The drink is distilled, so is the message

Are you a virgin or a cognoscente? Meg Carter watches a vodka go nationwide with style

It is a delicate balancing act to appear local when you are in fact an international spirits brand, or national without either nationwide distribution or marketing. But through a combination of thinking globally and acting locally, Absolut Vodka has carried this off with aplomb.

Absolut has just launched its latest UK advertising campaign, devised by ad agency TBWA. A series of six ads with the now-familiar elliptical imagery and two-word strapline range from "Absolut Freedom", accompanying an image of a prison cell window bent into the shape of a bottle, to "Absolut Climate" beneath the same effect achieved on a weather map complete with fronts and isobars.

The style has been used by Absolut around the world for the past 16 years. However, this autumn's campaign, along with art and fashion sponsorships to be rolled out later in the year, marks a turning point for the brand: its phased roll-out throughout the UK.

Absolut Vodka was invented in Sweden in 1879, although it was not exported until 1979 when it launched in the US. The brand arrived in Britain four years later, but it was only once its US success was assured that the Swedish parent developed an international marketing plan for the brand. This is explained by Goran Lundqvist, president of The Absolut Company: "We strive for certain core values - perfection and clarity - in all our communications. Also, sophistication and wit."

"Absolut Perfection", the company's first ad created in 1981, is still the one most widely used today. "The challenge is to remain consistent yet fresh," Mr Lundqvist explains. One way in which this has been achieved is by stockpiling creative treatments run successfully in more developed markets. These can then be introduced into territories where the brand is less developed.

"There are basic ads used in every market to establish the brand. Then others, which are locally specific, evolve its positioning," he says. The more developed the market, the more lateral - and sophisticated - the marketing. In the US, for example, a series of recent ads in literary magazines included "absolute cummings".

In the UK, Absolut's advertising is "a complex proposition", explains Simon Turnbull, commercial director of Ideal Brands, which handles Absolut's UK marketing. "Absolut is positioned as a premium vodka, so we must persuade people to pay extra."

Secondly, there's the brand's association with art, design and fashion. The brand has a long tradition of commissioning artists whose work appears in its ad campaigns. It also has a sponsorship programme that involves staging its own exhibitions as well as getting involved in existing events where it can enjoy "a degree of creative involvement", explains Mr Turnbull.

Different approaches need to be tailored for different consumers within a single market. While the UK is a relatively developed territory for Absolut - and so can support more cryptic advertising - understanding of the brand within its potential market varies regionally.

To date, the UK strategy has involved focusing on two core target markets in London and the South-east: Absolut cognoscenti and Absolut virgins. The emphasis of Absolut's activities has been in clubs and restaurants; retail distribution tends to shadow this. The next challenge is to establish Absolut in other metropolitan areas.

"We have taken care to tailor our approach - you can't charge in with a 'Big in London' message'," Mr Turnbull says. The strategy has to be relevant for the local market - a little like the parent company's approach: "Power is very much devolved."

Mr Turnbull adds: "We're not a national brand - like Smirnoff. Nor do we want to be for the sake of being national. We are trying to target premium consumers, not necessarily existing vodka drinkers."

It is a similar story in other national markets. "Absolut is more to do with attitudes than with a specific demographic," he says. In fact, Absolut is targeting Jack Daniels, Becks beer and upmarket wine drinkers as much as those consuming rival premium brands like Stolichnaya or Smirnoff Black.

So far, however, the strategy appears to have worked. Global sales for Absolut (excluding Russia and CIS nations) rose by 5 per cent last year at a time when total spirits sales are declining. In Absolut's largest market, the US, sales to retailers were up 7 per cent; in Western Europe retail sales increased by 32 per cent.

However, absolute success will depend on Eastern Europe - where 80 per cent of the world's vodka is still consumed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Account Handler - Personal Lines

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of insurance and financial...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Developer / IT Support Engineer

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing financial ser...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food