Today's target consumers for Absolut were just babies when the vodka brand first collaborated with Andy Warhol.
It was 1986, and the pop art pioneer was the first artist to create an original piece for Absolut, based on the iconic bottle. The image kicked off more than 30 years of the Swedish vodka brand's collaboration with contemporary artists. But with those now-iconic partnerships only a vague recollection in the minds of young consumers, Absolut is tapping a new generation of artists with a global ad campaign unveiled Monday.
It is the first major campaign the Pernod Ricard SA-owned brand has done since Montreal-based firm Sid Lee was named its lead global advertising agency late last year.
"We're announcing a new intent to the world," said Eric Alper, vice-president and partner at Sid Lee in Toronto, and the managing partner on the Absolut account.
Absolut has announced collaborations with four artists: Brazilian graphic novel artist Rafael Grampa; U.S. digital media artist Aaron Koblin, who is also head of the Google Creative Lab's data arts team; couturier Yiqing Yin and musician Woodkid, both of France. The campaign launched on Monday in the United States, Brazil and Germany, and will roll out to between 40 and 50 countries, including Canada, by early October.
Roughly 50 per cent of the media budget for the advertising will be spent on digital, Mr. Alper said. That includes promoting the central campaign video with online advertising, and also placing individual, meticulously-shot videos about each artist's work on sites that are popular among millennials. Ms. Yin's work, for example, could be placed on fashion blogs and websites, while the profile of Woodkid could appear on music sites such as Pitchfork.com. The videos will also be seen on an updated Absolut.com.
This type of "branded content" is essential for reaching a younger demographic, Mr. Alper said.
"It's our way of presenting something that is both useful and entertaining," he said. "Everything else is wallpaper … nothing else works, and your consumer doesn't care about anything else."
The other half of the campaign will be on television, in print, and in the medium that Absolut has used to great effect throughout its history: billboards and other outdoor ads. This media mix will likely go heavier on digital in the future, but the use of mass media is key for promoting the new brand position, "transform tomorrow."
Absolut is the No. 4 spirit brand in the world, but in recent years it has faced challenges as the premium vodka category has become more cluttered with competitors.
While millennials, those under the age of 32, depending on the definition, face an uncertain economic climate and a very challenging job market, research has shown that they are not always driven to the lowest-priced products. Rather, they are value-driven shoppers, willing to pay more for products they feel are relevant and – what is becoming a hot marketing buzz word – authentic.
But even though they are willing to spend more, they do not relate to traditional luxury marketing, Mr. Alper said, taking a shot at the oyster-shucking advertising imagery of competitors such as Grey Goose.
He is betting that associations with contemporary artists will help revive awareness of Absolut's brand among its key demographic of "urban creative millennials."
The agency is still mum on details about how the artist collaborations will play out, but it is likely that as in the past, the chosen artists will create works for the brand for use in its advertising, just as Warhol's print was.
"There's a lot of engineering authenticity [in marketing,]" Mr. Alper said. "These guys are real."