Great Ad Campaigns: Absolut Vodka
It’s not often that a brand will stick with one ad creative and run with it. Most brands will change things up, bring in a celebrity or two, and some might even change their name altogether during their time in the spotlight.
But one of the most obvious and successful exceptions to these unwritten marketing rules is Absolut Vodka. Arguably one of the most well-known alcohol brands in the world, Absolut ran its familiar, fantastically simple ad campaign for 25 years.
Based on the basic concept of its name, and its iconic bottle, it’s a strategy that has worked well for the brand, and one that continues to make Absolut Vodka a household name.
The first choice for many when it comes to vodka brands, it certainly has an appeal that has stood the test of time.
Let’s dive into the history of Absolut Vodka’s recipe for success, and what we can learn from it.
Image Credit: Unsplash under Creative Commons
Back to the Absolut beginning…
Founded in Åhus, Sweden in 1879 by Lars Olsson Smith, it was a strong start for Absolut vodka. It was produced outside of the capital, Stockholm, home of the then leading producer.
However thanks to a lower selling price, it soon became a popular choice for Swedish drinkers. Smith was known for providing free boat rides so that people could go and visit his distillery.
With a strong focus on quality, Smith sought to develop a new method of distillation that meant it was purified free of fusel, and purified 10 times.
This led to the birth of Renat, known as the national vodka of Sweden. Absolut Rent Brännvin (absolutely pure vodka), became a recognized name for pure vodka in the country.
Absolut Vodka was sold exclusively in Sweden for a century, before finally being unleashed on the rest of the world in 1979.
By this time, there were other established vodka brands like Smirnoff dominating the industry, meaning Absolut needed an edge to stand out amongst its fierce competition.
But how does a simple brand with a simple bottle stand out in a global market?
Absolutely pure vodka
In a bid to launch Absolut on the global market, Gunnar Broman, described as a ‘well-renowned ad man’, was brought in. Broman had already had success launching Kir wine and Pripps Blå beer in Sweden, making them household names.
Broman stuck to his guns with his vision for the bottle, which was based on an old chemist’s bottle he’d come across in an Old Town antique shop in Stockholm.
“I threatened to quit if they changed the bottle,” says Gunnar Broman.“There were no alternatives.”
Working with designer Hans Brindfors, and later Lars-Börje Carlsson to complete the design, Broman’s version of Absolut was complete. “It’s a simple model and it’s unique, the shape is easy to fill, and you can easily work further within the same framework,” said Hans Brindfors.
Image Credit: Unsplash under Creative Commons
Ready for take-off
At the request of Carillon Importers, the marketing for Absolut became the responsibility of Martin Landy Arlow Advertising in New York. The vodka found success on the East Coast, with Manhattan’s trendiest customers asking to try an “Absolut on the rocks”.
The bottle itself won the Art Directors Club in New York in 1981 and continued to find success, leading to an increase in production.
The name Absolut provided many opportunities for wordplay and clever imagery that proved to be a successful strategy.
Early concepts included advertisements featuring the shape of the bottle covering Central Park in a satellite image of Manhattan with the tagline ‘Absolut Manhattan.’
Eventually, Absolut hit the radar of artist Andy Warhol, leading to the ‘Absolute Warhol’ campaign in 1986 - one of the first in a series of collaborations with different artists.
25 years of standout ads
In the 25 years that followed the initial launch, there were more than 1,500 variations of the original Absolut creative.
Adapted around the globe to fit in with different surroundings and appeal to all audiences, it’s a tactic that ensured Absolut had mass appeal, with its simplicity reflecting the purity of this Swedish vodka.
Unlike other companies, particularly alcohol companies that led memorable ads (Budweiser, anyone?), Absolut’s main campaign was based around print and imagery, and it was the only listing in Advertising Age’s Top 10 Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century not to use television for its campaign.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t featured on television, however, and the brand’s ads were even featured and parodied on Sex and the City, with one of the characters being branded the ‘Absolut Hunk’ in an ad that fictionally featured in the middle of Time’s Square.
Business Insider recently featured a rundown of 21 of the best Absolut ads, showcasing the inspiring work that took this humble Swedish vodka brand from sales of 10,000 cases in 1980 to 4.5 million in 2000.
Absolut’s marketing budget also grew in that time, starting at around $750,000 in 1980 to $33 million by 2000.
Not many brands would be able to get away with recycling the same material for a quarter of a century, but Absolut was able to do it with ease, making it feel fresh and exciting each time. There’s even an entire blog dedicated to Absolut ads, AbsolutAds.com.
A new era for Absolut
Absolut’s 25-year campaign came to an end when Absolut was taken over by Pernod Ricard, who saught a fresh approach to marketing the brand globally.
The ‘In an Absolut Word’ campaign looked to encourage conversation and debate and for people to question their world and ask themselves if it could be more ‘Absolut’.
“In an ABSOLUT World” is a powerful campaign that provides a rich framework for the ABSOLUT brand that builds on the foundation established by ‘The Absolutes’ campaign last year.
Our consumers are intelligent, and we hope they have a gut reaction that sparks conversations and challenges them to think about their vision of an “ABSOLUT World,” said Tim Murphy, Senior Brand Director, The Absolut Spirits Company, Inc of the campaign at the time.
The aim was to ensure more involvement with audiences and bring those lasting connections into the frame. Absolut’s ‘It’s in Our Spirit’ campaign was born out of almost a year of being in a global pandemic where people were isolated from each other, looking to “inspire consumers to look forward to being together again and celebrate the great things that can happen when we come together in real life.”
With some powerful messages to share with the world, Absolut has firmly positioned itself as a brand that’s keeping up with the time.
Five lessons copywriters can learn from Absolut
There’s no denying the lasting impact a strong campaign can have when it’s done right, so what can we learn from Absolut’s legacy?
Here are five lessons copywriters can learn from Absolut:
1. Keep it simple
What’s incredible about Absolut’s ad campaign is how simple it was. Focusing on the bottle, which was the embodiment of the brand, meant that everything else could be kept simple around it, leading to some clever imagery that still let the bottle speak for itself.
If you try to do too much, the message is going to get lost.
2. Tell a story
Great storytelling is an essential quality in any successful ad campaign, and this was especially true with Absolut. Absolut told the story of what it was, who its fans were and what people could expect.
More recently, this has translated into being part of important conversations and not just dismissing what’s happening in the world.
3. Connections are important
Forming a connection with an audience helps to build lasting relationships, making a brand someone’s preferred choice.
Whether that was featuring images of location or people, Absolut was able to make those types of connections with people who would remember and recognize it - putting it in their consciousness the next time they ordered a vodka at the bar.
4. Focus on what makes your product unique
When Absolut was first created way back in the 19th century, it was a unique product of its time. And even when it had its global launch 100 years later, a Swedish, pure vodka brand was certainly unique. Focus on what makes your product unique to help it stand out from the crowd.
5. Be bold
Who doesn’t love a little innuendo? Or a big bold statement? Absolut’s campaign was often big and challenging and certainly encouraged people to take notice.
Being bold can pay off and could be just what your creative needs.
Absolut is a great example of a brand that has taken its USP and turned it into a must-have, globally-recognized brand.
As one of the biggest successes in the advertising world, there’s a lot to learn from the story of Absolut Vodka.