What in the World—Week of June 26

Hasbro brings back the Furby

The reboot phenomenon that has swept through the entertainment industry has come to the toy aisle. Amid a flat market for toys and games, Hasbro is resurrecting one of its iconic toys, the Furby, in an attempt to goose (or whatever exotic creature the Furby is meant to be) sales.

The company announced last week that it has resurrected the plush toy / kids companion for its 25th anniversary, complete with updated features intended to broaden its appeal among Gen Alpha. The new Furbies are available now on Amazon, with major retailers launching on July 15.

“For the brand’s 25th anniversary, we wanted to ignite the same excitement for this new generation by harnessing Furby’s power of nostalgia while giving Gen Alpha everything they crave,” said Kristin McKay, VP and general manager, Hasbro fashion and pre-school, in a release.

The updated version of the toy also comes with an off switch, which will no doubt placate parents old enough to remember being jolted awake by the original version of the toy chatting its nonsensical “Furbish” language at 3 a.m.. The toy was also famously banned from the U.S. National Security Agency over concerns that its ability to learn and repeat phrases might ultimately lead to it start “talking classified.”

Furby was introduced in 1998 and quickly became a sensation, selling more than 40 million units worldwide in its first three years. Its popularity endures more than two decades later, with The Wall Street Journal noting that the #Furby hashtag has more than 500 million views on TikTok.

Advertisers are (still) wasting billions on programmatic: ANA

It’s 11 o’clock: do you know where your ad dollars are? A sizeable portion of the US$88 billion advertisers spend on open web programmatic advertising continues to be wasted, with a recent report from the ANA saying that as much as $20 billion—or about 23% of advertisers’ total investment—could be repatriated through more purposeful investment.

The report is based on an analyses of programmatic ad campaigns by 21 ANA member companies, consisting of $123 million in ad spend and totalling 35.5 billion impressions, mostly classic banner and video ads.

The average campaign ran across 44,000 websites, with the ANA saying that the “long tail” of the web adds minimal reach and performs badly in areas such as fraud, viewability, and brand safety. “[N]ot all inventory is equal, and it is often difficult to distinguish between good and bad or low quality and high quality,” the ANA concluded.

According to the report, many programmatic ad dollars ultimately find their way to “made for advertising” websites comprised of sensational headlines, clickbait, and provocative content and designed for the sole purpose of attracting visitors. These sites accounted for an astonishing 21% of impressions and 15% of ad dollars spent.

The ANA recommended several steps to eliminate waste, including urging advertisers becoming more responsible and to provide “more active stewardship” of their media investment.

“Advertisers need to ‘lean in’ and be more active stewards of their media investments rather than delegating that entirely to their agencies,” said the ANA. “If delegated, they need to ensure the agencies are working in the marketer’s best interest.”

Please drive through to the next municipality

Drive-thrus are a quintessentially American phenomenon, with more than 200,000 in the U.S. alone, accounting for some six billion annual visits. The eat-in-your-car phenomenon is a natural fit with a country so enamoured with car culture.

And they also make business sense, accounting for 70% or more of sales for large chains like McDonald’s, while requiring considerably less staffing and maintenance than a traditional eat-in location.

But a growing number of municipalities are through with drive-thrus, saying they’re magnets for traffic and congestion, while at the same time discouraging walking, public transit use, and visits to other nearby businesses.

In addition, they lead to accidents with pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles—giving rise to a wave of personal injury lawyers advertising specifically to people hurt at a drive-thru—and stand in stark contrast to the environmental and livability objectives laid out by many communities.

According to CNN, a growing number of municipalities have placed a ban on new drive-thrus in recent years, while cities like Long Beach, CA have passed temporary moratoriums blocking new developments. Pittsburgh and Mesa, AZ are also said to be considering restrictions.

David Dixon, an urban places fellow at the design and planning firm Stantec, told CNN that drive-thrus belonged to a “much more auto-centric world,” and fail to support “any of the life and vitality and amenities that suggest people might want to come live, work or play in a neighbourhood.”

Gannett sues Google for uncompetitive practices

Gannett—the largest newspaper chain in the U.S., with more than 500 properties in 43 states—has launched a lawsuit against Google, accusing it of violating federal antitrust laws by monopolizing the digital advertising market.

The claim against Google and its parent company, Alphabet, noted that while online advertising has exploded into a US$200 billion business, ad revenue for traditional news publications has plummeted by 70% since 2009, resulting in huge losses across the industry. Gannett alone has been forced to shutter 170 publications since 2019.

“[Publishers] do not see the growing ad spending because Google and its parent Alphabet unlawfully have acquired and maintain monopolies for the advertising technology tools that publishers and advertisers use to buy and sell online ad space,” said Gannett.

The claim alleges that Google controls how publishers sell advertising slots, forcing them to sell growing shares of that ad space to the tech giant as depressed prices. “The result is dramatically less revenue for publishers and Google’s ad-tech rivals, while Google enjoys exorbitant monopoly profits,” it states.

It notes that Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange controls over 60% of the exchange market, compared to single-digit market shares for most of its rivals. Critically, it states, the buyers in the Google exchange are unique, with the company largely prohibiting them from participating in any other exchange.

“With control over the largest ad exchange and ad server—both of which Google acquired rather than developed—Google has carried out a sophisticated, anticompetitive, and deceptive scheme for well over a decade,” it states.

FTC sues Amazon over Prime memberships

They come for the free shipping…and stay because they can’t figure out how to cancel.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has sued Amazon, alleging that it knowingly duped millions of people into signing up for its flagship Prime program, and then “sabotaged” their efforts to cancel. We suppose that makes it the “Hotel California” of online subscriptions, with people theoretically able to check out anytime they like, but never truly able to leave.

According to CNBC, the lawsuit alleges that Amazon violated the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act through its use of so-called “dark patterns,” or deceptive design tactics intended to steer users to enroll in Prime without their consent.

“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” said CNBC, quoting a statement by FTC chair Lina Khan.

The lawsuit accuses Amazon of making it difficult for consumers to buy items on its site without Prime, while a button instructing them to complete their transaction did not clearly state they were agreeing to join Prime on a recurring subscription.

The cancellation process is infamously difficult, with CNBC saying that the process was known within Amazon as “Iliad,” a reference to Homer’s epic 15,000-line poem, which reportedly takes 15 hours to read out loud.

Prime has become one of the world’s most popular subscription services since its 2005 introduction, with more than 200 million members paying $139 a year for perks including free shipping and its Prime Video streaming service.

Chris Powell