Lowdown: Svedka Passes Absolut, Selfies Could Be Boosting Makeup Biz

The Two Swedish Brands Duel for Imported Vodka Supremacy

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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.

Svedka has dethroned Absolut as the imported vodka king in the U.S.

SVEDKA Cucumber Lime
SVEDKA Cucumber Lime Credit: SVEDKA Vodka/PR Newswire

Liquor trade publication Shanken News Daily this week reported the change at the top between the two Swedish brands. Svedka, which is marketed by Constellation Brands, grew sales by 2.9% in 2015 to 4.2 million cases, Shanken reported. Pernod Ricard's Absolut, fell 2.1% to 4.1 million cases and is down by some half million cases in the past five years, according to the report. The two brands are followed in the rankings by two French-made brands, Grey Goose and Pinnacle, and Ketel One of the Netherlands, according to Shanken. Diana Pawlik, Constellation's VP for spirits and global imports, told Shanken that new Svedka varieties such as Svedka 100-proof and Grapefruit JalapeƱo have helped fuel growth.

In a recent earnings call, Pernod Ricard CEO Aleandre Ricard noted that while regular Absolut is stable, "the negative performance is driven by the flavors." He also said that the brand would get a "big media burst" on its "Absolut Nights" campaign this spring.

Procter & Gamble Co. didn't have a Super Bowl ad this year -- or did it? Advertising Age is among the many publications that only recognizes ads running nationally during the game as Super Bowl ads. Speaking at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton, Fla., last week, P&G CEO David Taylor noted that Pantene's "Dad-Do" 30-second ad, which ran in only seven local markets during the game, was recognized by many leading consumer publications, blogs and shows as a top Super Bowl ad. Those would include Refinery29 and PopSugar. The "aw shucks" factor of NFL dads doing their daughters' hair helped the ad to an additional 1.8 billion earned consumer impressions, according to Mr. Taylor's tally.

Colgate did have a national Super Bowl ad, which was generally well received, but caught some competitive flak. "The silence about the product benefit is deafening," said the CEO of small rival Livionex about the ad, which urged people to save water. Speaking at CAGNY, Colgate-Palmolive Chairman-CEO Ian Cook said, "That ad we tested, and it is as persuasive for people to purchase Colgate toothpaste watching that ad as it is watching an ad that convinces you about the benefits of the product. So we are in a world where we are sharing purpose and we are sharing emotions with people around the brand, not just the brand benefits." The ad got 2.3 billion impressions during a roughly six-week PR push surrounding the game, he said, and Colgate's market share is up year-to-date.

Market research has struggled at times for respect from the broader marketing world. And it sure doesn't often get extended callouts from CEOs at investor conferences. So Newell Rubbermaid CEO Mike Polk's detailed discussion about the growth and impact of his insights group at CAGNY was a departure from the norm. He pointed to $60 million of increased investments the past three years, increasing the ratio of insights professionals to other marketers from 1:20 to 1:8 at the company, and testing over 1,200 innovation concepts and identifying $3 billion worth of unmet consumer needs in that time. He credited that for a significantly stronger "innovation funnel" with more big-sellers over $10 million in sales and fewer small ones under $1 million. Speaking afterward, he noted the research background of his Chief Development Officer (and former CMO) Richard Davies, and said he believes in giving market researchers their own reporting line rather than having them report to marketers whose work they evaluate.

Here's some consumer insight from the chairman-CEO of the biggest beauty company in the world, L'Oreal's Jean-Paul Agon. Makeup has been growing much faster than the rest of the business of late, he said. You know why? Selfies. "No one will put on Facebook or whatever an ugly picture, and the best way to put a beautiful picture of yourself is to use our products and especially makeup by the way," Mr. Agon said, speaking at CAGNY last week. "It may sound like a joke, but since the huge boom of digital social networks, selfies, etc., the makeup market is absolutely flying. We have never seen that in the past, and I think it's very, very linked."

Some heavy users of Starbucks' loyalty program are unhappy with changes announced this week, which will switch the program to one where spending, not the number of orders, is rewarded. It is still too soon to say whether those disgruntled customers take their business elsewhere, as the program changes won't go into effect until April. Still, an admittedly small and informal poll conducted by Starbucks news hound @StarbucksGeek found 49 out of 100 respondents think it is a mistake.

