Thursday Wake-Up Call: Facebook Halts Ads Excluding Racial Groups. Plus, New Claims Against Matt Lauer

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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.

What people are talking about today
Since NBC's "Today" fired Matt Lauer for alleged sexual misconduct, at least two more women have gone to NBC with complaints against him, The New York Times reports. One of them, a former employee, said Lauer summoned her to his office in 2001, asked her to unbutton her top, then pulled down her pants and assaulted her; she fainted, per The Times' account. The Times says Lauer's reps did not return requests for comment.

Lauer is a household name, having spent over 20 years on the show. What does his departure mean for NBC and "Today" in business terms? Maybe not as much as you might expect. Ad Age's Jeanine Poggi and Anthony Crupi write that industry execs say "Lauer's firing won't make a meaningful impact on viewership or advertiser demand." It's worth noting that "Today" has faced the same pressures as the rest of TV, and it's lost 16 percent of its total audience in the past five years, Poggi and Crupi write.

Erasure: NBC is scrubbing Lauer's name and pictures from its social accounts, Variety writes.

Questions: The Lauer firing is causing chatter again about NBC's decision to take a pass on Ronan Farrow's investigation into sexual misconduct claims about Harvey Weinstein. (Via Vanity Fair.) And there's scrutiny again of why The Washington Post -- not NBC News -- broke the story about the NBC "Access Hollywood" tapes that recorded Donald Trump's lewd comments before he was president. (Per CNN's "Reliable Sources" newsletter.)

'Flirting' with disaster: Fox News was troubled by Geraldo Rivera's tweet defending Matt Lauer and commenting that news is a "flirty business," Entertainment Weekly reports. ICYM the tweet (for which Rivera later apologized), here it is:

Another one: Folksy humorist Garrison Keillor has been fired from Minnesota Public Radio, but there are few details; his version of the story is that all he did was place his hand on a woman's bare back to console her, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes.

1-2-3 punch
Wednesday was a tough day for mass media layoffs, though the news was overshadowed by the high-profile firings of Lauer and Keillor.
1 – ESPN laid off 150 staffers. Ad Age's Anthony Crupi writes that it's the "third mass headcount reduction in two years."
2 – Buzzfeed is parting with 100 employees in its business operations. Faced with the tough realities of online media, it's had to reevaluate its business model. "BuzzFeed had gone all-in on native advertising, but when it realized that wasn't paying off sufficiently, it recently opted to sell banner ads like the rest of the publishing world," as Ad Age's George Slefo notes.
3 – The staff of LA Weekly has been "gutted," the Los Angeles Times reports. Nine out of 13 people in the editorial staff were let go as the paper was sold to a new company, Semanal Media.

Mystery (kinda) solved
TechCrunch says it tracked down the Twitter contractor who shut down President Donald Trump's account for 11 minutes this month. It identifies him as Bahtiyar Duysak, a "twenty-something with Turkish roots who was born and raised in Germany." Duysak's back in Germany now, and he told TechCrunch that the shutdown was an accident. Here's the explanation. People on Twitter apparently complain often that Trump is violating its terms of service. It happened again on Duysak's last day on the job, and

"As a final, throwaway gesture, he put the wheels in motion to deactivate it. Then he closed his computer and left the building."

Huh. Duysak says that he never thought his action would actually shut down the account. "I didn't do any crime or anything evil, but I feel like Pablo Escobar," he says. Anyway, bravo to TechCrunch for convincing him to come forward and talk. Though we have a lot more questions, obviously. Starting with, why?

Multicultural affinity
For now, Facebook will no longer allow advertisers to exclude certain ethnic or racial groups when they buy ads, non-profit news organization ProPublica reports. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg revealed the decision in a letter to the Congressional Black Congress. She wrote: "Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads." She also said Facebook would review how exclusion targeting is used on its service. ProPublica recently ran a test and found that it was able to buy Facebook housing ads that excluded blacks, Jews and other groups, prompting more scrutiny of Facebook's ad mechanisms. Facebook is expected to take in one in five digital ad dollars in the U.S. this year, according to eMarketer.

Just briefly:

Faux Trump: Fox News has declined to air a Democratic coalition's ad that features a golf cart-riding Trump impersonator, Politico writes. The network says it has a blanket policy against political impersonators in ads.

Snack attack: Mars, which owns Snickers and M&Ms. is taking a stake in Kind, maker of snack bars. Ad Age's Jessica Wohl writes that it shows "just how desperate big food makers are to thrive in an industry where startups are winning."

Adios: Chipotle founder Steve Ells says he will step down as CEO, Bloomberg News reports.

Pricy: Amid Snapchat's big redesign, it's selling new Promoted Story ads for $250,000. Ad Age's Garett Sloane reports that "some advertisers say the price is steep for such an uncertain proposition."

Under pressure: Ford's Lincoln brand has tapped Laundry Service for work on a new campaign. And that's not great for WPP. "The Ford-WPP relationship, one of the longest-running client-agency hookups in the industry, is under new strain as the automaker re-evaluates its marketing model," write Ad Age's E.J. Schultz and Lindsay Stein.

It's the most wonderful time of the year: American Airlines accidentally gave too many pilots time off during the holiday rush, and it's working to fix the problem, Bloomberg News writes.

Razor burn: Procter & Gamble's Gillette is offering lower-priced blades, which The Wall Street Journal says is "a reversal of a decades-long strategy of churning out increasingly complex razors at higher prices."

Creativity pick: Spotify's amusing campaign singles out quirky playlists from real users. With the tagline "2018 Goals," billboards have messages like "Be as loving as the person who put 48 Ed Sheeran songs on their 'I love gingers' playlists." And "Be as savage as the person who made a 1-hour, 55-minute playlist called, 'Lasting longer than the Mooch.'" Check it out here and read more by Ad Age's Alexandra Jardine.

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