Pernod Ricard Group
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From its home in the tiny port village of Åhus on the Baltic Sea in southern Sweden, Absolut Vodka first conquered America and has since gone on to become the third best-selling spirits brand in the world. Since its inception Absolut has benefited from creative people who believed in doing things differently.
In 1879, Lars Olsson Smith introduced a vodka which he later named ‘Absolut Rent Brännvin’, literally meaning ‘absolutely pure vodka’. He utilised the recently developed technology of Aeneas Coffey’s column still to create his own series of rectification columns, which together removed practically all the congeners so making a technically pure vodka. The maverick inventor and industrialist also circumvented a state-backed vodka producers’ cartel by establishing a distillery on the island of Reimersholme (just outside the Stockholm city limits) and offering a free ferry service to his customers.
After Lars Olsson’s death, the brand enjoyed little success under the ownership of the Swedish state liquor monopoly. Then, in 1979, the brand’s centenary, Lars Lindmark, the new president of Vin & Sprit, decided to relaunch it. The bottle was redesigned in the style of an old Swedish medicine bottle found in an antique shop window in Stockholm’s Old Town – appropriate, since vodka was sold in 16th & 17th century pharmacies as medicine.
The name ‘Absolute Pure Vodka’ could not be registered in the US because ‘absolute’ was a common adjective, so it was shortened to Absolut, the original Swedish spelling. The word ‘Pure’ in the original name also posed legal problems and was removed and the slogan ‘Country of Sweden’ was added, as was the silver medallion with an image of Lars Olsson Smith.
Absolut launched in the toughest market of them all – the US. The first order for Absolut was called on 20th April 1979 and the now legendary minimalist advertising campaign was launched in 1981 with ‘Absolut Perfection’, which featured the bottle with a halo. The Absolut Vodka advertising campaign has been running nonstop ever since. The sometimes witty, often challenging and always simple advertisements established the brand as a desirable, fashionable vodka, leading to worldwide sales of 3.3 million cases at the end of its first decade, 6.7 million cases by 1999 and 10.2 million cases last year.
Absolut was the first premium vodka and few would argue that it paved the way for the many ‘me too’ designer vodkas that have followed since. Without Absolut would there have ever been a vodka boom? Whatever you think of Absolut you’d have to agree that it is the most iconic of vodka brands, driven by what has to be some of the most consistently inspired advertising and marketing the drinks industry has ever seen. The concepts, creatives and bottle designs, which form the following milestones in the life of Absolut are as much works of art as they are a lesson on how to continually reinvigorate a brilliantly conceived brand.
1980 ABSOLUT PERFECTION
The first Absolut Vodka advertisement. One evening Geoff Hayes from the TBWA New York ad agency was doodling huge Absolut bottles on a pad while he watched ‘The Honeymooners’ on television. Above one bottle he drew a halo and this inspired him to add the strap line, “Absolut, It’s the perfect vodka”. This was shortened to Absolut Perfection and the concept inspired the ‘Absolut Product’ series of advertisements. Problems lighting the bottle from the front dictated that all adverts have the bottle lit by a round glow from behind, with the only exception being Absolut Larceny, where the padlocked bottle featured in the previous Absolut Security has been stolen. These simple, understated ads always featured a suitably poignant strap line.
1984 ABSOLUT STARDOM
This little known and underappreciated ad depicts an Absolut bottle as a Broadway marquee. It is the first Absolut advertisement where the shape of the bottle is represented by another object or objects so the series became known as ‘Absolut Objects’. These included Absolut Peak (a snow and tree covered mountain), Absolut Intelligence (a computer chip) and Absolut Tube (formed by the Circle Line on London’s Tube map.
1985 ABSOLUT WARHOL
Andy Warhol was commissioned to paint his impression of the Absolut bottle. Just as he had done for the humble Campbell’s soup can, Warhol transformed the iconic Absolut bottle in his signature pop art style and his work was featured in advertisements around the world. He was paid $65,000 for the painting, a price that would establish the ceiling for all future Absolut artist’s works. Michel Roux, the President of the brand’s US importer is quoted as saying of artists who wanted more, “He isn’t worth more than Andy”.
