Absolut has, hands down, some of the best vodka marketing in any industry anywhere on the planet. No matter what you think of their vodka, their ability to seize a concept and execute it is without peer. They were one of the first to come up with popularizing infusions or flavored vodkas with their citron and launched an industry. Glitzy bottles are part of their marketing arsenal with sparkling, glittering covers wrapping Absolut bottles now overflowing the shelves in anticipation of Christmas. They have many and memorable ad campaigns.
This year of 2009, they have been releasing limited runs of city editions of vodka. Have you been walking along a store and been struck by overwhelming impulse to buy a Monopoly game based upon your alma mater university or home state? Have you been loitering in the chips aisle at the grocery store, seen a limited edition bag of Dorritos celebrating some region or another and immediately purchased? In keeping with celebrating locality, Absolut is creating flavored vodkas celebrating individual cities. Being done before by different products does not temper the effect and the coolness one bit. In fact, we feel vodka and cocktails are especially appropriate for this kind of method and outreach. It's like a bobble-head of your favorite sports hero; it's like grade school lunchbox adorned with Star Wars characters; it's like the letters P-I-N-K across the butt of teenage girl clothing... that little added flourish makes it impossible to pass these things up.
To get a sense of where the campaign came from, check out the passage in the book Absolut Sequel: The Absolut Advertising Story Continues by Richard Lewis. The first and original Aboslut cities campaign of the 1980s is described as something that changed the world of advertising. The campaign begins with an innocent ad called Absolut LA, which showed a swimming pool in the shape of an Absolut bottle shot from above replete with Southern California palm trees. The books evokes the moment saying: It made us realize people wanted a home team - in this case, ad - to root for. And it instilled in us the idea to 'think local, act local.' This may come as a surprise to Generation-Y but farmers' markets were not always the coolest places to hang out back in the 1970s and early 80s. The campaign went on to recognize other cities. It recognized Boston with ads showing boxes of tea floating in a harbor (in the shape of a bottle of Absolut) and an above-shot of the Boston Cetics home court with the painted lines of the key shaped to look like a bottle. Absolut Philadelphia came out with a picture of Benjamin Franklin with his trademark spectacles altered to look like Absolut bottles lying flat. Absolut Killington (graffiti bottle) and Absolut Bronx (boxing locker room) followed. And so forth.
The ads were brilliant. They were local, they were meaningful, but they were also whimsical. They blithely reside in what we regard as the perfect alcohol milieu: a thing to be passionately proud of and opinionated about but simultaneously able to laugh about it. Alcohol is an important tradition; a point of pride. But who doesn't get a little irritated at the high-brow snoot who lectures interminably about the merits of a given spirit and directs precisely how it ought to be imbibed? These ads say exactly what everyone wants to say to the ultra-orthodox and overly-somber elite: take your bottle and shove it up your ass; we're here to have fun. Drink good stuff, of course, but still have fun.
So now, in 2009, Absolut revived the campaign but in a new way. Where before the ads celebrated the spirit of the city all in the same standard vodka that is still available to this day, the modern campaign is creating specific flavors and infusions that celebrate the spirit of the cities. A great idea has now been resurrected in a meaningful way. Check out the early editions:
Are there more cities coming out in the future? Yes! And you can decide which ones. Consumers can go to the website and nominate their favorite cities. Coffee flavored vodkas for Seattle? Syrup flavored vodkas for Montpelier, Vermont? Beef flavored vodkas for Texas? (Not so crazy, there is a bacon flavored vodka in this world.) Everything is on the table.
One of the horrifying things about purchasing liquor in the modern era is the damnable mob of vodka infusions. They are legion. Many big vodka labels carry a dozen or more different flavors... what reasonable and right-minded person is going to be able to sample all of those or buy all of them? It is overwhelming in many respects and it's hard to figure out what to do or even what to recommend. Infusions from different vodka labels are crowding the bar's shelf space for little better reason than keeping up with the Joneses.
Limited, city editions give us a reason to buy and a reason to taste. We have every expectation it'll be a big hit for Absolut. It's a great concept for the modern era that is increasingly looking to local production and for communities that have always celebrated their own regional and individual cultures. For Absolut, it's a nice example of a big company acting locally.