What in the World—Week of September 25

Lego seeks to erase the play ‘deficit’ 

To combat what it calls a worldwide “deficit in play,” Lego Group has launched a global campaign called “Play is Your Superpower,” anchored by a five-minute film featuring former Glee star Jane Lynch.

According to Lego, play is a fundamental part of every child’s growth, helping them develop crucial “superpowers” that benefit them now and in the future. The campaign is based on a recent study which found that children are spending just 2% of their week (about seven hours) engaged in play, with nearly one-third (32%) spending less than three hours per week playing.

Created by Droga5 Dublin and Lego’s in-house agency, OLA, the spot features children disrupting a boring “Take your kids to work day” by playing with their Lego. It concludes with the group encountering a stern CEO played by Lynch, who shocks them by saying she loves what they’ve been doing.

“This current play deficit is a cause for concern for experts given the crucial role of play in shaping a child’s cognitive abilities, overall wellbeing and most importantly, in them having fun,” said Lego. According to the study, the majority of parents are choosing “achievement-based activities” for their children—sports clubs and tutoring—rather than free play, believing that is the key to future success.

Olive Garden owner shifts focus to brand

Olive Garden’s famous never-ending soup, salad, and bread sticks aren’t going anywhere, but owner Darden Restaurants is moving away from the shorter-term strategy of marketing promotions and investing more in brand equity to attract and retain customers.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company, which also owns chains including The Capital Grille and LongHorn Steakhouse, said that despite drawing only about 80% of its pre-pandemic traffic, Olive Garden has become a “healthier business” since it moved away from a marketing strategy that had been heavily reliant on promotional activity and couponing.

“Whatever we do is going to elevate brand equity,” said president and CEO Rick Cardenas during an earnings call last week. “If it means that our traffic is at the lower end of our guide, then it’s at the lower end of our guide. We’re not going to do things that are going to impact us in the long-term just for short-term.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Darden’s marketing expenses in the most recent quarter totalled $38.6 million, up from $30.3 million a year ago, although the number does reflect the company’s acquisition of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which closed in June.

Darden spent $20 million in national TV advertising between June 1 and Aug. 27 according to iSpot.TV, nearly all of it on commercials for The Olive Garden.

It joins a growing number of companies moving away from short-term sales tactics to focus more on brand, with the Journal citing Old Navy as one example.

Google gamed search to meet revenue targets, trial hears

Google has tweaked its advertising auctions to meet revenue targets, says one of its senior executives. Jerry Dischler, vice-president for Google’s advertising products, testified during an antitrust trial last week that the tech giant has sometimes increased ad prices by as much as 5%.

According to Bloomberg, Dischler testified that the company frequently makes changes to the auctions used to sell search ads without informing its advertising partners. The changes range from increasing the cost of ads or the minimum spending on an ad. “We tend not to tell advertisers about pricing changes,” he said.

The trial heard about a May 2019 email in which Dischler and his team discussed “shaking the cushions” to find changes that could be made to auctions to meet revenue targets for the quarter laid out by CFO Ruth Porat. Dischler warned that Google would be “punished pretty bad in the market” if the quotas were not met.

The US Justice Department alleges that Google has maintained an illegal monopoly over search by paying billions of dollars to browsers and smartphone makers including Apple and Samsung to ensure it is the option presented to people accessing the web, paying them a share of the revenue.

Lawsuits allege QSRs are misrepresenting their food in ads

It’s common knowledge that fast-food chains use an array of tricks to make their food look better in ads than it does in real life. Now consumers are fighting back with a flurry of lawsuits charging QSRs with misrepresenting how their food looks.

According to CNN, two lawyers named James Kelly and Anthony Russo have been leading the charge, with cases against Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s. The complaints feature images of products as depicted in their marketing—typically tall, heaped with meat and cheese, and topped off with golden buns—contrasted with pictures of their real-life versions.

“Food litigation is a fast-growing area of law,” said Tommy Tobin, a lawyer at Perkins Coie and lecturer at UCLA Law. Another lawyer leading the charge is Bonnie Patten, who is also executive director of the non-profit Truth in Advertising.

Major food and beverage chains have also been charged because of how they describe their food. Last year, for example, a class-action suit was brought against Starbucks for misleading ads promoting its Refreshers beverage. The ads named the drinks for ingredients they didn’t contain, like the Mango Dragonfruit and Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade Refreshers, which in fact contain no mango.

Prime Video to introduce advertising in 2024

Marketers have found a Prime landing spot for their TV commercials. Amazon announced last week that it plans to run “limited advertisements” on its Prime Video service beginning early next year.

The company said that the advertising will help it continue to invest in the “compelling content” customers have become accustomed to. Ads are coming first to the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Canada, with France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and Australia following later in the year.

Customers can also opt to pay an additional $2.99 per month for an ad-free option. Deadline noted that Thursday Night Football games have been running with commercial breaks since Amazon struck an 11-year, $13.2 billion deal with the NFL last year.

Amazon follows rival streaming services Netflix and Disney+ in introducing advertising, leaving Apple TV+ as the only major service currently offering an ad-free model. Amazon said that it plans to have “meaningfully fewer ads” than both linear TV and the other services.

Chris Powell