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Programmatic fail

Good morning! It’s not a great day for programmatic advertising, to say the least. Even as companies are launching COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaigns or helping communities suffering from the pandemic, the places where their ads are appearing might tell a different story. A new report from NewsGuard, which uses journalists and artificial intelligence to identify sources of misinformation online, found more than 42,000 programmatic ads from 4,315 brands running on websites spouting misinformation about the vaccine and COVID over the past year.

Ads from brands like Pepsi, Sprint, Macy’s, Rite Aid and others appeared on websites like independentsentinel.com, which inaccurately advised that wearing masks would increase the risk of COVID; and NOQReport.com, which claimed the pandemic was arranged by billionaires like Bill Gates. What’s even more startling is that many of the brands whose ads appeared on these sites are directly helping the vaccination effort: Kroger and Walmart are administering COVID vaccines; Pfizer has its own vaccine on the market and is running PSAs; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has multiple campaigns.  

It’s an issue that has haunted advertisers since the rise of programmatic. Marketers don’t often have power over where their programmatic ads are appearing online, due to third-party vendors. NewsGuard found that 67% of the COVID misinformation sites had Google advertising tags and 30% had tags from The Trade Desk.

A (small) win for publishers … except for those Down Under

It’s been a long fight for publishers looking to get some credit for all the traffic they bring to Google’s search engine, especially as search and social platforms continue to benefit from digital advertising around that content, but it looks like the value of journalism has finally won a battle. Google has reached a three-year deal with News Corp., parent company to publications like the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch and the New York Post, where the search giant will pay for news, Bloomberg reported.

The deal comes as Google and News Corp. battle over a law in Australia that forces Google and Facebook to pay publishers. It’s too soon to tell whether this type of deal will benefit other publishers, but a start is a start.

“This has been a passionate cause for our company for well over a decade and I am gratified that the terms of trade are changing, not just for News Corp., but for every publisher,” News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said in the statement.

Facebook, meanwhile, is taking the opposite approach and has announced it will no longer allow publishers and users in Australia to share or view news. In a blog post, William Easton, managing director at Facebook Australia, addressed the difference in reaction, saying that Google and Facebook have “fundamentally different relationships with news.”

The pandemic claims an experiential casualty

When the pandemic hit, among the first things to go were live events, and companies are still dealing with the repercussions. It has taken less than a year for NA Collective—which had a robust business working with brands like Nike, Tinder and Facebook—to close down. In a world under lockdown, there’s no room for the types of stunts the agency created in the past, like a 30-foot Pride Slide for Tinder, or a Tommy Hilfiger striptease. The agency tried to develop new lines of business, but found nothing that was sustainable.

“We were having our hands-down best year in 2020. It was off the charts,” Chiara Adin Moore, co-founder and chief marketing officer of NA Collective, tells Ad Age’s Judann Pollack. “We went from firing on all cylinders to coming to a screeching halt.”

WarnerMedia doubles down on kid shows

Kids, and parents, rejoice—WarnerMedia is adding 300 hours of acquired and original series for kids under its Cartoon Network and HBO Max hubs, including three original “Ben10” specials and “Jade Armor.” To accompany the new content, WarnerMedia has fresh creative and a new slogan—“Redraw Your World.” There’s also a renewed emphasis on girls, a preschool-focused programming block called Cartoonito, and new content from the network’s first musician-in-residence.

Tricia Melton, chief marketing officer of Warner Bros. Kids, Young Adults and Classics, describes the vision behind the new slogan and content to Ad Age’s Ethan Jakob Craft: “The world can be a pretty challenging place at times, but rather than wallowing in the world we’re given, let’s draw the world we want.”

Just briefly

iHeartMedia acquires Triton Digital: Podcast publisher and media company iHeartMedia acquired Triton Digital for $230 million from The E.W. Scripps Company. This deal allows iHeartMedia to offer producers and advertisers an ad package for streaming and podcasting. It claims to be the “first and only company in the audio market” to provide four distribution methods for audio: On-demand, programmatic, broadcast and digital streaming radio, and podcasting.

‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’: To help promote its consumer-facing platform that supports Black female business owners, Mastercard has tapped Jennifer Hudson for a new campaign from McCann with will.i.am, writes Ad Age’s Alexandra Jardine. Mastercard’s “Strivers Initiative” includes grant programs and VC funds built by women of color.

Pizzken or chickza?: Pizza sales have ballooned during the pandemic, and when you mix pizza with chicken, another trendy item for foodies, you get a product mashup for the win. Pizza Hut has partnered with KFC to sell “Popcorn Chicken Pizza,” which will launch in the U.K. and roll out to 10 other markets.

Relax, will you?: Bayer’s Phillips' Laxatives and Probiotics is telling viewers “You Deserve a Good Poop” in a new campaign from Energy BBDO. “We are excited about how it subverts the taboo topics of poop and constipation, bringing viewers into situations that feel relatable and aspirational, to rid the shame associated with treating the issue,” Teresa Gonzalez-Ruiz, VP-marketing for Nutritionals and Digestive Health at Bayer, tells Ad Age’s Jack Neff.

That does it for today’s Wake-Up Call. Thanks for reading and we hope you are all staying safe and well. For more industry news and insight, follow us on Twitter: @adage.

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