Cannes Lions owner reports huge loss, KFC trolls chicken sandwich rivals with billboards: Wednesday Wake-Up Call

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. Losing its roar

Ascential, the owner of Cannes Lions, has recorded a huge loss for 2020 after being forced to cancel the event last summer due to the pandemic. As the U.K.’s Times reports, Ascential’s revenue fell 31% to £264 million ($367 million) last year, causing its operating profit to plunge from £2 million in 2019 to a loss of £167 million ($232 million) for 2020. Turnover at its marketing division fell 60% after the cancellation of Cannes Lions. 

In better news, the company reported that trading had been “strong” in the first two months of this year. But the losses mean Ascential will be counting more than ever on Cannes Lions going ahead in some form this summer, as well as its Money 20/20 congress in September.

It still hopes that some will attend Cannes Lions in person, but in a statement, CEO Duncan Painter warned that the rate of vaccination will be critical, saying: “While our two marquee events are ready for a recovery as conditions allow, the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions continue to influence the timing of a return to maximum participation at venues. The pace and effective delivery of vaccines will also be a critical factor.”Ruling the roost

The rivalry in the chicken sandwich category takes another twist this week as KFC sets out to remind its competitors just who rules the roost when it comes to chicken.

Ad Age’s Jessica Wohl reports that the company has unveiled massive images of its chicken sandwich right near a McDonald’s in New York, a Wendy’s in Los Angeles, and a Burger King in Miami, and the premise of the campaign is seemingly simple: when going out for a chicken sandwich, why would someone choose a burger chain?

KFC reminds consumers that “We make the chicken sandwiches around here,” on the billboards, which feature an oversized KFC chicken sandwich sitting on top of a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. The chain has also been using TikTok videos starring Lili Hayes, a grandma with a large following on TikTok. She promotes the sandwich in the guise of “Colonel Lili Sandwich.” 

For more on the latest in marketing in the category, check out the “Ad Age Next: Food and Beverage” virtual event on March 23. Tickets are available here.Tales from virtual SXSW

SXSW kicked off yesterday in virtual form, and Ad Age’s Garett Sloane was “there” to report on some of the first day’s highlights.

They included show sponsor TikTok bringing brands together to discuss the ways that the app is affecting culture. For example, Deborah von Kutzleben, Arby’s head of brand strategy, advertising and menu, discussed the brand rearranging its entire menu just for a meme (she says it was worth it). Marketers from the NFL and Ocean Spray also took part in the conversation, and TikTok also brought together McDonald’s, HBO Max and Gatorade to discuss creating ads for the platform. SXSW continues through Saturday; stay tuned for more news from the show.Calling young creatives 

Ad Age’s annual Young Creatives Cover Competition is open for submissions, and this year’s theme looks to the future. For 2021, Ad Age is asking entrants aged under 30 to imagine what Ad Age’s cover will look like 10 years from now.  What will be captivating advertisers and marketers’ attention in a decade, what will the agency of the future look like, what will be the biggest trend in marketing and what will be advertising’s most difficult challenge in 2031?

Entry is free and winners will see their design appear on Ad Age’s June 14 cover, in the print edition that publishes the week of Cannes Lions. They will also win a virtual pass to this year’s  festival. More details here.Just briefly

Art class: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are big news at the moment after one digital artwork sold for $69 million. If you’re struggling to get your head round them, Ad Age’s Garett Sloane has a useful explainer, and also looks at which brands are getting in on the digital collectibles act (Taco Bell, for instance, has created five).

Watch live: Donna Speciale, president of ad sales and marketing at Univision, joins Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi on today’s live edition of Remotely. Tune in at 11.30AM EST to hear her outlook on the spring ad haggle and how she plans to shake up Univision’s sales efforts.

Get squishy: The New York Times reports that “Squishmallows” are the latest pandemic craze. Thanks to TikTok (or “SquishTok,” as fans call it), sales of the the squishy plush toys have tripled in the past six months, with collectors saying the stuffed animals have given them “comfort in a painful year.”

Office humor: Jell-O is the latest brand to jump in on nostalgia for NBC’s “The Office,” helping pranksters out with an at-home kit to recreate a famous joke from the show: Jim putting Dwight’s stapler in Jell-O. The Kraft Heinz brand is offering up to 100 sets that include a stapler-shaped mold, one box of black cherry-flavored Jell-O gelatin for the stapler, and four boxes of lemon Jell-O to go around it. Take a look over at Creativity.

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. 

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