Select Page

Welcome to Ad Age’s Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. If you're reading this online or in a forwarded email, here's the link to sign up for our Wake-Up Call newsletters.

High stakes

New Yorkers will soon be able to spark a blunt to celebrate. The state became the 15th in the U.S. to legalize cannabis, and while many home growers were already flouting existing law, licensed businesses couldn’t. That’s going to change, quickly, as money pours into the industry from investors and distributors looking to get a taste.

More than that, “the regulations will go a long way to decriminalizing possession of marijuana which has disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic populations (previous convictions will be expunged), and New York will also give out loans, grants and launch incubator programs to encourage startups from minority communities,” writes Ad Age’s Ilyse Liffreing. Thus far, the beneficiaries of legalization have been predominantly white.

Many agency folks will now be able to leverage their talents to promote weed brands (assuming their shops let them), and agencies that have already worked on cannabis awareness or campaigns in other states should be able to pivot quickly. Expect a big jump in advertising as brands jostle for name recognition in a huge market whose loyalties are up for grabs.

Regulations still need to be written, but cannabis brands are used to navigating a patchwork of laws that vary from state to state. There is also solid infrastructure in place from the CBD boom that can be converted to THC distribution relatively easily.

Fight or flight

Civil rights leaders have called out brands for their silence on new voting restrictions being enacted by Republican state legislatures. Now business leaders have joined in, the New York Times reports. Black executives at companies including Merck, TIAA and Uber signed a letter calling out corporate America, stating that there is “no middle ground” when it comes to suppressing the vote.  

And on Wednesday, under pressure from activists, the CEO of Georgia-based Delta reversed course, calling that state’s new laws “unacceptable” in an internal memo. Ed Bastian also called conservative assertions of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election “a lie.”

This latest push for brands to take a stand comes as many Black activists expressed concern that companies seemed content to remain silent, despite widespread lip service to the cause of racial justice. Brands had stepped up in years past, in reaction to the spate of “bathroom bills” that targeted trans people and prompted companies to threaten to pull out of events in states like North Carolina. Companies wishing to avoid hypocrisy, activists say, should be just as willing to take a stand now.

Feeding frenzy

Top Chef is back, and brands are more fully entwined in the reality cooking competition than ever before, going beyond ads that can easily be skipped by impatient viewers. “Tillamook signed on as a season-long ‘Top Chef’ partner, as the show’s exclusive cheese and butter brand. The contestants visit its creamery during an episode,” writes Ad Age’s Jessica Wohl. “Chipotle and Dave’s Killer Bread are new to the show and will be featured in challenges, as will returning brands Talenti and Better Than Bouillon. S. Pellegrino is also back for the season.”

Reality TV presents an optimal format for brands to engage with viewers. Contestants are, in many ways, creating their own brands on the show, getting audiences to vote for them or support their efforts. Winners—or even runners-up—often become celebrities in their own right, sometimes circling back around to their roots, as Season 17 winner Melissa King is doing with custom content for Starbucks promoting the newest season of the show that made her famous.

Product integration also survives the transition to different platforms or networks, since it’s an inextricable part of the content. Which,  in 50 years, will make for interesting viewing on whatever passes for syndication then.

What do you think the industry could be doing better to support minority-owned businesses? It’s time to re-evaluate and see where companies can improve internally to invest in agencies, media companies and production houses owned by the underrepresented. RSVP for Monday's Ad Age Town Hall at adage.com/townhall.

Ohm y god

It amperes that nearly everyone was fooled, but there’s plenty of resistance. Volkswagen (née Voltswagen) is not, in fact, changing its name to the electric-centric moniker. But when reporters got wind of what turned out to be an April Fools’ joke, VW spokespeople assured them it was true. Not a great look for a company that’s been trying to win back trust after lying to the entire world about its vehicle emissions.

“The punchline, apparently, was supposed to be that while, yes, ‘Voltswagen’ is not real, the marketer’s electric vehicle ambitions are serious. The automaker’s lead U.S. ad agency, Johannes Leonardo, was involved in the effort, which got buy-in from high-level executives including Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America,” writes Ad Age’s E.J. Schultz (who, for the record, was never fooled). Perhaps all publicity is good publicity, but bad jokes (and puns) are forever.

Just briefly

Stand together or fall apart: Asian American business executives from DoorDash, YouTube and Zoom have donated $10 million to organizations fighting hate crimes and violence against the Asian community, according to Insider. Those crimes were up 149% in 2020, despite an overall drop in hate crimes.

Up in smoke: H&M will continue to speak out about human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang province, said CEO Helena Helmersson. Last week, twenty H&M stores in China were closed and the company’s presence has been scrubbed from the Chinese internet, after a statement the brand made last year went viral. The repercussions are stunning for those who don’t fully comprehend the control that the Chinese Communist Party has on technology services in the country. Online maps no longer pinpoint store locations, and ride-hailing services don’t recognize them. Chinese e-commerce sites also don’t turn up results.

Sincere flattery: Instagram is taking a page from TikTok’s book with the introduction of Remix, a feature that lets users record a Reels video in tandem with another user, TechCrunch reports. It’s basically the Duets feature from TikTok. Snapchat is also working on its own feature, also called Remix, that does the same thing. It's an homage, right?

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. 

From CMO Strategy to the Ad Age Datacenter Weekly, we’ve got newsletters galore. See them all here.

Subscribers make the difference. Individual, group and corporate subscriptions are available—including access to our Ad Age Datacenter. Find options at AdAge.com/membership.