A creative network of the idea, by the idea, for the idea

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Absolut creative

The Absolut Vodka print creative (developed by TBWA ad agency in New York) is another brilliant campaign that has influenced my career and the career of millions of creatives around the world.

Last week I focused on Nike as an example of brand and agency producing some of the best creativity of the last 20 years. Nike and its "Just do it" campaign is a complex combination of clever insights, talented creatives, brilliant execution and bold decision making.

A good example of this complexity is that although everybody understood "Just do it" very well, very few people besides W+K were capable of delivering a comemrcial with the right "Just do it" feeling.

With Absolut we find a different case of creative brilliance.

Everybody could and probably did create an Absolut print ad. (this fact was embraced by the agency and resulted in the first global collaboration between artists from all fields and a brand to create advertising)

All you needed was a bottle and your own interpretation of the campaign. This attribute (where everybody can contribute to the campaign with a valid idea is perceived in creative departments as a sign of having a good concept.

This "ease of creativity" is rare in advertising, and in the case of Absolut (and probably MasterCard, which will be subject of a future post) is one of the main reasons for its popularity: Everybody understood the creative idea.

The brief of the campaign wasn't promising:
Adman Geoff Hays of the TBWA ad agency in New York was asked to come up with a campaign for Absolut Vodka. The Stockholm team had taken great care to outline a campaign for the new product based on very specific guidelines - all advertising should center around the bottle, the product should not be identified with any particular lifestyle and the approach should have a timeless yet contemporary feel to it.
Its amazing how much creativity could be born from from such uncreative set up.

But it is a good remainder of the magic of the creative process and the creative idea (TBWA was and stil is one of the most creatives and innovatives agencies in the world. And I don't believe in accidents)

Keep this message from the brand in mind:
Creativity is that simple surprise and delight of seeing familiar things in a new way. From the very beginning, when Absolut vodka was first exported, we decided to be different - to surprise and delight.
Why is this important? Because all the decisions made by the Absolut brand were measure against this strategic vision.

  • Be bold. In 1980 you couldn't find many alcohol brands that had such a conceptual message. It was one of the first campaigns that really said more about the consumer than about the product itself. In the 80"s!!! You wanted to be seen with that brand, wear it, be associated with it. Absolut said a lot about you; clever, playful, classy, sensitive... creative. (is it surprising that the same agency creates the advertising for Apple?)
  • Make the product the hero. Many times the creative team forgets that the whole purpuse of the ad, is to seel the product. But don't be too harsh on us. Its part of the creative exploration and the process of landing on the right idea. I always say that the product has to be the center of the drama. In this case the Absolut bottle is the main character, and the name Absolut the story. what else could a client ask for?
  • Surprise and delight. I remember being attracted to the absolut campaign long before getting my first job as a creative in advertising. I found them... surprising. I remember getting winter gloves with a copy of the New Yorker in 1993 "Absolut Warmth". Following their strategy, to surprise and delight Absolut had to think outside the conventional print ad, within the limitations of the print ad world. I can ventured to say that without that brand vision, the creative team would have never searched for alternative ways of delivering the campaign in the way they did.
I hope you like this campaign as much as I do. It offers great lessons about creativity and the innovation process.
But it's also consistent with some of the lessons from the Nike campaign:
Be bold.
Never be satisfied.
Try everything, fail, learn and keep on trying.

Absolut is to date one of only three brands inducted into the American Marketing Association's Hall of Fame. The other two are Coca-Cola and Nike.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  2. Another article about the Absolut campaign with relevant information

  3. Thank you Ruth and thank you for reading this blog. I really appreciate your following. Please let me know what I can do to improve my posts.