1988 ABSOLUT CAMERON
A series of ads, which would become known as Absolut Fashion, were the idea of Andy Harris - a young advertising sales representative from America’s Mademoiselle magazine. The first of many fashion designers to be commissioned was David Cameron who created a simple silver minidress emblazoned with the Absolut bottle. The statuesque model is Rachel Williams.
1993 ABSOLUT VENICE
Outside of America, Absolut’s popularity was spreading across Europe and it was decided to instigate an advertising campaign which would work in this market as well as in the brand’s established U.S. market. One of the first in the Euro Cities series of advertisements was Absolut Venice. Legend has it that wheat harvested from the rich fields of southern Sweden was used to attract enough pigeons for this shoot.
1995 ABSOLUT NEWTON
Fashion photographer Helmut Newton was famous for his erotic, stylised scenes. The model Kristen McMenamy was dressed in creations by an international line-up of designers including Helmut Lang and shot in Newton’s signature monochrome style in and around the distillery in Åhus. The ABSOLUT NEWTON campaign ran in half a dozen editions of Vogue throughout America, Europe and Asia.
1997 ABSOLUT VERSACE
Fashion photographer Herb Ritts photographs the Absolut Versace campaign, featuring fashion by Gianni Versace, at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden. Built every year from 6,000 tons of crystal-clear ice harvested from the Torne River, the hotel was a stunning backdrop for the shoot and it was the starting point for a lasting collaboration between the Icebar and Absolut. The 500 millionth bottle of Absolut Vodka was produced in Åhus the same year.
1998 ABSOLUT HIRST
The Absolut Originals campaign, a collaboration between Absolut and 16 cutting- edge European artists was launched in 1998. Amongst others, the campaign included artists Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan and Francesco Clemente. Hirst’s ad famously featured a series of Absolut bottles inside a series of ever-smaller fish tanks.
2002 ABSOLUT GAULTIER
Absolut Legends was a series of advertisements celebrating Swedish legends ranging from Midsommar - the fertility festivity on the brightest day of the year - to Lucia, the saint that brings light to the darkest night of the Swedish winter. Jean-Paul Gaultier designed a haute couture collection for the series which was photographed outdoors at night by fashion photographer Jean-Baptise Mondino.
2006 ABSOLUT KRAVITZ
Long supporter of the visual art, Absolut Kravitz was the start of the brands relationship with music. The collaboration with (you guessed it) Lenny Kravitz included a new track called ‘Breathe’ based on his interpretation of the Absolut brand.
2009 ABSOLUT MANIFESTO
This Absolut campaign spelled out the brand’s philosophy, namely that “doing things differently leads to something exceptional.” A thought provoking salient message delivered through six pieces from a series of leading international artists, each bringing light to an element of Absolut in both a literal and metaphorical way – for instance, the word ‘differently’ is woven in wheat, depicting the winter wheat which is used as the primary ingredient for Absolut vodka. The other five large-scale installations are made out of ice blocks, two thousand hanging Absolut bottles, flying lanterns, gigantic balloons and thousands of glass cylinders. Each installation forms a word and is crafted to tell part of the Absolut story.
Flavoured with natural extracts of Swedish blackcurrants, which grow as far north as the Arctic Circle. Absolut Kurant was launched in 1992, in the Cosmopolitan days which followed the launch of Absolut Citron, with the result being the Metropolitan cocktail.
Launched in March 2004, this ’spirit of Absolut‘ comes in a bottle that’s more model-like, being both taller and thinner than its older sibling. In deference to its family heritage, Level is graced with a silver silhouette of the original Absolut bottle sitting like a medallion just under its neck.
Flavoured with extracts of mandarin, orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Launched in 1988, the success of Absolut Citron paved the way for the popularity of citrus-flavoured vodkas throughout the industry and is believed to have played a fundamental role in the creation of the Cosmopolitan.
