Absolut puts local flavor in new initiative

Efforts for city-themed vodkas show marketing creativity always has a place in Absolut's world

In case you're wondering what Los Angeles tastes like, the answer is acai (a berry from Brazil), acerola (a sweet fruit also known as the Barbados cherry), pomegranate, and blueberry.

These flavors are infused into Absolut's new city-specific, limited-edition vodka, Absolut Los Angeles. The company, known for its iconic bottle and marketing, introduced the LA-themed flavor at a Hollywood launch party in July. Only 25,000 cases will be sold.

“It was a terrific opportunity for us to introduce innovation and new flavors to the marketplace,” says Sarah Bessette, PR manager for Absolut. “Los Angeles is more progressive and trend-forward in flavors. Flavors emigrate from there to other parts of the country and the world.”

Absolut Los Angeles is the second flavor in a series of city-themed vodkas. The first, Absolut New Orleans, flavored with mango and black pepper, launched in July 2007. Both vodkas are tied to CSR initiatives, with part or all of the proceeds from sales going to local charities. The next city on the list (and that city's flavor palette) will be determined by consumer feedback at absolut.com/cities. Whatever the location, it will be one where hometown pride is strong.

“The cities that we're focusing on have a special place in the heart of the people that live there,” explains Bessette, “but there's also a lot of interest outside of that area and outside of the US.”

Absolut, which has a 100-plus-year history that started in Sweden, was first introduced to the US in 1979. (Absolut's Swedish parent company, V&S, was acquired by Pernod Ricard this year.) At first, bartenders didn't like the strange look of the bottle. Rather than change the shape to make it more appealing, the company created an ad featuring the bottle with a hovering halo.
That ad is called “Absolut Perfection” and it's now one of thousands that show off the Absolut bottle.

“We made the bottle front and center,” says Bessette. “The bottle is indicative of what's inside.”
In a crowded vodka market, Absolut has gone beyond the bottle ads and flavors (the first, Absolut Peppar, was introduced in 1986, and that list has also grown) as a way to stay ahead of the innovation curve.

The city-themed vodkas are part of the “In an Absolut world” campaign, which launched in May 2007 and is the umbrella message for the company's PR and marketing efforts. The digital component, the Visionaries campaign, features, among others, hip-hop star Kanye West offering his thoughts on what an “Absolut” world would look like. In West's vision, BeKanye, consumers can experience what it would be like to be West for 15 minutes. He collaborated with Absolut to create a Web site – BeKanyeNow.com – and other marketing initiatives to demonstrate that vision.

Absolut's tentacled marketing efforts also include events, sponsorships, and outreach to a variety of audiences, including bartenders, the media, and 21- to-34-year-old urban dwellers, particularly men.

“They've welcomed so much creativity,” says Zlata Faerman, AE at Ketchum. The firm has been Absolut's AOR for five years and supports the entire PR function, including brainstorming for ideas and execution. “[They] jump at the chance to put [themselves] in a new light.”

But there is risk to taking risks. Earlier this year, Absolut caused controversy with an ad depicting “an Absolut world” where Mexico held on to parts of the US. The ad never ran in the States, but some Americans were incensed, including angry readers that responded to an April 21 PRWeek story about the ad.

“That was something we looked at after the incident happened and we changed the way we review our ads,” said Bessette. “We realize that we totally hit a nerve, and we pulled it.”

Otherwise, Absolut's story has largely been a successful one. Sales in the US hit 5 million cases last year; worldwide sales in 1979 were 10,000 cases. Since launching on July 1, the company reported that BeKanyeNow.com has had 52,000 unique visitors. The campaign has also had viral success, with the Visionaries campaign, which launched on YouTube in July.

“We want to illustrate that we're ahead of the game, offering consumers something that they've probably never seen before,” explains Bessette.

At a glance

Company: Absolut Spirits (parent company is Pernod Ricard)
President & CEO: Kevin Fennessey
Headquarters: New York
Marcomms budget: Undisclosed
Key outlets: Include Details, Us Weekly, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Thrillist.com, DailyCandy, Nightclub & Bar
PR team: Jeffrey Moran, senior director of corporate and brand communications; Sarah Bessette, PR manager; Lauren Rinkey, PR/events coordinator
PR agency:

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