‘In An Absolut World’ Hits Its Stride

It’s been just over a year since Absolut tossed its iconic bottle campaign in the recycle bin and set about reshaping its image with consumers.

Its campaign, launched in May 2007 with the tagline “In an Absolut World,” is as broad conceptually as the bottle was narrow, and as channel agnostic as the bottle was married to print.

Absolut’s agency of record, TBWA/Chiat/Day, and interactive agency Great Works have over the past 14 months built extensions for television, Internet, print, out-of-home, and mobile. So has every major advertiser of course; however, not every advertiser has sought as aggressively to play to the strengths of each channel, or to play one channel off another. The effect, while not always a hit, appears to have given the distiller a more convincing voice with younger demographics and dislodged it from its magazine rut.

Nowhere has the new work for Absolut been more striking, or bizarre, than in the Absolut Visionaries campaign. Launched in February, Visionaries solicits creative work from well-known artists and performers, including comedian Zach Galifianakis, gossip king Perez Hilton, and rapper Kanye West.

The progression of Absolut’s collaboration with West is telling. It began with a mock infomercial — made for Web and late-night cable TV — starring the artist. In the ad, West promotes a new product, BeKanye, that can be dissolved in water to magically transform anyone into Kanye West. The spot directs people to a Web site, BeKanyeNow.com, for more information.

As it began airing in the wee hours, the ad was accompanied by small-space print ads, out-of-home placements and online seeding on YouTube and other sites. It was all set up as a teaser for a glitzier :30 spot, which is now running on TV and in cinema. On the day of its release, that ad was supported with a homepage takeover on YouTube and a banner ad campaign.

It doesn’t stop there. If you’re a New York commuter, you’ve doubtless seen the subway ads, which are of the Dr. Zizmor variety. A call to action in both the infomercial, out-of-home and small-scale print ads urged people to call a phone number (1-877-BeKanye). Callers can request to have an Absolut Kanye recipe sent via SMS to their mobile phone.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t create a more elaborate phone tree,” said Rob Smiley, TBWA’s worldwide creative director for the Absolut account. “Originally it was supposed to be more so. We ran out of space on phone system we were using.”

The print and video work for the BeKanye effort was designed by TBWA. Great Works built the Web site and banner advertising. Media planning and the phone tree were handled by OMD.

“The Internet isn’t the last stop,” Smiley said. “I think you’re going to see more and more use of digital as a great connective tool, but perhaps not the final destination or a cool place where things can live.”

Each Visionaries stunt is unique. A short from comedian Galifianakis, created in a comic pairing with “Great Show, Awesome Job!” creators Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker, is probably the strangest of the films, and the most surprising to see associated with a premium Vodka brand. It’s genuinely creepy and disturbing, like the Adult Swim show itself.

A visit to Wareheim’s YouTube channel turns up two more videos in the series, including one sketch that seems unlikely to have been approved by Absolut. Regarding the more obscene Galifianakis shorts, Smiley would only say, “some pieces slide out that are not meant to get out…In the end it’s kind of enjoyable when it doesn’t violate client proscriptions to have several versions out.”

But Smiley added, “We wouldn’t ask Tim and Eric and Zach to do something that wasn’t what they do. We wouldn’t have Kanye do something that he wasn’t intimately associated with from the very beginning.”

Not all of Absolut’s new advertising has been a hit. Smiley said of the print ads, “Some have elicited more response than others.” The important thing, he said, is that Absolut continues to put out new iterations. In that way, the brand will establish continuity with future vodka drinkers.

“What we’ve learned is that surprisingly…people don’t miss the bottle campaign that much and were yearning for a new campaign,” he said. “The original Absolut campaign… took a couple years to find a voice, then it found different ways to express itself. What everybody’s learning is the same thing will happen here.”

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