Along with the "evolution" of the program, as the company called it, it is dropping "My" from the program name, now calling it Starbucks Rewards. "The program will still very much remain personalized, offering customers rewards and offers based on what we think they will enjoy," a spokeswoman said. The update makes financial sense for Starbucks, where plenty of customers already spend upwards of $5 per visit. The chain wants to keep those high spenders happy and increase their visits. Plus, some savvy rewards seekers have long asked for their orders to be rung up in multiple transactions, which slowed down the chain's often already long lines. According to an estimate from Starbucks, 1% of transactions under the old model have been coming from people asking to split up their orders in order to get more stars. The spokeswoman declined to say which outside agencies are helping the chain's internal team communicate the changes to customers.

Some industry watchers suggest chains such as Dunkin' Donuts may win business from Starbucks patrons turned off by the changes. At the same time Dunkin', which already has its own loyalty program, is overhauling its menus to put more of an emphasis on beverages and all-day breakfast after seeing McDonald's bite into rivals' sales. Bloomberg has more on the changes.

Actor Donald Faison dons lab coat for Snickers stunt
Actor Donald Faison dons lab coat for Snickers stunt Credit: Snickers

Mars hired a former fake doctor to diagnose people's hunger pangs and give them the prescription of Snickers Crisper. Donald Faison, who played Dr. Christopher Turk on "Scrubs," donned a white lab coat and "diagnosed" people's symptoms at Los Angeles' The Grove.

The candy, which includes milk chocolate, crispy rice, peanuts and caramel, debuted in late 2015. TV advertising from BBDO New York began airing in January and includes coined terms such as "confulish," a combination of confused and foolish. Mr. Faison's mock diagnoses continue that idea with words such as "firritable," for fake and irritable, he said. The two-day event includes taking selfies and "diagnosing" people's hunger symptoms which, of course, can be cured with the prescription of a pack of Snickers Crisper. The idea plays off of the main brand's "you're not you when you're hungry" theme, and seems to apply to Mr. Faison. "When I'm hungry I forget lines, I forget stuff," he said. For now, there are no plans to use Mr. Faison in the TV campaign. But he's fine with people referring to his most famous role during this week's event, done in partnership with Weber Shandwick. "I'm alright if they call me Dr. Turk because I'm wearing a lab coat."

Meanwhile, Snickers has signed on as the exclusive presenting partner of WWE's WrestleMania 32 on April 3, the brand announced this week. The deal includes custom content integrations within the WWE Network telecast.

Separately, Mars this week recalled certain chocolate products after a small piece of plastic was found in a Snickers bar purchased in Germany. The recall covers as many as 55 countries, according to various reports, as products from the Netherlands plant in question are shipped outside that country. It does not apply to the U.S.

It's house hunting season and the National Association of Realtors has introduced its new "Get Realtor" campaign. The trade association, which represents over 1.1 million members, is pushing social, digital, print and radio marketing aimed at millennials, the largest generation of current homebuyers. The work represents NAR's first campaign from new agency of record Arnold Worldwide. "When it comes to real estate and the internet, today's consumers don't always know what they don't know," said NAR President Tom Salomone in a statement. The advertising includes a series of 30-second online videos in a gameshow-spoof style covering real estate issues such as bidding wars and home inspections. NAR is also sponsoring six episodes of Yahoo Finance's "Now I Get It" video series.

Finally, a couple of marketing personnel moves to catch up on:

MillerCoors has replaced fromer VP-Brand Marketing Gannon Jones, with whom the brewer parted ways in November. Filling his role is Maggie Carey, who was scheduled to start this week. She comes from S.C. Johnson, where she worked on brands such as Glade, Pledge and Ziploc, Raid and Off! during a nearly 20-year stint. She was most recently executive director of global shoe care. She reports to MillerCoors CMO David Kroll.

Julie-Ann Reid was named director of brand marketing at Long John Silver's. Ms. Reid, most recently director-brand marketing at Cinnabon, reports to Marilyn Nicholson, VP-Media, Promotions and Marketing, the quick-service seafood chain said.

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