least-watched in 11 years. And is it any wonder? The New England Patriots-Los Angeles Rams matchup was a slog. Ad Age's Anthony Crupi says the game was "tedious" (the blah Maroon 5-led show at halftime didn't liven things up, either) and reports that, going by Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, CBS's broadcast averaged 98.2 million viewers and a 41.1 household rating. That made it "the least-watched linear TV broadcast of a Super Bowl in 11 years, and the lowest-rated in 16 years," Crupi writes. Then again, it's hard to get a good handle on the number of viewers compared to previous years; read Crupi's full story for an explainer on why Super Bowl ratings still have a big asterisk attached.

Top 10 ads: The NFL's playful spot marking its 100th anniversary season was the best-loved ad of the night, according to USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter. Next up was the Amazon Alexa ad about technology gone haywire, followed by Microsoft's ad about children with disabilities using the Xbox adaptive controller to play video games. Check out the full list and read more by Ad Age's Jeanine Poggi.

Battle of the beers: So how is MillerCoors responding to Bud Light's Super Bowl ads attacking it for putting corn syrup in Coors Light and Miller Lite? MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley wrote in an email to distributors, "We're proud of our beers, we're proud of our ingredients and we're happy to have this fight any day of the week." Read more by E.J. Schultz in Ad Age.

Big Big Tech
Despite hand-wringing about Big Tech, privacy and ethics, Google parent company Alphabet's advertising machine is doing just fine. Great, actually. Ad sales rose at least 20 percent for a sixth consecutive quarter. Bloomberg Opinion offers some thoughts:

"The list of worries for Google and Facebook is long. Growth is slowing and costs are climbing. The global market for advertising appears to be finite, and Google and Facebook already grab a large share of spending. Competition is fierce for web surfers at home and abroad. But shut all that out, and the two best business models the internet has ever seen are still humming."

Quotable numbers: eMarketer says Google will generate over $102.4 billion in net digital ad revenue this year. Google is expected to account for 31.3 percent of the global digital ad market. Facebook is No. 2, at 20.5 percent.
Birthday reflection: Yesterday was Facebook's 15th birthday. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post reminiscing about how he started the company in his college dorm; he also says he disagrees with people who see social networks as "mostly harmful to society and democracy."

To celebrate Black History Month, Adidas for some reason released a white-on-white shoe, a design choice that some people found baffling. One Twitter user attached a facepalm emoji to his tweet: "Who makes an all white shoe celebrating #BlackHistoryMonth ?!? #Adidas ...thiiiiiink." After a backlash, Adidas has now pulled the design from the collection, Adrianne Pasquarelli writes in Ad Age. The brand acknowledges that the running shoe "did not reflect the spirit or philosophy of how Adidas believes we should recognize and honor Black History Month."

Diet Madison Avenue
The team running the Instagram account Diet Madison Avenue, which has accused some prominent men in the ad world of sexual harassment, has operated anonymously, and it wants to stay that way. But a Los Angeles Superior Court judge turned down the group's request to quash subpoenas ordering Instagram, Facebook and Gmail to turn over information about those involved. Still, the judge put some limits on the them. Read more from Ad Age's Ann-Christine Diaz and Megan Graham about the latest twist in the defamation case filed by former Crispin Porter Bogusky Chief Creative Officer Ralph Watson, who says he was wrongly terminated from his job because of false accusations by Diet Madison Avenue.

Just briefly:
Not happening: "Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and more than 100 other newspapers across nearly three dozen states, rejected a hostile takeover bid from a hedge fund-backed newspaper group on Monday," The New York Times reports. The would-be buyer was MNG Enterprises, controlled by Alden Global Capital.

Chunky®: Campbell Soup Co. has somehow won the right to trademark the word "chunky," though the parameters are a little unclear. Still, that means "Campbell's Chunky packaging will start to include the ® next to the word," Jessica Wohl writes in Ad Age.

Trippy: Equinox, the fitness brand, is launching an ad campaign to build buzz about the opening of its first hotel, Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli reports. And supermodel Naomi Campbell stars in a super-trippy ad for the brand.

Papa John's: Papa John's is getting a new chairman from investment company Starboard Value LP, which is making a $200 million investment in the troubled pizza chain. Read more by Ad Age's Jessica Wohl.

BuzzFeed: "For awhile, BuzzFeed's torrid, investment-fueled growth seemed like the result of some sort of brilliant new formula," Ad Age's Simon Dumenco writes. Spoiler: It wasn't.

The egg: We missed this yesterday amid all the Super Bowl noise: The creator of the most-liked Instagram post of all time (the photo of a plain old egg) is an advertising staffer based in London. His name is Chris Godfrey, he's 29, and he's a creative at the & Partnership. Read more from The New York Times.

Tweet of the week: Chipotle retweeted this observation about Adam Levine, the heavily tattooed frontman of Maroon 5: "adam levine with his shirt off looks like a chipotle bag."

Video of the day: The Super Bowl is not the world's most-watched TV event. That honor belongs to China's annual variety show that kicks off the Lunar New Year; last year, the show claimed more than a billion viewers. Coincidentally, the 2019 edition ran the day after the Super Bowl. The performances can be boring (and the show certainly includes a lot of propaganda). But this segment with hundreds of students from the Henan Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School performing in unison is pretty spectacular. Anyway, it's not Maroon 5. Happy Year of the Pig.

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