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.
Smirnoff -- the largest U.S. vodka brand by far -- is coming back with its vodka-for-the-masses pitch. The anti-pretentious "Exclusively for Everybody" campaign by 72&Sunny, New York, which debuted last year, is being refreshed this year with ads starring actors and comedians T.J. Miller and Thomas Middleditch of HBO's "Silicon Valley." In the ads, the duo takes a road trip to New York Comic Con, making humorous vodka-related observations along the way. In one spot Mr. Miller gives his take on the Moscow Mule, suggesting it was created by an "Amish coppersmith from Moscow, and his only friend was a mule and he named it after his mule when he died." He is corrected by a man who tells him simply that the cocktail was "invented with Smirnoff in Los Angeles." Indeed, according to the official origin story from Smirnoff, the drink was created in 1941 when John Martin of Smirnoff teamed up with an L.A. restaurateur. Mr. Martin "was looking to stir excitement for the clear spirit at a time when whiskies and bourbons were king," says Smirnoff -- which sounds a lot like the situation today.
Turning to the world of non-alcoholic drinks, stadiums are looking beyond the usual beverages for partnerships. In the last week, we've heard about three deals that go beyond the sports drinks, soft drinks and beer often tied to teams and players.
In a separate deal, the Seahawks announced Humm Kombucha as the official kombucha of the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks will promote sample tastings around CenturyLink Field. Humm's pomegranate lemonade and coconut lime are on tap at the stadium and all nine of its flavors are in the Seahawks' Grab and Go Market. "We are proud to feature Northwest brands at CenturyLink Field," Amy Sprangers, Seahawks VP-Corporate Partnerships, said in a statement. "Humm is a great local company and their kombucha will provide an additional beverage option for our fans."
Heading south, here's another unique drink deal: Bulletproof Coffee -- the coffee that includes butter and coconut oil -- is now the official coffee sponsor of the LA Galaxy Major League Soccer team, the LA Galaxy II United Soccer League team and the StubHub center. The companies said LA Galaxy midfielder Baggio Husidic will be a Bulletproof Coffee brand ambassador. Bulletproof Coffee will be sold at concession stands and at a Bulletproof cafe at the StubHub center. The drink also gets in-stadium advertising rights and a promotional space at SoccerFest, the LA Galaxy's pregame festival area.
Pizza Hut is looking to notch a win with its loyalty program. So the chain is trying a unique approach on Wednesday to get more members: a three-hour online comedy block including 180 giveaways. Pizza Hut began email marketing in 2003 and renamed the program Hut Lovers in 2012. It currently has several million members of Hut Lovers and hopes to court more fans with three hours of live streaming content hosted by Texas-based comedy group Four Day Weekend. The online broadcast, live from Pizza Hut's headquarters, is set to begin at 1 p.m. EDT at pizzahutlive.com. People who watch and enter codes during the broadcast could win one of 60 Xbox One consoles with a copy of HALO 5: Guardians (set to hit stores Oct. 27), 100 selfie sticks, or 30 helpings of free pizza for a year. There are enough prizes to cover one per each minute of the three-hour broadcast. Said Mehreen Shams, Pizza Hut's senior manager, CRM: "We wanted it long enough where we were covering a good portion of the afternoon when we typically see conversations about food through the social space." The agency assisting is TracyLocke.
In other Oct. 21 Pizza Hut marketing news, the chain created special packages with replica hydrators and foil bags to commemorate the half pepperoni/half green pepper dehydrated pizza shown in "Back to the Future Part II." Ad Age got its package just in time for 10/21/15, the day Marty McFly travels to in the 1989 movie. The cardboard version of the hydrator also included a throwback-style t-shirt and a bottle of Pepsi Perfect.
Meanwhile, another restaurant is working on coming back from an online gaffe. On Oct. 18, IHOP sent a tweet that was meant to be humorous but quickly turned into a PR problem. The tweet, which showed a stack of pancakes with the line "flat but has a GREAT personality" was taken down and IHOP apologized with a tweet that reads: "Earlier today we tweeted something dumb and immature that does not reflect what IHOP stands for. We're sorry." For more on the Twitter backlash, check out First We Feast.
Back to more old-school marketing techniques, like direct mail: At the Association of National Advertisers "Masters of Marketing" meeting last year, Alma Salazar, associate marketing director of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Align Technology, found a "golden ticket" under her chair entitling her to $1 million in direct mail and creative services from the U.S. Postal Service and its agency, MRM/McCann. USPS delivered. The only string attached was that the work become fodder for a case study this year. Though he made no mention of last year's giveaway, Chris Karpenko, USPS director of brand marketing, did talk at this year's sponsored ANA breakfast in Orlando about a campaign for Align's Invisalign clear plastic braces, which included encouraging consumers to download an augmented-reality app to help them compare what they'd look like with metal braces vs. Invisalign.
Ms. Salazar wasn't part of the presentation, but in an interview later said she was pleased with the results. Invisalign has done direct mail in the past aimed at its direct customers -- orthodontists. A million dollars of mail would have been overkill for that group, amounting to more than $160 for each of the 6,000-plus in the U.S. So Invisalign tried its first-ever direct-to-consumer mailing, targeting people within a 15-mile radius of top-performing orthodontists, Ms. Salazar said, and is pleased enough that it's considering paying for another consumer mail effort next year. "One lesson for me is that you need to keep experimenting, not just with new media, but with traditional media," Ms. Salazar said.
Finally, former Nationwide chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius is joining Hertz Global Holdings as executive VP and CMO overseeing brands including Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty and Firefly. Jeff Foland, senior executive VP and chief revenue officer for Hertz, called Mr. Jauchius "an ideal fit to lead our continued brand architecture work and reinvigorate activity around our loyalty programs and customer experience offerings." Mr. Jauchius left Nationwide last spring, months after Nationwide faced backlash for airing the so-called "dead boy" ad during the Super Bowl.
Contributing: E.J. Schultz, Jessica Wohl, Jack Neff