Absolut Goes West.
With the 100 year anniversary of "Absolutely Pure Vodka" approaching, the new President of the Swedish Wine and Sprits Corporation; Lars Lindmark made the decision to export a new vodka. The finest vodka modern distilling techniques could produce, a new product that was a century old: Absolut Vodka. With little experience in advertising, packaging and product positioning, he called in an outside consultant, Curt Nycander, to head the project.
Nycander teamed up with marketing expert, Peter Ekelund, and Lars Börje Carlsson and Gunnar Broman, owners of the Swedish ad agency Carlsson and Broman. The team set about trying to come up with a new positioning for the new Absolut Vodka.
At first, the ideas centered around the traditional Swedish origins of the brand. There were a number of early suggestions on the name of the vodka.
The Absolut Vodka team went to New York and the agency NW Ayer where they presented their ideas. Some were thrilled by the Swedes' enthusiasm and ideas but most of the people at NW Ayer shook their heads and thought "who wants to drink a vodka from Sweden anyway?"
After many meetings and arguements NW Ayer and the Swedish team agreed on their alternative "Absolut Country of Sweden Vodka". The bottle should be made of clear glass with silver text on it. They did tests where they visited liquor stores and put their different bottles among the other big brands just to see how it would look like. Could you see the bottle or was it invisible? One of the people working with the Absolut account; Myron Poloner fell in love with the bottle. He could sit and watch the "medicine bottle" for hours and one night it struck him. The bottle should have no label at all. You should be able to see right through it. The vodka should be a premium vodka for well-educated people with a high income who afforded to eat out and liked to hold parties at their home and liked to show-off...
"It Will Never Sell"
The next move was to find a distributor in the US. They met reception colder than a chilled cocktail glass. "Who have ever heard of a Swedish vodka?! And it doesn't have a label; it'll disappear on the shelf. It will never sell!!" One company that didn't lack foresight was Carillion Importers Ltd. based on Manhattan. The company was led by Al Singer, who was ready to accept the challenge the moment he saw the product. The company only had one salesman, Michel Roux, who was to play a leading role in the marketing and distribution of Absolut Vodka. Al Singer didn't want to work with NW Ayer, he wanted a smaller agency and chose Martin Landey Arlow to do the job instead. Martin Landey and Al Singer wanted to do some changes on the bottle; more height, thicker bottom. As a joke one of Göran Broman's employees put a coin on the bottle's shoulder. The Americans loved it, so Broman's staff created a seal. They did shields, swords, guns, naked women, men's heads etc. Gunnar Broman's office was ironically located in L.O. Smith's old house, and since he was the man who had invented Absolut Rent Braennvin a century ago why not put him on the bottle??? The bottle changed 'til today's look with a longer neck, the calligraphy text and the block letters, and a metallic colored cap instead of a cork. The new president of Vin & Sprit AB, Lars Lindmark, decided that the ABSOLUT VODKA letters should be blue for the 80 proof bottles and red for the 100 proof ones.
The first Absolut happening in USA was in Boston early in 1979. Later that year Absolut Vodka won the prize for best package.
Martin Landey ended the deal with Carillion because of another client in the same business who was far more profitable at that time.
Martins Landey's old partner at TBWA in New York heard about Carillion and contacted Al Singer. They got the account. Geoff Hayes and Graham Turner got to take care of Absolut. One night Geoff Hayes was watching television while he did some sketching. He tried to find a symbol of purity and simplicity, he made a halo. All of a sudden his floor was covered with different ad-ideas, all with a humoristic twist. The next day, he showed his ads to Graham. They changed the name for the Absolut Purity ad to Absolut Perfection. Another ad was the bottle with wings; Absolut Heaven. 15 minutes later they had a dozen different ads. Absolut something. dot. TBWA and Carillion loved it.
The story of Absolut Art began in 1985, when Andy Warhol was commisioned to do a painting of the Absolut Vodka bottle. When the painting appeared as an ad it was an incredible success and got immediate worldwide media attention. Absolut Vodka went from popular vodka to pop art and became an icon. Absolut Art had begun. Warhol later recommended one of his young protégés, Keith Haring, who had risen to fame with his anonymous paintings in the New York subway. Absolut commissioned its second painting. Works then followed from Kenny Scharf, Stephen Sprouse, Edward Ruscha, Arman, Britto and other leading American artists. To date, over 350 artists have been commissoned, with literally hundreds on the waiting list.
So far more than 800 ads have been created;single ones, artists collections, city collections, christmas ads, design collections, state/country collections, fashion. All of them with the name Absolut, the bottle or the seal on them. And of course the futura blocks at the bottom: ABSOLUT SOMETHING dot. Special ads have been made; Absolut Centerfold in Playboy, Absolut X-ray (printed on real xray-plastic), Absolut Spring (with seeds), Absolut first Class (with stamps), Absolut Landmark (a thirty-acre field "ad"), Absolut Environment (talking), Absolut Gift (with stockings), Absolut Puzzle, Playing X-mas ads. And then there are Absolut Wonderland and Absolut Warmth (with DKNY gloves).
I owe great thank to Fredrik Hildebrand for being immensely helpful and he deserves the credit.