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Montreal’s Sid Lee wins Absolut Vodka global ad accountHO

Canadian advertising firm Sid Lee has clinched a deal to become the lead agency charged with creating the next global campaign for Absolut Vodka.

Montreal-based Sid Lee says it will provide an advertising strategy that will include digital, traditional advertising, branded content and "experiential" elements, in an effort to win over a younger crowd for the Swedish vodka brand.

"We're very excited because it's a global win," agency chairman and senior partner Bertrand Cesvet said. "This is up there with our biggest clients."

Absolut is a significant step for Sid Lee as part of its global expansion – in a year that has also been marked by disappointment.

The firm has been working hard to establish itself as a global player, and not simply a promising boutique agency. In 2010, Sid Lee landed the global business for adidas AG. It helped the company to promote itself as official sportswear partner at the London Olympics this summer with a highly praised "Take the Stage" campaign and other marketing around the Games. Sales for the first half of 2012 increased 24 per cent in the U.K. and 11 per cent globally, and in a statement, chief executive officer Herbert Hainer praised the company's sports sponsorships and the communications work done to take advantage of the hype those events provided.

But this year also included a setback for Sid Lee, when it lost the multimillion dollar account for Texas-based computer giant Dell Inc., just 15 months after winning the business. Sid Lee had the North American consumer advertising slice of the account, but Dell moved the bulk of its business, as some larger companies choose to do, under a single global agency – Young & Rubicam, owned by ad agency holding company WPP Group PLC, which was already its lead brand agency. Sid Lee has since shuttered its Austin atelier.

Now Sid Lee has another global client to add it its adidas business, and assist in its ambitions to keep building its reputation beyond Canadian borders.

Absolut is part of the Pernod Ricard SA booze empire, the second-largest spirits group in the world after Britain's Diageo PLC.

"The overall objective with this new brand campaign is to recruit the urban creative millennials, the young adults," said Mathias Westphal, global brand director at Pernod Ricard SA, which owns Absolut.

Sid Lee will work closely – mostly out of its Amsterdam office, but also from recently opened New York digs – with Absolut's people in Stockholm, Mr. Cesvet said. Besides Montreal, New York and Amsterdam, the independent ad agency has offices in Toronto and Paris.

"Our job is to help guide and steer [Absolut] and be the custodian to the brand and ensure it retains and grows its premium position," said vice-president and partner Eric Alper.

Sid Lee has grown quickly over the past few years and made its mark on the industry. Another client is Cirque du Soleil, which earlier this year took a minority stake in Sid Lee – partly to give the firm the capital needed to fund further expansion. The two companies also plan to launch a joint venture to do creative projects for brands that marry the world of advertising and entertainment.

Sid Lee is not the first Canadian shop to win a global advertising account. Toronto-based Juniper Park, for example, is the global agency of record for Tropicana, and has also recently done some high-profile work rebuilding the image of canned foods for Del Monte. Brandworks, also based in Toronto, is the global agency for Cuba Tourism, executing campaigns in 32 countries and 14 languages over the past two years.

Mr. Cesvet declined to say how much the Absolut account is worth or provide details on its advertising budget going forward.

But he said building sales in emerging markets such as Brazil and China is a top priority. And so is courting the so-called "millennial" demographic group – heavily courted consumers born between 1980 and 2000 – that many spirits makers acknowledge are crucial for continued growth.

"We have to get discovered by millennials. You constantly have to fight for their attention," he said.

The agency will likely hire between 25 and 30 new people to help on the account.

Absolut is ranked as the fourth-largest international premium spirits brand. The vodka was first made 133 years ago by "Vodka King" Lars Ollson Smith in a small town in southern Sweden, and was introduced in the United States in 1979.

It made a name for itself marketing a variety of flavourings, including pepper, lemon, mandarin and wild tea.

Mr. Cesvet said Absolut's main rival in North America is Grey Goose, owned by Bacardi Ltd.

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