Google’s ‘Project Bernanke’ accused of unfair advantage in digital ad buying: Monday 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. Google’s ‘Project Bernanke’ unveiled

New light is being shed on Google’s dominance in the digital ad market, and it doesn’t look pretty. The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to documents filed in a Texas antitrust lawsuit, for years Google used a secret program called “Project Bernanke” to give its own ad buying system an unfair advantage and boost its clients’ chances of winning bids. The program wasn’t disclosed to publishers who sold ads through Google’s ad buying system, and the Texas lawsuit alleges that this amounts to insider trading in digital ad markets.  

The information emerged in court documents that were temporarily unredacted when uploaded to the court’s public docket; Google later refiled them under seal. The company acknowledged the existence of Project Bernanke in its response but said its actions had not been inappropriate and were “comparable to data maintained by other buying tools.”

However, the revelations are already provoking fury in the digital media community and beyond. Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, tweeted: “Project Bernanke,” “Jedi Blue,” et al, these are all cute project code names but behind these hundreds of millions is enough $$$ to fund all of the journalists that lost their jobs in 2020. So everyone should be infuriated.”

 On the rebound

Many advertisers have benefited during the pandemic as CPMs (the cost an advertiser pays per 1,000 impressions on a web page) dipped across social platforms. Brands had pulled back amid consumer confusion, but now, as we tentatively stumble back toward normality, it seems that break could be over.

Ad Age’s Ilyse Liffreing reports that “social media prices are rebounding to more normal levels.” StitcherAds—which works with advertisers on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat—saw a 47% spike in social CPMs beginning in March.

Agency social strategists point to the recent round of stimulus checks as one reason for the sudden increase in March. With more money in American pockets, there’s more reason for brands to show them ads and expect them to work.Map my weed

With 4/20 approaching—not to mention New York’s recent legalization of cannabis—we can look forward to many new weed-themed campaigns. And now there’s a way to examine your own consumption via big data. Ad Age’s Ethan Jakob Craft reports that a new experiential product from cannabis tech company Weedmaps will reveal users’ “very own pot profile, detailing everything from their most-used marijuana strains to their state’s legalization status.”

Logged-in users will be able to view a range of reefer statistics including their go-to strains and products, their percentile ranking as an active Weedmaps user and their most active time on the site. “Think Spotify Wrapped, but for cannabis consumption,” writes Craft. Settling with the devil

The Devil may wear Prada, but he doesn’t wear Nike, at least not anymore. Late last week, Nike and MSCHF Product Studio agreed to settle their lawsuit over “Satan Shoes”—MSCHF’s customized Air Max 97 sneakers with a satanic theme, complete with human blood, made in collaboration with Lil Nas X.

As part of the agreement, MSCHF will start a voluntary recall of the Satan Shoes and its previously released “Jesus Shoes,” which were also based on Nike sneakers. MSCHF will buy back the products at their original retail prices to remove them from circulation.Just briefly

Record fine: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has received a record $2.8 billion fine from China’s antitrust regulator for abusing its dominant position and has said it will invest in new measures to support merchants, reports the New York Times.

Oscar momentum: Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s film starring Frances McDormand as a rootless van dweller, has “confirmed its position as Oscars frontrunner with four wins at the 74th Bafta awards,” reports the Guardian. 

Last chance for young creatives: There’s still a few days remaining to submit an idea that could land on the cover of Ad Age’s Cannes Lions issue. Thursday April 15 is the deadline for Ad Age’s annual cover competition celebrating young creatives. Enter here. 

The Week Ahead: It’s the beginning of Ramadan, the Association of National Advertisers is holding a data and analytics conference and companies including Delta and Bed Bath & Beyond are set to report results. Check out our calendar roundup here. 

Your cousin’s been vaccinated: Sam Adams’ lovable Bostonian, “Your Cousin from Boston,” is doing his bit to encourage COVID-19 vaccination in a new PSA. As Ad Age’s Ann-Christine Diaz writes, “We see him standing in line waiting for his shot, as crass as ever. “I hope this doesn’t take too long—I’m double parked,” he says. The campaign also comes with free beer; beginning today, Sam Adams will cover the cost of a brew for the first 10,000 people to share they have been vaccinated on Twitter or Instagram. Take a look over at Creativity, and don’t forget to catch up with the team’s live review of the Top 5 creative ideas of the week. 

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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