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Totally fly

For a Bloomberg Opinion piece titled “The Odds of Catching COVID on a Flight Are Slim,” Faye Flam spoke with Arnold Barnett, an MIT professor of management science, about his research surrounding COVID-19 and flying—and it’s surprisingly reassuring. Flam notes that Barnett parsed a bunch of variables, including the odds that a fellow passenger is infectious, the manner in which the air in airplane cabins is renewed, etc., as part of his analysis. The bottom line:

What Barnett came up with was that we have about a 1/4300 chance of getting COVID-19 on a full 2-hour flight—that is, about 1 in 4300 passengers will pick up the virus, on average. The odds of getting the virus are about half that, 1/7700, if airlines leave the middle seat empty. He’s posted his results as a not-yet-peer-reviewed preprint.

The odds of dying of a case contracted in flight, he found, are even lower—between 1 in 400,000 and 1 in 600,000—depending on your age and other risk factors.

Keep reading here to find out if Barnett says he himself would fly right now.

On the other hand ...

While MIT professors may be comfortingly comfortable with making sense of data, it seems that the U.S. government decidedly is not.

In “‘It’s like we’re flying blind’: The US has a Covid-19 data problem,”  Vox’s Brian Resnick writes,

Six months into America’s battle with COVID-19, we still can’t really see the enemy. There isn’t good real-time data on where the virus is and who it is infecting. Our diagnostic testing is at an all-time high, but it’s still missing the vast majority of infections.

We don’t have systematic surveillance programs like we do for the flu to fill in the gaps, and we don’t have good metrics that tell us how well the virus is being contained. We’re particularly in the dark about what’s happening in many minority communities, which have lower testing rates than white communities.

Keep reading Resnick’s (disheartening) post here.


“The top 200 U.S. advertisers increased ad and marketing services spending a robust 4.6 percent in 2019 to a record $175 billion, the capstone to a decade of advertising growth,” Datacenter’s Bradley Johnson reports in a post that serves up some top-line stats from Ad Age’s 65th annual Leading National Advertisers report.

That, of course, was then and this is now—but the LNA sets the essential baseline for marketers and marketing activities pre-COVID-19. And it offers a big-picture view of the brands and marketer categories that entered the coronavirus recession with the most momentum.

It’s a must-read, basically. Ad Age Datacenter subscribers, of course, get access to the full LNA report.

JC Penney’s big TV push

We recently kicked off a regular look at marketers that have been cranking up their TV ad spend. The previous installment covered Old Navy; the subject of today’s close-up, with TV ad spend (national broadcast and cable) shared exclusively with Datacenter Weekly by, is JC Penney. To wit:

• After having a relatively minimal commercial presence on TV earlier this year—with the exception of brief spurts of spots in March and June—JC Penney has dramatically scaled up over the past couple of weeks. From July 22 through Aug. 4, JC Penney commercials racked up 1.16 billion TV ad impressions, or roughly 43 percent of the brand’s total year-to-date.

• Since July 22, JC Penney is No. 21 by TV brand impressions among all brands tracked by iSpot.

• Nearly 44 percent of the impressions were served up by three networks: ABC, CBS and Ion.

• The top shows for JC Penney by impressions include “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Good Morning America,” “20/20” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

• JC Penney’s “No Matter What the School Year Brings” spot was the 19th most-seen ad on TV from July 22 through Aug. 4, with 653.2 million impressions.

The all-important context: JC Penney has been having a really rough time—see “JC Penney files for bankruptcy after years of decline” (Bloomberg News via Ad Age)—but it’s clear that management and the overseers of its bankruptcy proceedings consider TV advertising during back-to-school season to be an essential expenditure.

The bottom line: Juicing sales with a flood of commercials could be, well, helpful at this exact moment, as potential buyers of the retailer are kicking its tires. See: “JC Penney Lenders Seek Higher Bids From Potential Buyers,” via Bloomberg.

Just briefly

“Here’s ‘the real surprise’ in the July jobs report as economists react to the data,” from MarketWatch.

“NSA Warns Cellphone Location Data Could Pose National-Security Threat,” per The Wall Street Journal.

“Capital One slapped with $80M fine for 2019 data hack,” via Fox Business.

“What Q2 fundraising data tells us about the rest of 2020,” from TechCrunch. 

“Fed’s Mester says labor market is even weaker than data suggests,” per MarketWatch.

The newsletter is brought to you by Ad Age Datacenter, the industry’s most authoritative source of competitive intel and home to the Ad Age Leading National Advertisers, the Ad Age Agency Report: World’s Biggest Agency Companies and other exclusive data-driven reports. Access or subscribe to Ad Age Datacenter at

Ad Age Datacenter is Kevin Brown, Bradley Johnson and Catherine Wolf.

This week’s newsletter was compiled and written by Simon Dumenco.