Thursday Wake-Up Call: Random Laughter From Amazon Alexa, and Boozy Coca-Cola

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Credit: Amazon via YouTube

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital 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, happy International Women's Day.

What people are talking about today: Mysterious billboards popped up slamming Arie Luyendyk Jr. of "The Bachelor" for proposing to contestant Becca Kufrin, then dumping her while the cameras rolled. Reports in publications including People said anonymous fans had paid for the billboards criticizing him. One read "Arie … not okay, just leave. – Everyone." Later the 17 Outfront Media billboards were reportedly changed to read "Strong, beautiful woman seeking man with a backbone. #TeamBecca." There was even one in Times Square. Is this really the work of random anonymous fans? It seems fishy, especially since Kufrin has agreed to be the Bachelorette next season. Kate Aurthur of BuzzFeed News tweeted that the billboard company told her the buyer was not ABC, "but couldn't say when pressed whether that it's NOT Mike Fleiss, other producers, WB, former contestants." Hmm.

Cackles raise hackles
Some users of Amazon Echo devices say their Alexa voice assistant is laughing for no apparent reason. They described the sound as "creepy," "chilling" and "witch-like," according to news reports and a Twitter moment. Amazon says it's tackling the issue. According to The Verge:

"Amazon said its planned fix will involve disabling the phrase, 'Alexa, laugh," and changing the command to "Alexa, can you laugh?' The company says the latter phrase is 'less likely to have false positives,' or in other words the Alexa software is likely to mistake common words and phrases that sound similar to the one that makes Alexa start laughing."

That doesn't explain, though, why some people said Alexa started laughing when they hadn't even been talking. It's still kind of creepy.

Another round of Snapchat layoffs
Snap Inc. is planning more layoffs, the Cheddar streaming news service reports. The report, quoting an unnamed source, says the cuts "will affect less than 10% of Snap's engineering department and number around 100 people." The company didn't comment. If confirmed it would be the third, and biggest, round of layoffs at the Snapchat parent, which had over 3,000 employees as of the end of 2017. Incidentally, Cheddar has broken news about Snapchat before; it recently reported that secrecy-obsessed Snapchat was threatening lawsuits or jail time for employees who leak information to the media. Maybe Cheddar has a tale to tell about the leaks it's getting, something that involves secret meetings with a source in a parking garage, à la Woodward and Bernstein.

Spiked Coke
In Japan, Coca-Cola is experimenting with a product that's infused with booze. As Bloomberg News reports:

"The company is launching a canned version of Chu-Hi, an alcoholic drink made with shochu, a distilled beverage typically made from rice, barley, sweet potatoes and other ingredients. The move is a first for Coke, which has stuck to cola and other non-alcoholic drinks except for its brief ownership of a wine subsidiary that ended in 1983."

Sorry folks, but it's only available in Japan for now. Because all the really fun product innovations happen in Japan.

Just briefly:
Diet Madison Avenue:
The New York Times takes a look at the ad industry whistleblowing group that's using Instagram to call out execs for harassment and misconduct. The writer notes that "none of the ad agencies contacted for this article would comment on @DietMadisonAve."

'Thank God for Facebook': As BuzzFeed reports, a far-right Italian politician shook up the country's election "with the now notorious populist strategy of attacking the traditional media and adopting a hyper-personal and hyper-partisan Facebook strategy." Afterward, he proclaimed: "Thank God for the internet, thank God for social media, thank God for Facebook."

Happy International Women's Day: Mattel's Barbie has some new dolls out for the occasion, based on role models including Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim and "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins. Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli reports on what marketers are doing to mark the annual event.

Amazon vs. Walmart: Amazon is offering discounts on its prime service to Medicaid recipients. The New York Times says "the push is a further effort by Amazon to go after shoppers who favor Walmart, which has long been a go-to destination for people on tight budgets."

Vatican hackathon: The Vatican is hosting a hackathon to find tech solutions for "social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and assistance for migrants and refugees," Wired reports. It's called VHacks.

Win: WPP's Wavemaker is Danone's new media agency in North America. Read more by Ad Age's Lindsay Stein and Jessica Wohl write.

People news: McGarryBowen has named Pat Lafferty its U.S. president. Lafferty has been president at Translation since the fall of 2016, as Lindsay Stein reports.

Going Solo: Ahead of the release of its Han Solo movie, "Lucasfilm has named six brands for worldwide promotional campaigns, and yes, one of them is Solo Cup." Read more in the Ad Age Marketer's Brief.

Creativity pick of the day: Winter's almost over (supposedly.) But Sweden has it hard, since there's so little sunlight during the winter months. Ad Age's Alexandra Jardine writes that pharmacy chain Apotek Hjartat turned its store windows into light therapy. The displays used "specially adapted fluorescent lamps to emulate a natural daylight." Click on the link below to check out how it works.

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