In 1879, Lars Olsson Smith introduced a vodka called ‘Absolut rent brännvin’, which translates as ‘absolutely pure vodka’. The maverick entrepreneur 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.
The now legendary minimalist advertising campaign was launched in 1980 with ‘Absolut Perfection’, which featured the bottle with a halo. The ads established the brand as a premium, fashionable vodka, leading to worldwide sales of 3.3 million cases at the end of its first decade and 6.7 million cases by 1999.