The Lowdown: Check out the Ads That Won the Holidays

Emotional Spots From Grandma's Cookies, Kmart and TJ Maxx Earn Top Scores

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The Lowdown is Ad Age's weekly look at news nuggets from across the world of marketing, including trends, campaign tidbits, executive comings and goings and more.

It's official: Grandma won the holidays -- at least when it comes to the best seasonal ads. A spot for Frito-Lay-owned cookie brand Grandma's Cookies earned the highest "likeability" score among 377 holiday-themed ads tested by Ace Metrix. The video, below, features Santa Claus granting wishes to visitors at the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

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Other top performers included Toys R Us, which earned the "most attention grabbing" spot for this ad:

The "most informative" ad went to Kmart for this spot that promotes a charitable program for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital:

And TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods (which are owned by TJX Companies) excelled in the "most relevant" category with this spot called "Bring Back the Holidays":

The bottom line is that emotional spots carried the day. Ad Age Editor Ken Wheaton recently gave his take on all the tearjerker Christmas ads, noting that while a "good cry clears out the pipes," this year "things are getting maybe just a wee bit ridiculous." Still, as Ad Age pointed out today, as Christmas draws closer, retailers have stopped pulling at heartstrings and are focused more on ads that scream deals.

Among booze brands, the surprise ad hit of the season goes to Diageo-owned single malt scotch whisky brand Lagavulin. The brand's 45-minute video starring Nick Offerman sitting by the fire and sipping Scotch has earned 2.4 million views and counting. Who says millennials have short attention spans?

And if 45 minutes is not enough for you, Lagavulin just came out with a new version that is a 10-hour loop of Mr. Offerman sipping and savoring scotch. The new version "saves your precious holiday time, as you no longer need to suffer through the arduous task of clicking replay every 45 minutes," says the brand.

You may have once thought giant multinational packaged-goods companies were all about selling you more soap and toothpaste. It turns out, they're also about selling you on using less water. Colgate, for example, will use its first-ever Super Bowl commercial to encourage people to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth.

Dove and Delta
Dove and Delta Credit: Delta-Unilever

Unilever's Dove, meanwhile, has joined with Delta Faucet Co. to launch a co-packaged Delta showerhead with H2Okinetic Technology that delivers larger droplets, making a 2-gallon-per-minute flow feel like a 2.5-gallon-per-minute flow. More efficient shower heads can save consumers up to 2,900 gallons of water a year, according to Delta and Unilever, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That's more than double the potential savings from eliminating the 4 gallons a day Colgate says people waste by leaving the tap running when they brush.

Revlon, meanwhile, is still focused on selling you more cosmetics, but in a slightly different way. The brand last weekend opened a Revlon Studio store at the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, N.J. It's a departure for a mass brand sold since 1932 largely without counter help (at least in the U.S., though Revlon has stores in such markets as the U.K., and India). A spokeswoman for Revlon couldn't reach executives for comment by deadline. But it looks like more than a holiday pop-up shop. Ads for cosmetics managers and beauty advisors earlier this month from Specialty Retail Group, which operates the store, suggested they were permanent positions and for multiple locations.

Now for a pop quiz: Which of these phrases sums up the year in marketing: Ad blocking, customer journey, disruption, experiential, fraud, the Internet of Things, mediapalooza, content marketing, sharing economy or viewability?

The answer is content marketing, according to an Association of National Advertisers survey of 297 of its members. That buzzword is followed closely by programmatic (last year's word of the year) and storytelling. Regarding content marketing, one ANA respondent said: "I hear it everywhere -- see companies shifting budgets -- it's the content that allows us to super-target consumers. Content marketing is one-to-one marketing on steroids."

The Lowdown's vote for marketing word of the year didn't make the ANA list -- but we are sticking with our pick -- "Joy."

The Atlanta Hawks' Justin Holiday gets slimed.
The Atlanta Hawks' Justin Holiday gets slimed. Credit: Courtesy NBA

Speaking of content marketing, Nickelodeon recently launched "The Splat," which it describes as "a new content destination spanning television, social media and a dedicated website celebrating the iconic Nick shows from the 1990s and beyond." The retro play includes a partnership with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, which is hosting a '90s night on Jan. 9. The event will include activities based on '90s Nick shows such as "Double Dare." Hawks' '90s-era stars Dominique Wilkins, Theo Ratliff and Duane Ferrell will also be on hand. Nickelodeon plans to bring similar events to other NBA games, including partnerships with the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. A video promoting the Atlanta event includes Hawks players being doused with Nick's signature green slime.

Onto women's sports, which more than held its own in 2015 -- at least according to billions of search results performed on Microsoft Bing. The tech titan recently outlined the biggest search trends of the year and highlighted the U.S. women's national soccer team win over Japan, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey's knockout win against Bethe Correia in Brazil and the quest by Serena Williams to win the Grand Slam title. The Paris attacks, European Union refugee crisis and NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft were also among the most searched items in 2015.

Looking forward to 2016, the next big female athlete might be gymnastics star Simone Biles. The 18-year-old already has an impressive resume, and has a lot of momentum heading into the Summer Olympics in Brazil. On the endorsement front, she just inked a deal with the premium milk brand Core Power, which is owned by Fairlife, whose distribution partner is Coca-Cola Co. Core Power will "showcase Ms. Biles's contagious smile, inspirational history and powerful Olympic drive throughout 2016 in the form of advertising, in-store displays, point-of-purchase materials and social media," according to the brand.

Ms. Biles made her goals clear in this recent tweet:

Stevia-based sweetener Truvia is out with a new campaign by Fallon that takes on sugar head-on. Spots carry the tagline, "A life with less sugar is just as sweet." Said global Truvia Brand Director Brian Nau: "We want to carve a new mental niche, where consumers can still feel like there's room to enjoy sweetness, unapologetically." Here is one of the ads:

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Finally, some executive moves:

Target is tapping a coupon guru as its new senior VP of loyalty and lifecycle marketing. The Minneapolis-based retailer has hired Keith Colbourn, formerly senior VP of retailer digital solutions at Quotient Technology, which was recently renamed from Coupons.com. Beginning Jan. 1, Mr. Colbourn -- who last year made Shopper Marketer Magazine's list of Who's Who in Digital Shopper Marketing and ECommerce -- will use data to implement marketing strategies designed to increase sales at the company's 1,805 stores and improve brand engagement with consumers. He'll also lead development of Cartwheel, Target's loyalty savings app.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers named its second chief marketing officer in nine months. Jonathan Muhtar joined the Colorado-based burger chain as senior VP-CMO in mid-December. The company said Lee Dolan, who had been named senior VP-CMO in mid-March, chose to leave the company in late October. Mr. Muhtar is now responsible for Red Robin's marketing and menu, including areas such as pricing, promotions, field marketing and media strategy. He reports to Denny Marie Post, who became exec VP-chief concept officer in March after serving as CMO. The company said the latest CMO switch did not signal any change in strategic direction or agency relationships. Red Robin said Mr. Muhtar was most recently exec VP-CMO at the Captain D's restaurant chain. Prior to that he worked for Burger King, as a consultant at Swander Pace & Company and owned the first Smoothie King franchise in South Florida.

Contributing: E.J. Schultz, Jack Neff, Jessica Wohl, Adrianne Pasquarelli, George Slefo

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