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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot