Absolut by Carl Hamilton

This article was inspired by Carl Hamilton's Absolut . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.


Lessons from Absolut Vodka

“In a blind taste test the average person would find it nearly impossible to distinguish among the different brands. The quality of the product meant little. It was the ultimate test of the advertising man.”

Gunnar Broman, who had previously sold porridge for the Swedish Agricultural Cooperative, had the difficult task of selling Swedish vodka for the Swedish State Liquor Monopoly in world where the word “vodka” was immediately associated with Russia. He won over Jerry Siano and American advertising agency N.W. Ayer with his humorous pitch.

Unlike their rival Smirnoff, Absolut’s bottles were compared to medical bottles, as they were highly “understated.” However, Broman pointed out that rival brands had the exact opposite problem and that adapting his strategy would give their vodka an edge. The Swedish spelling of the word “Absolute” is “Absolut.” As customers perceived a misspelling in the label, their attention would be drawn to the vodka. Though the American’s tried to dissuade Broman from his minimalist bottling strategy, this approach garnered the brand’s success.

When introducing this brand of vodka, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston where the advertisers’ areas of focus, since these cities have proven to be trend setters in America. In its first year, 11,000 cases of Absolut were sold. By the brands fifth year, 250,000 cases were sold.

Selling the product wasn’t the only concern the brand faced. After the bottles of Absolut which stocked a cruise liner started to leak, the Swedish liquor monopoly sent a man to screw on the caps bottle-by-bottle. Creating a new cap to end complaints, the liquor company managed the damage.

Absolut became the number-one vodka importer, as people bought it for the “cool” factor associated with it. Andy Warhol even featured an Absolut bottle in one of his paintings. Much of Absolut’s success was owed to Peter Ekelund, who boasted of the “centuries-old traditions” that went into making the vodka (though the Swedes had never made vodka up to that point). To make up for the fact that Swedish vodka wasn’t centuries old, the company made slight changes to convey a more ambiguous message.

The success of Absolut’s marketing is evinced by the number of copycat brands that sprung up after it. When faced with imitations, Absolut’s attorneys brought the competition to New York and successfully sued them.

Absolut’s success is a lesson in good marketing. Since vodka is tasteless and odorless, advertisers realized that the image of their alcohol was far more important than the quality. With a minimalistic approach, Absolut was able to beat out Russian competitors and put Swedish vodka on the map. As Broman demonstrated, unique branding can carry a product much farther than quality in some industries.

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