– 13 February 2013

absolut vodka

For most people there is probably one vodka brand that is top of mind: Absolut Vodka. I don’t even drink vodka, but I love this brand. It has a personality – it is fun, quirky, sometimes sexy, often outrageous. It has noticeability, talk-ability. You’ll stop and look at an Absolut ad or billboard, because you know there’s something – a hidden message, a play on words, a design trick… and the execution is always intelligent.

Absolut Vodka is produced only in Åhus, in southern Sweden.  Since its launch in 1979, Absolut Vodka has achieved worldwide sales growth from 10,000 nine-litre cases (90,000 litres) to 11.0 million nine-litre cases in 2010 (99.0 millions of litres). That has made it the third or fourth best-selling refined spirit in the world.

Heck, there are even fans with fan-pages – not only on Facebook – try, There have been spoofs and parodies, of course, which – as we know – is the sincerest form of flattery. It also underscores the brand’s impact on pop culture.

Instead of spending fortunes on logo design, the product, with its distinctive bottle shape, is the star. We all know the familiar spotlight-design pack-shot, along with a simple, two-word headline, using ‘Absolut’ as an adjective. Print ads are carefully placed in publications that are consistent with class, quality and style. Apart from the distinctive single page ads, Absolut has also experimented with ‘Collections’ – like the Seven Sins: separate pages throughout the publication, with the distinctive bottle artfully portraying Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, Envy, Wrath and Pride, and an eighth with a halo over the bottle, labelled “Absolut Seven”.

The bottle is also the star in their latest production campaign: Absolut Unique, featuring four million one-of-a-kind bottles, with artwork created by bespoke “robot painters” on the assembly line.

Absolut are known for their unusual campaigns, which generally focus on the socially relevant aspects of life, rather than the obvious. They have not been afraid to take on controversial topics like war, gay pride and HIV/AIDS.

They have partnered with artists to create “interpretive” campaigns, including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, as well as Swedish artists like Linn Fernström, Dan Wolgers and Ola Billgren, and paid homage to writers, poets, and musicians, like Dan Black and Swedish House Mafia. Filmmakers too: Spike Lee was commissioned to produce “Absolut Brooklyn”, a homage to his iconic New York home base.

One big challenge for global brands like Absolut, is to be identified with local culture. Unlike Count Pushkin vodka which identified only with Russia, or Jim Beam which identifies with the American South – the Absolut brand wants to be at home anywhere in the world. So they have to understand the local culture, creating a “warm and fuzzy” response in the process.

The latest South African campaign by NATIVE for Absolut does this very well. For the ‘AbsolutZA’ campaign, the company asked four young, trendy artists, collaborating with local bead-workers, to produce four bottle covers. The artists are each featured in 1’30” commercial spots, talking about their art, their life and their approach to the challenge. You may not have heard of Athi, Dan Halter or Cameron Platter before, but when you see them, you identify with them as South Africans; their stories are compelling. [Ed note: the campaign ended shortly before our Ad of the Week went live] .

And the call to action is clear. The site, is a Facebook-based page, with an interactive app. Click “Like” and a whole new dimension appears. You see, the fifth bottle in the campaign is blank. So anyone can upload a piece of original art, and see how it renders out as a bead-based bottle cover. These are displayed on the page, and other Facebook types can vote for the ones they like.

The winner who gets voted to the top will get his bottle cover made as a prize, and contributors also stand to win one of the four original works. I know this is beginning to sound like a press release – but I think this campaign is just plain clever, on all levels. It ticks all the boxes: locally relevant, supporting the “little guy”, crowd-collaboration to appeal to the “inner artist” in everyone… what’s not to like? Or should I say Absolut, what’s not to love.