Your Thursday Wake-Up Call: Senators Push for 'Honest Ads.' Plus, Shocking Commercials for Skin Lighteners
Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital-related news. What people are talking about today: Publicis Groupe reported organic sales growth of 1.2% in the third quarter, hitting $2.67 billion. But the results were below market expectations, and shares of the world's third-biggest agency company were down over 6% at noon in Paris. Why the jitters? The market was more optimistic after Omnicom Group's earnings this week, when it reported quarterly organic growth up 2.8% year-on-year. For more clues on the health of the ad industry at a time when many clients are cutting back on budgets, stay tuned: Interpublic Group reports on Oct. 24, WPP on Oct. 31.
Three U.S. senators will push today for an "Honest Ads Act," which would hold internet giants like Google and Facebook to the same standards that TV and radio face for political advertising. Now that Republican Sen. John McCain has joined in, the effort is bi-partisan, as Politico writes. The proposed legislation grew out of the investigations into how Russia harnessed tech platforms to meddle in the 2016 election. As Quartz writes, there's no guarantee the proposal will pass: "Tech companies like Facebook have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to lobby Congress, and the Trump White House has been vehemently anti-regulation, and has called Russia's interference in the election 'fake.'"
The U.S. isn't the only place people are worried about the role internet ads played in elections. ProPublica writes that questionable ads attacking Germany's Green Party popped up on Facebook, and the social network failed to confront the issue. Then all traces of the advertiser disappeared. There are big, scary questions to be answered, and Silicon Valley's response so far hasn't been reassuring, or transparent enough.
Also: Bloomberg News looks at how Facebook and Google worked closely with a group that put together anti-refugee campaigns to run in U.S. swing states before the election.
Health magazines (and the health of magazines)
Hearst is buying publishing house Rodale, whose titles include Men's Health, Women's Health, Runner's World and Prevention. Rodale has been family-owned since 1942. The Wall Street Journal puts the sale at under $225 million, adding that the "price, roughly equal to Rodale's annual revenue, with no real growth premium—is an indication of the challenges in the marketplace and the uncertain future for publishers like Rodale." These are unsettling times for the magazine industry: Last month brought an exodus of top magazine editors, and Wenner Media also said it was putting Rolling Stone up for sale.
Nivea has been getting pushback for an ad in Africa that shows a black woman applying lotion, turning her skin many shades paler. The product is called Natural Fairness Body Lotion. Germany's Beiersdorf, which owns the brand, didn't immediately respond to an email asking about the ad. Here's what one commenter had to say:
This is why black businesses need to rise up and cater for our needs. Nivea can't get away with pushing this skin lightening agenda across Africa. Appalling. pic.twitter.com/8uR7XHNgVa— William Adoasi (@WilliamAdoasi) October 18, 2017
Skin-lightening products are a big market in many countries, but sometimes the way they're advertised sparks an outcry. Another recent spot from Malaysia for a product called SlimmeWhite shows a man abusing his wife and throwing her out of the house. After she uses the product -- becoming slimmer and paler -- he begs her to come back. Ad Age reached out to the production house, but it hasn't yet responded; it reportedly has said the message of the ad is to "appreciate your spouse." Watch it below.
Courtesy of Malaysia, a horrible commercial selling a skin whitening potion by invoking spousal abuse https://t.co/cxvNSNUPVt— Tom Pepinsky (@TomPepinsky) October 16, 2017
Trolls: In the runup to the vote, Trump staffers retweeted content from a Russian troll farm that was masquerading as content from Tennessee Republicans, The Daily Beast says. Trump's then-campaign manager Kellyanne Conway retweeted Russian propaganda, as did Donald Trump Jr., the report says.
$500,000: Amazon is charging brands $500,000 a year for fancier product pages that include bells and whistles like wide-screen video, as Ad Age's Garett Sloane reports.
Brad Jakeman: The PepsiCo exec is leaving to start his own consultancy. Ad Age's E.J. Schultz writes that the backlash over Pepsi's Kendall Jenner ad did not prompt his departure, "although in a recent personal Facebook post he called the experience 'gut-wrenching and painful.'"
Adapted: Target is making clothes adapted for children with disabilities, with features that make getting dressed easier, HuffPost reports.
Creativity pick of the day: A very unusual Burger King spot doubles as an anti-bullying PSA. The brand asked child actors to stage a scene of bullying in the restaurant; few real life patrons complained. But when the customers' burgers were "bullied" (i.e. smashed), complaints flowed in. Read more by Ad Age's Jessica Wohl, and watch the spot here.