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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015