Tuesday Wake-Up Call: The End of a Facebook Experiment. Plus, a Google Glitch

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A Facebook experiment comes to an end.
A Facebook experiment comes to an end. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital-related news. You can get an audio version of this briefing on your Alexa device. Search for "Ad Age" under "Skills" in the Alexa app. Also, a reminder: The deadline for our Creativity Awards deadline is Jan. 11 at 5 p.m. EST. That's Thursday.

What people are talking about today: H&M apologized for an ad on its UK website that showed a black child wearing a hoodie marked with the phrase "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle." As Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli reports, the image sparked a social media backlash, and singer The Weeknd – who had worked with the retailer on fashion -- said he would no longer collaborate with H&M. Sweden's H&M makes a huge amount of brand content for 69 global markets; the outcry was a reminder of the damage that a single insensitive and poorly vetted image can do.

The end of M
Facebook's experimental virtual assistant, named M, is closing down. As Ad Age's Garett Sloane writes, M launched in 2015 and has remained in the testing phase since then. M was a text-based concierge bot that relied on a human team for backup; users could ask it to look things up or book reservations.

As Sloane writes, M

"was a playground for Facebook to experiment with artificial intelligence, which the company says it plans to continue to do. But it also might have become a digital assistant that could compete with Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google."

Since M launched in 2015, people's interest has shifted to voice-powered tools like Amazon Echo and Google Home. So what's Facebook's next move?

Facebook's China move
China's government blocks the masses from getting onto Facebook and most other U.S. social networks. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has tried pretty much everything to charm China's censors (even learning Mandarin). So far, nothing has worked. But here's an interesting development: Facebook is partnering with Chinese consumer tech company Xiaomi on an affordable virtual reality headset for China. The device will be called the Mi VR Standalone, and it's modeled on the Oculus Go, which Facebook's VR company Oculus has been working on. As Recode writes, "Launching as a hardware partner with Xiaomi means Facebook can dip a toe into China without having to deal with censorship issues, or storing user data and information. While Oculus is a different part of Facebook's business, it's still Facebook." It's all rather clever. Hugo Barra, Facebook's VP of VR, used to work in China for Xiaomi, so he's a natural link between the two companies.

Technical difficulties
Some small publishers were booted off Google News on Sunday for no apparent reason, and some apparently started to panic. As Ad Age's George Slefo writes, one publisher wrote on Google's Help Forum: "Our news website was removed from Google News and our team is depressed. Help." Google says the issue was an "unintentional technical error" that it's fixing. For publishers, it's a little reminder of Google's power in referring traffic to their sites.

Just briefly:

Back in the Games: North Korea will send athletes (and cheerleaders) to the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea next month, The New York Times says. The breakthrough came as the two neighboring countries held talks. North Korea hasn't participated in the Winter Olympics in eight years, The Times says.

O: Oprah Winfrey is "actively thinking" about a presidential run in 2020, two of the media mogul's friends told CNN. Given the buzz about a potential Oprah campaign, people couldn't wrap their heads around this tweet:

Golden Globes: According to Nielsen fast official ratings, the Golden Globes averaged 19 million viewers, down slightly from last year's 20 million viewers, Ad Age's Anthony Crupi reports.

Next up: Glamour's new editor is Samantha Barry, executive producer for social and emerging media at CNN Worldwide, as Ad Age's Simon Dumenco writes.

Backlash: James Damore, a former Google engineer famous for a memo that got him fired, has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that "Google unfairly discriminates against white men whose political views are unpopular with its executives," TechCrunch says.

Worth reading: Ad Age's E.J. Schultz explores a burgeoning category of ads; commercials from security providers that "want to scare the money from your wallet" as they sell you solutions to protect you from identity theft.

Meditation for vets: Two 360i execs – both of whom served in the armed forces -- worked on a voice-activated meditation app for veterans, Ad Age's Lindsay Stein reports. The app acts like a therapist and walks vets through calming exercises, though "we didn't use flowery terms that would turn veterans off," one of them says.

Creativity pick of the day: Facebook's inspirational ad that ran during the Golden Globes features a multicultural, multigenerational cast dancing, praying, dining and talking about hope. It's a lovely spot directed by Gus Van Sant, and it appears to be set in a world without smartphones or screens. It's enough to make you forget some of Facebook's current woes (Russian trolls, etc.) Read more by Ann-Christine Diaz, and watch it here.

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