During my freshmen year of college I had a Western Civ. professor from the the Czech Republic, who out of no where one day, went on a tangent about Absolut Vodka. He demanded that none of us drink it because it is bottom of the barrell vodka that was just packaged very nicely to sucker American buyers, all in the name of Sweden needing a product to export.
Well, he was kind of right.
Back in 1879, Lars Olsson Smith developed a new distillation method, called rectification, and is still used today. Before this revolutionary development, vodka in Sweden was dubbed “bränvin”, or we would call it, burnt wine. Guess what it was?
Smith took on the wine and spirits monopoly of Stockholm, only to become rich and then lose it all, and have his vodka swallowed up by The Swedish Wine and Spirits Corporation. However, it was this corporation that brought Absolut to the rest of the world.
As the 100 year anniversary approached, the company looked towards the U.S. market. After testing new names for their product, like Swedish Blonde Vodka or Royal Court Vodka, they went back to the original Absolut name. This not only added a little Swedish allure, but also allowed them to copyright the name since you can’t do that with an adjective like absolute.
Next up was the packaging. The company went with a medicine bottle design, after one of their ad men saw a medicine bottle in an antique shop, and liked the idea. After the bottle was chosen, they decided to not cover it up with labels and just go with lettering. They chose blue because it was so visible and attractive to them. It worked though, because it’s still the same today.
So, Absolut had the product, design and were ready to go, but needed to market their vodka. They turned to ad company TBWA and created one of the most successful, and longest running, campaigns. The idea came to South African art director Geoff Hayes while in the tub. It very simply featured the distinct Absolut bottle in the center with the title “ABSOLUT ____”, which could be filled in to meet whatever direction the company was looking for.
Over the years the ads have been altered to match various locations, like U.S. states or cities, cultures, trends, holidays, or new products. The ads were also some of the first to embrace the gay community.
Everything worked out for Absolut. As of 1994, they have been in the top ten international premium spirits blend.