Absolut – the story of the (un)usual bottle

28 April 2015

Creativity is that simple surprise and delight of seeing familiar things in a new way – Absolut brand statement.

I’m sure that all our readers must have heard about Absolut vodka throughout their lives, or even could have tried it 🙂 For over 100 years this brand has been the delight of the palates for even the most picky vodka experts. At the same time it has attracted attention with its ads – perfect in their simplicity.

It all started in 1879 when Lars Olsson Smith, aka “The Vodka King” manufactured his greatest masterpiece – “Absolut rent Bränvin”, which literally translates to “the absolutely pure vodka”. It’s worth to mention here that Smith was already experienced in the business. Still as a teenager Smith controlled around 30% of vodka production throughout the country and by the end of the 18th century he revolutionised the alcohol industry with a new distillation technique (continuous distillation). Absolut was supposed to be his opus magnum. But no one suspected that this beverage will survive so many years and will become one of the most popular vodkas around the world.

Some people believe that Absolut succeeded on such scale because of its unique bottle. Hundred years after Lars Olsson Smith registered “Absolut” brand, Lars Lindmark the owner of the brand by then decided that the vodka will be exported to the United States. It needed an original packaging that will catch the attention of new clients. This is why Lindmark hired a local advertising agency Carlsson & Broman to find a perfect bottle for Absolut. One of the owners of the agency Gunnar Broman, had an epiphany the same day when he got this job. When he was walking home he noticed a beautiful, old pharmaceutical bottle in the window of an antique shop. The same bottle that was used in 18th century to sell vodka as a medicine for all the aches and pains. Lindmark loved bottle so much that he accepted the design despite the fact that its shape was rejected during the market research stage. It had too short neck which made pouring much more difficult. It didn’t have a sticker which made it poorly visible at the shelf. Absolut headquarters insisted on releasing the bottle to manufacturing despite of its shortcomings. As it turned out this was a very good decision.

The aim of the Swedes was to entering the international market with a huge blast. They asked Adam Geoff Hays from TBWA agency in New York for help in releasing their product. The agency was experienced in creating ads for brands like Apple or Taco Bells. The owners of Absolut had specific expectations which seemed limiting. They wanted their ads to focus on the bottle. The product shouldn’t be identified with any specific lifestyle, the concept should be time-less and modern at the same time. TBWA dealt with these constraints perfectly.

In 1980 the first Absolut ad appeared with a catchphrase „Absolut Perfection”. After this, more ads created in the similar convention were launched. All of them presented a classical bottle in a funny, catchy way and were described with the name of the product and an adjective describing its quality, e.g. Absolut Original. The ads didn’t even need to provide any additional information about the product – these details were described at the label. After a few years the idea of a bottle as the main theme became a bit monotonous, this is why the marketing special-ists decided that it’s time for a change.

Back then Ronald Reagan became the President of the United States and the country was in a stage of bloom. Unemployment dropped twice and a new, rich middle class emerged. The class that wanted new experiences and luxury that could be offered by the Swedish vodka, already recognised at the market. Michel Roux, the CEO of Carillon (company that brought Ab-solut to the States) decided to meet new client’s expectations and have it all. He knew that win-ning over the middle class would be the key to success. Of course the bottle and the ads creat-ed before were intriguing, but they were missing something. Roux decided that he needs to make Absolut the symbol of success and good taste. What can show a good taste if not the art? The CEO visited his friend Andy Warhol and asked him to create a poster for Absolut. This was an instant success. When the ad appeared on billboards, magazines and bus stops Absolut sales skyrocketed and over 5 million boxes of vodka were sold. Absolut became the largest alcohol brand in the world. In the next years more artists were invited to cooperation. The total number of artists who took part in the project was over 350.

Freed from constraints Absolut ads started to live on their own. Themed campaigns stat-ed to be launched (e.g. cities, fashion, legends, seasons of the year, zodiac signs, cartoons). Some of them were available only for particular newspapers (e.g. “Absolut Centerfold” in Play-boy), or concerned new flavoured vodkas. The most controversial Absolut campaign was prob-ably the one from 2007 “IN AN ABSOLUT WORLD” which was referring to the perfect world and presented a map of Mexico from 1848 at one of its posters.


No matter what the next campaigns will bring, we can be sure that Absolut won’t disappoint us – their ads will definitely be intriguing and innovative. As always.

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