Reader's Choice: Who's Your Pick for Ad Age's Marketer of the Year?

Apple, Chick-fil-A, Domino's, Ford, PepsiCo and Southwest Make the Shortlist

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Apple, Chick-fil-A, Domino's, Ford Motors, PepsiCo and Southwest Airlines: From category leaders that have changed or improved their message or product despite market share dominance to underdogs still sticking it to their bigger rivals, these marketers have made a mark in 2010.

The other thing they have in common? They're on a shortlist of contenders for you to chose from for Marketer of the Year. Who's your pick? Have we overlooked anyone? Let us know that too.

Apple: What's once again on everyone's holiday shopping list? Oh, yeah, an Apple gizmo. The iPad's launch this year finally spurred a touch computing/tablet rampage in the industry that's particularly notable because tablets have been touted in the PC industry for years, but until now, they've never really taken off with consumers. Oh, and let's not overlook the iPhone and iPod Touch gaming entertainment grab -- Apple took a 20% stake in software revenue in the $10 billion portable gaming market in 2009, and even more this year.

Chick-fil-A: Cow Appreciation Day -- an offshoot of the chicken chain's long-running campaign -- is just the latest in a quirky message to consumers to get them to "Eat Mor Chikin." The chain has gradually become a phenomenal growth story. Opening fewer than 100 stores each year, and all from cash on hand, the chain has only 1,500 locations. But its restaurants gross an average $3 million, more than the average McDonald's. And that's with shorter weeks: Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays for religious reasons.

Domino's: When the market leader in pizza delivery apologizes to consumers that its pizzas are, well, not that good, it's hard to ignore. It's a surprising marketing message: Admit to the world your product was awful, but that you've fixed it and they should really try it now. And those consumers did: Domino's posted historic same-store sales increases earlier this year of 14.4%.

Ford: In the automaker's latest round of branding spots, Mike Rowe has been asking: "Why Ford, why now?" Good question, Mike. The automaker's smartest marketing play might be that it has been steadily improving its product line while kicking off interesting strategies such as the Facebook launch of the 2011 Explorer crossover and the Fiesta Movement, which put the small car into the hands of young buyers nationwide. And consumers haven't likely forgotten that the automaker didn't take bailout funds. And sales are up 17% year-to-date.

PepsiCo: Remember when all we could talk about were the branding miscues and logo changes? Then came the marketer's biggest gambit: forgoing the Super Bowl for brand Pepsi in favor of a cause campaign, Pepsi Refresh Project. At the time, the effort was considered a social-media experiment, a test case that could shape the way other major companies approached marketing. No longer. In the U.S., $1.3 million per month has been allocated to the Pepsi Refresh Project this year, and that figure will be carried into 2011. And amid all this, there's been a massive refresh of Gatorade, which coincided with the recession, and let's not overlook the continued success of its snacks division.

Southwest: For the better part of this decade, you were free to move around the country. But plane travel has, even in the best of times, been a challenge for many consumers. And after the recession hit, those challenges came with additional costs, namely baggage fees. How desperate are passengers to avoid those fees? Just ask Steven Slater. So Southwest's "Bags Fly Free" campaign cuts right to the heart of fliers, both frequent and occasional, business and vacation. Those baggage handlers laying guilt trips on rival airlines have brought the airline back into the pop-culture zeitgeist. (And the airline seems to have moved on from a nasty PR mess a couple of years ago over fuselage cracks.) And if its $1.4 billion deal to acquire AirTran goes through as planned, the low-cost carrier is poised for significant growth.

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