What in the World—Week of September 11

Wendy’s gets into the pumpkin spice game
Confirming widespread speculation, Wendy’s has announced that it is jumping on board the seemingly unstoppable pumpkin spice train with the launch of two new limited-time products: The Pumpkin Spice Frosty, and Pumpkin Spice Frosty Cream Cold Brew.

According to the company’s US CMO Lindsay Radkoski, the burger chain is “all about meeting out Frosty fans where they are by bringing familiar, and iconic, seasonal flavours to the menu.”

Started by Starbucks’ OG Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003, the pumpkin spice flavour trend has grown into a $800 million consumer behemoth over the past 20 years, growing to include everything from Oreos and jellybeans, to hot chocolate mixes and cream cheese.

Barbie a ‘milestone moment’ for Mattel, says CEO
Widely mocked when it was first announced, the Barbie movie has instead validated Mattel’s strategy to use the vast stockpile of intellectual property at its disposal to become a major player in the world of entertainment, says The New York Times.

The movie itself could potentially break the $2 billion mark, with Mattel reportedly earning 5% of box office receipts as well as a percentage of profits and additional payments as owner of Barbie’s intellectual property rights. Mattel stock has jumped 33% since the first Barbie trailer went viral in December, and CEO Ynon Kreiz described the movie a “milestone moment” for the company during a recent earnings call.

Mattel currently has 13 films in development, including Masters of the Universe and a Hot Wheels project produced by J.J. Abrams. Barbie has given Mattel momentum, said Kreiz, marking the beginning of a “multiyear franchise management strategy.”

Smucker acquires Hostess
In a deal that brings together two leading snack companies, J.M. Smucker is acquiring Hostess for $4.6 billion.

According to The Wall Street Journal, J.M. Smucker beat out General Mills to acquire Hostess, whose brands include Twinkies, Ho-Hos, and Voortman Bakery.

The deal completes a remarkable turnaround for Hostess. Established in 1930, it has endured two Chapter 11 bankruptcies, and was bought out of liquidation by two investment firms a decade ago—a deal that helped Twinkies return to shelves after an eight-month absence.

A price increase across some of products saw sales jump to $1.3 billion last year, while its stock has more than doubled in the past five years—outpacing the S&P 500 and big food companies. Smucker’s brands include Jif peanut butter, Folger’s coffee, and Milk-Bone dog treats.

Google introduces AI ad rules
While no progress has been made on a pair of U.S. bills that would force politicians and parties to disclose the use of AI-generated imagery in ads, Google is making such disclosure mandatory for all ads running on its platform.

According to Quartz, the tech giant recently mandated that all political ads on its platform that use AI-generated images, video, or audio must contain a disclosure. The new rule is set to start in mid-November, and will affect elections in the U.S., the European Union, India, and South Africa.

In April, the Republican National Committee debuted an ad called “Beat Biden” that used AI to show the potentially disastrous effect of a second presidential term for Joe Biden, depicting scenarios such as China invading Taiwan, U.S. financial systems crumbling, and illegal immigrants flooding into the country. While that ad contained a tag noting that it had been made with AI, a subsequent ad from U.S. presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis targeting Donald Trump did not.

Actor strike hits box office
It’s peak entertainment season, but the ongoing strike between actors and writers has seriously impacted the ability of streamers and studios to promote their new offerings.

The late-night talk shows that are such a key promotional tool have all been shut down by the writers’ strike, and actors are also prohibited from doing any marketing or promotional appearances. “Strikes do present some marketing challenges,” said Paramount CEO Bob Bakish, as quoted by Marketing Brew.

According to one recent estimate, the lack of celebrity promotion could cost up to 10-15% of total box office revenues for new film releases. In the absence of tried-and-true options, marketing departments are using influencers, experiential and word-of-mouth to get the message out, although experts say there are risks that they could bring attention to workers’ demands rather than the shows themselves.

Chris Powell