Wednesday Wake-Up Call: Nordstrom Rack does damage control. And Best Buy gets a rebrand

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A Nordstrom Rack store at Nut Tree Mall in Vacaville, Northern California.
A Nordstrom Rack store at Nut Tree Mall in Vacaville, Northern California. Credit: iStock/Juanmonino

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. What people are talking about today: Google Assistant comes in six new voices -- including smooth-voiced crooner John Legend's. As Ad Age's Garett Sloane writes in a story about Google's AI advances, the singer went into the studio to help Google craft a new artificial voice. Legend's wife, model Chrissy Teigen, who recently starred with him in a Google ad, tweeted: "I don't even need human John anymore." Legend cheekily replied, "Well. The Google Assistant doesn't do EVERYTHING."

'Shopping while being black'
First Starbucks, now Nordstrom Rack. The discount retailer is doing damage control because black customers were discriminated against at one of its locations. The Nordstrom Rack president, Geevy Thomas, apologized in person to three teenagers from the St. Louis area who were falsely accused of shoplifting by store employees, CNN Money reports. Two of them had been hunting something to wear to prom. The president of the local chapter of the NAACP said they "were guilty of nothing but shopping while being black," as CNN writes.
Also: From The New York Times: "A Woman Said She Saw Burglars. They Were Just Black Airbnb Guests."

Best Buy's new look
Best Buy is rebranding, with a new logo, website and ads that depict its employees as caring, friendly listeners who can solve your electronics problems. As Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli reports, work on the campaign started about a year ago, and much of it was done internally. Documentary-maker Errol Morris directed the ads, with Best Buy employees patiently giving advice to customers. One appreciative older woman woman asks a young employee, "Can I call you my electronics guru?" He responds, "Or Pete. Pete's good too." In the age of Amazon, big box giant Best Buy is casting itself as the contemporary version of the mom-and-pop store -- the place where you get a smile and a personal touch.

'Last publisher standing'
Digital publication Quartz has stayed away from programmatic ads in the belief they hurt user experience, while embracing sponsor content. (Take this fairly typical example of Quartz's sponsor content, from R/GA; it reads sort of like an article about the future of advertising, while touting the agency's credentials.) But now Quartz is adding programmatic into the mix through a deal with Concert, a digital ad marketplace formed by Vox Media and NBC Universal. As Ad Age's George Slefo writes:

"The news is significant because Quartz was perhaps the last publisher standing when it came to adopting programmatic technology to sell ads. BuzzFeed, which long shared Quartz's philosophical beliefs on programmatic, gave in last August when it announced that it, too, would sell digital ads through automation. The notion that publishers can flourish without adopting a programmatic solution seems to be over."

That said, Quartz seems focused on keeping things uncluttered, and it's not adopting open programmatic exchanges. Read more by Slefo here.

Just briefly:
Facebook and blockchain:
Facebook has led "the biggest management reshuffling since the company's founding," and it also set up a unit to explore blockchain technology, Bloomberg News reports. Wired (and everybody else) is wondering, "What's the deal with Facebook and the blockchain?"

Facebook and abortion: The platform is banning foreign-funded ads discussing Ireland's upcoming referendum on abortion. (Here's Facebook's statement, which refers to the referendum without ever mentioning the word "abortion.")

'Insights': AT&T acknowledges it paid President Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen's company in 2017 "to provide insights into understanding the new administration" of President Trump, CNBC reports.

The Murdochs: James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, plans to go out on his own if the company's deal with the Walt Disney Co. goes through, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal says he might start a venture capital firm investing in media businesses.

Out: Two marketers are among the latest top execs to depart Nike amid a review of managers' behavior, Bloomberg News reports.

Mad about plaid: Burberry filed a suit claiming that Target "copied its trademarked plaid on eyewear, luggage, stainless-steel bottles and scarves," Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli reports.

Logo alert: Singer Grimes wore a Tesla logo-inspired choker to the Met Gala, which she attended with her date, Tesla founder Elon Musk. "Somehow, we adore it," Vanity Fair writes. (Really?)

Doubleclick ID: "Google's removal of Doubleclick ID presents a litany of issues for brands and agencies," as Ad Age's George Slefo reports.

Quote of the day: What's next for Martin Sorrell, longtime WPP CEO? "I'm going to start again ... I won't tell you any more about that. I will tell you I'll start again. I'm not going to go into voluntary or involuntary retirement," he said at the Techonomy conference in New York. Read more by Ad Age's Megan Graham.

Creativity pick of the day: For a World Cup ad airing in 50 countries, Budweiser and Anomaly New York imagine a future in which cute red drones deliver beer, as Ad Age's E.J. Schultz writes. One of the drones seems mighty flirty with the soccer fan he's delivering to. Check it out here.

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