Thursday Wake-Up Call: Vice Media faces setbacks, and Amazon pulls an old-school move

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Credit: Bloomberg News/Andrew Harrer

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. Note: Ad Age Next, our conference on what's ahead for marketing and tech, is coming up fast. It's Nov. 13 and 14 in New York. Tickets are still on sale; hope to see you there.

What people are talking about today
Ad Age's Megan Graham reports on the polarizing company culture at Havas Chicago. Graham talked to a dozen former and current employees who describe an environment where

"some thrive and others feel isolated outside an inner circle. Hip-hop music blares in the hallways of the Havas Chicago office in its River North location and TV screens display Vice programming, at times about stripping or drugs. They say the agency also hired a bikini-clad woman to portray an exotic dancer from a Quentin Tarantino film for a Halloween party last year."

Havas defends itself and says, "We structured our agency to be different." And while some employees were uncomfortable with the Halloween party, one agency employee sees criticism of the event as overblown: "I thought it was cool," she says. Read the story here.

Scaling back
Times are tough at Vice Media, long seen as the media outlet that had cracked the formula for appealing to younger readers. The Wall Street Journal reports that:

"Vice Media plans to shrink its workforce by as much as 15% through attrition and cut its selection of digital sites by at least half, according to people familiar with the matter, as growth stalls at the onetime new-media darling."

This year's revenue is expected to be about the same as in 2017, The Journal says, adding that "Vice lost more than $100 million in 2017 and is on track to lose more than $50 million this year." Vice's verticals include Munchies for food and Broadly for women. A few will go away, but which ones?

#Nostalgia
Toys R Us and its flyers are gone this year; the Sears Wish Book is just a distant memory. But Amazon is borrowing from the old-timers' playbook: It's making a print catalog that will lay around people's houses during the holiday season so kids can learn about new toys and nag their parents to buy them. Amazon even left blank space up front for kids to jot down their top 10 lists. There are a few updates from the retro era of catalogs: The 70-page mailer for some reason has no pricetags, and there are QR codes to scan. One parent who received the catalog tweeted a photo of her son peering at it from his booster seat, adding: "He's on 20 minutes of perusing so far. He's three. Well-played, Amazon. Well played."

Just briefly:
Number of the day:
According to Nielsen data, "about 32.3 million viewers tuned in to watch the prime-time election results across cable news channels Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, and broadcast nets NBC, ABC and CBS," Ad Age's Anthony Crupi reports. "If the combined audience for the six networks had been watching the same programming, Tuesday night's overall deliveries would qualify the midterms coverage as the year's sixth most-watched program, trailing only Super Bowl LII, the State of the Union Address and three NFL playoff games."

The end: Defy Media, which ran YouTube brands Smosh and Clevver, has closed shop. Ad Age's George Slefo writes that "it's unclear exactly what prompted its closure, but the digital media company had been dealing with money problems. Back in June, Defy opted to close its programmatic business after failing to find a buyer."

Desperately seeking Mark: Parliaments from Argentina, Australia and Ireland have joined the U.K. and Canada in demanding that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify about disinformation and election interference, CBS News reports. Facebook had already turned down a request from the U.K. and Canada. "Five parliaments are now calling on you to do the right thing by the 170 million users in the countries they represent," a letter from the parliaments says.

Foldable phones: Samsung gave people a quick peek at its new foldable smartphone during an event. It "folds like a book and opens up to tablet size," The Wall Street Journal writes.

Smokin': After Jeff Sessions was forced out as U.S. attorney general, "marijuana stocks spiked," The Atlantic reports. Sessions has been a strong opponent of cannabis use and legalization.

Podcast of the day: Lizzie Widhelm, Pandora's head of ad innovation, explains the knowns and unknowns about the business, and also "how she never experienced noticeable gender discrimination until she reached senior leadership positions," she tells Ad Age Editor Brian Braiker. Listen to her conversation with Braiker here.

Ad of the day: An ad from a brand called Tushy seems intent on breaking every possible taboo. First off, it's "likely the first ever holiday ad featuring a talking anus," notes the Ad Age Marketer's Brief. But also, it depicts Santa Claus on the toilet. The product is a $69 bidet attachment, and the tagline claims it's "the perfect gift for the hole-idays." Watch it here.

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