What in the World—Week of November 13

Aggressive ad campaign hijacks ‘Bird of the Century’ vote

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver has ruffled more than a few feathers with what he has described as an “alarmingly aggressive” advertising campaign as part of the “Bird of the Century” contest being held by New Zealand conservation group Forest & Bird.

The comedian has thrown his support behind the pūteketeke, and is urging people to vote for the bird with an extensive HBO-backed advertising campaign that features billboards in multiple countries, including India, Japan, France, Brazil, and the U.S.

One of the event organizers told Australian media last week that there have been about 15,000 votes more than usual.

According to CNN, one ad installed on a New Zealand bus stop described the pūteketeke as the “Lord of the Wings,” while an animated video featuring the bird ran above one of the busiest intersections in Tokyo. There was also a banner behind a plane flying over Brazil’s Ipanema Beach, while one ad on Paris’s Champs-Élysées depicted the bird wearing a beret and sitting at a table of French cheese.

And in London, a van drove around with a picture of the bird on a throne, accompanied by the message “Help us crown a real king.”

Oreos finds itself in a ‘shrinkflation’ scandal

In what The Wall Street Journal is calling “the biggest shrinkflation scandal yet,” consumers are griping that the world’s most famous cookie now has far less cream filling than before.

While Oreos’ maker Mondelez insists it has not tinkered with the formula, consumers are not convinced that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. “Some gripe that the filling no longer reaches the wafers’ edges,” said WSJ this week. “Others say the cookies now bear little resemblance to the creme-stuffed images on Oreo’s packaging.”

Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put told the WSJ that the company closely monitors the $4 billion brand, which sells about 40 billion cookies in more than 100 countries every year. “We would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we would start to play around with the quality,” he said.

But the mysterious shrinking Oreo is a big topic of discussion on the Reddit forum r/shrinkflation, a 100,000-person strong community dedicated to the downsizing of everything from Ricola cough drops to McDonald’s sundaes and Gain fabric softener.

“Nowadays it’s barely even a sneeze of filling on the cookies,” wrote one irate consumer.

It’s not the first time Mondelez has faced criticism for allegedly tinkering with its products. In 2016, it sparked anger when it widened the gaps between the chocolate “peaks” in Toblerone bars, blaming the rising cost of ingredients. It stopped the practice two years later.

Meta rules AI in political ads must be disclosed

Meta has introduced a new global policy requiring political advertisers to reveal if any element of an ad has been digitally manipulated. The new policy takes effect at the beginning of 2024.

In a blog post, the social media giant announced that advertisers will be required to reveal whenever a social issue, electoral or political ad features a photorealistic image or video, or realistic sounding audio that has been digitally altered to:

  • Depict a real person as saying or doing something they did not say or do;
  • Depict a realistic-looking person that does not exist or a realistic-looking event that did not happen, or alter footage of a real event that happened; or
  • Depict a realistic event that allegedly occurred, but that is not a true image, video, or audio recording of the event.

The company said that advertisers do not need to disclose any “inconsequential or immaterial” changes, such as size adjustments, cropping, colour creation or image sharpening.

Meta will add information that will also appear in its Ad Library whenever an advertiser discloses that an ad has been manipulated. “If we determine that an advertiser doesn’t disclose as required, we will reject the ad,” it said. “[R]epeated failure to disclose may result in penalties against the advertiser.”

SiriusXM unveils ‘Next Generation’ strategy

With its subscriber base slowly declining—users fell by 0.6% to 33.96 million in its most recent quarter—satellite radio service SiriusXM has unveiled a new “Next Generation” strategy that includes a brand refresh, more personalization, and a new slate of shows.

The company has introduced a new streaming all-access plan costing $9.99 a month (down from $10.99 a month) and is following the lead of services like Spotify by offering listeners increased personalization.

According to a release, the brand’s new logo, master colour palette, and mascot—which it describes as “a next generation puppy affectionately named ‘Stella'”—are all designed to bring the company’s brand proposition of bringing customers closer to what they love.

The company, which has been home to Howard Stern since 2006, also introduced a new slate of shows featuring personalities including Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson, and Shaggy, as well as “takeovers” by 160 guest DJs.

The revitalization also includes plans for new and revitalized distribution agreements with automotive companies, brands and “key industry players,” with an eye towards getting its product into the hands of potential new subscribers.

The Marvels’ opening was anything but marvellous

A collective shrug by moviegoers in response to the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe suggests that the franchise’s decade-and-a-half reign as box office champ might be coming to an end.

Costing a reported $220 million to make, The Marvels earned just $47 million in North America (and $63 million internationally), making it the lowest opening weekend in franchise history. The film is the 33rd entry in the MCU franchise, which has earned a staggering $32 billion since Iron Man‘s debut in 2008.

While other films in the series have struggled, the tepid response to The Marvels is worrying because it represents a “rare misfire right out of the gate,” said Variety.

“A disastrous liftoff is problematic because Marvel movies have become increasingly front-loaded, meaning these tentpoles tend to earn the bulk of their money in the first weekend of release,” it said. “Fans want to be among the first to see them to avoid plot twists, cameos and other spoilers.”

Variety said the film may have foundered because the recently ended SAG strike prevented stars like Brie Larson from promoting the movie, but said that the bulk of the blame may lie with franchise owner Disney’s emphasis on quantity over quality.

“[D]isney has inundated viewers with countless spinoffs, sequels and TV series on both the big and small screen,” it said, noting that it has launched nine TV shows in addition to three to four movies each year since launching its Disney+ steaming service in 2019.

“Forget the casual viewer, it’s a relentless pace for devoted comic book buffs. And even they have complained about shoddy visual effects, tangled storylines and too many characters to count.”

Chris Powell