Flavoured with mandarin and orange extracts. Launched in 1999, Absolut Mandrin benefited from the brilliant idea of painting the bottle’s punt orange to mimic the fruit. Amazingly the first 100,000 bottles had to be hand painted. If you have one unopened, do keep it, they are collector’s pieces.
As Absolut Vanilia’s official launch date of 15th March 2003 loomed near, back in Sweden they were experiencing problems applying the finish to the space-like white bottles. Production was delayed but they met the deadline by air lifting 198,000 bottles in four Jumbo Jets.
Absolut Raspberri is not a misspelling. It’s meant that way to remind you of the Swedish origin of Absolut. It’s a fitting flavour for Absolut since wild raspberries are often found in the Swedish hillsides. Absolut Raspberri was launched in 2004.
Absolut’s eighth launched in March 2006, this grapefruit-flavoured vodka comes in Absolut’s iconic bottle distinguished by what look like a couple of balloons rising from its base – oddly, like the typography, these are more orange than red, let alone ruby.
Absolut Pears was launched in 2007 with a two month “New Temptation” digital campaign, based around the shapely pear being more tempting than a plain round apple. This was the first pear-flavoured vodka and the frosted bottle incorporates the shape of the fruit into its design.
This mango and black pepper flavour was launched in August 2007 at Tales of the Cocktail, the annual bartender’s celebration of the cocktail in New Orleans. 100% profits went to various Gulf Coast charities. At the time the area was still recovering from the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
After the success of Absolut Disco with sales of 2.9 million bottles the pressure was on to create a new limited gift pack for Christmas 2008. The result, Absolut Masquerade, is covered with 3,238 shiny red sequins and unzipped to reveal that "In an Absolut world every night is a masquerade."
The 2009 Christmas period limited edition gift-wrap bottle is clad in bottle-tight leather and studs. It “pays tribute to the vibrant, bold and irreverent world of rock” and is “at the heart of the ‘In An ABSOLUT World, You Rock’ campaign.”
Launched in September 2011 and designed by Swedish designers Skogsberg & Smart, the bottle is presented in a ‘treasure chest’ case, clad in a classic pinstripe fabric, complete with two crystal tumblers. Just 800 individually numbered bottles, each signed by the master cutter.
As the (peelable) front label declares, “In an Absolut world there are no labels”. If nothing else this bottle will be purchased to be emptied and filed with some other liquid. The bottle is iconic and the concept absolute genius.
Launched in January 2012, this limited edition represents Absolut’s sixth city-influenced flavoured vodka for the U.S. market. The passion fruit & orange blossom Absolut Miami follows Absolut New Orleans (2007), Los Angeles (2008), Boston (2009), Brooklyn (2010) and San Francisco (2011) offerings.
Part of the Absolut ‘Cities’ series of limited edition bottles, Absolut London was designed by British graphics artists, Jamie Hewlett. The bottle features seven London characters spanning the ages from Dickensian time and 18th century candy to pinstripe gent, 60’s chick, punk and 80’s casual.
Absolut Elyx is distilled from fermented single-estate winter wheat from Råbelöf, a family-owned country home in the Åhus region of southern Sweden. The vodka is distilled in a copper column still dating from the 1920s.
Pronounced ‘Freeze’, this vodkas name comes from the Danish word meaning ‘frost and ice’, a reference to its production method. It is distilled from wheat grain using a six column distillation process and a freeze distillation process said to be unique to Frïs.
Absolut Tune is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region and Absolut vodka. The black and gold champagne-style bottle has an outer sleeve which mimics a zipper when torn off. Launched in the USA in October 2012.
Released in November 2012, this apple and ginger flavoured vodka is designed to be mixed with juices and sodas. The bottle features a carved golden apple surrounded by white transparent ginger leaves. When filled, the golden apple appears to float due to the lens effect of the bottle.