The long-running marketing efforts for Absolut vodka have been
focused on print advertisements and posters that salute artists, liquor
ingredients, cities, states and even states of mind. Now the campaign
is breaking another path by promoting a cause.
An ad that is beginning to appear in national magazines honors
the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad,
which Absolut and its importers have been supporting for two
decades with cash contributions and merchandise donations.
The ad, "Absolut Glaad," was created for Seagram
Americas, the Absolut importer, by the brand's agency, the
New York office of TBWA/ Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide
unit of the Omnicom Group. "Absolut Glaad" is based
on an ad from the mid-1990's for Absolut Citron, the lemon-flavored
vodka, featuring a lava lamp shaped like the distinctive Absolut
bottle. In this version, a rendering of the Glaad logo replaces
the groovy blobs swimming inside the lamp.
"We have hundreds and hundreds of ads, but it's the
first time we've customized an ad to fit one of our not- for-profit
partners," said Jim Schleifer, marketing director for
Absolut at Seagram Americas in New York, a unit of the Seagram
Company that has held the rights to distribute Absolut since
1994 under an agreement with Vin and Sprit, the brand's Swedish
The ad, appearing in The Advocate and New York magazines,
is indicative of two trends that are helping to reshape how
advertisers appeal to consumers. One is what is called cause-related
marketing, which seeks potential customers by supporting causes
they themselves support. The other is what is called niche
marketing, which seeks potential customers among narrow demographic
segments rather than the general population.
"You target your audience," Mr. Schleifer said,
adding that the "Absolut Glaad" ad was emblematic
of "a longstanding commitment to this marketplace"
that included advertising since 1981 in The Advocate, aimed
at gay and lesbian readers, and becoming the founding sponsor
in 1989 of Glaad's annual presentations of honors known as
the Glaad Media Awards.
The Absolut involvement with Glaad started with the company
that held the brand's distribution rights before Seagram,
Carillon Importers, whose president and chief executive, Michel
Roux, was a pioneer of both cause-related marketing and marketing
to niche consumer groups.
Mr. Roux ardently courted gay men and lesbians because, he
would always say, they were trendsetters whose brand preferences
would be emulated by younger, hipper segments of the general
public. Together, Mr. Roux believed, those groups bought vodka
in sufficient quantities for Absolut to thrive despite whatever
backlash might come from consumers who deplored companies
that aimed ads at gay men and lesbians.
"Absolut got into the gay market and gay causes before
it was socially acceptable to do so," said Richard Lewis,
worldwide account director for Absolut at TBWA/Chiat/Day,
who has worked on the campaign under Carillon and Seagram.
"We intuitively saw good marketing reasons to do it,
but the brand has always had a heart as well."
Along with Glaad, Carillon and Seagram have made donations
and contributions to organizations like the American Foundation
for AIDS Research and the Design Industry Foundation for AIDS.
Asked whether those causes and others that Absolut supports
would become subjects for ads, Mr. Lewis replied: "I'm
not sure if this sets a precedent. I'm a believer that some
ideas are best done once. But if something makes sense, if
something feels right, we'll do it."
Long after smaller companies like Carillon embraced cause-related
marketing and marketing to niches like gays, both tactics
have been adopted by mainstream advertisers including American
Express, General Motors and Procter & Gamble. Indeed,
along with two Absolut ads in the Feb. 27 issue of The Advocate
one, "Absolut Glaad," on the back cover
there are ads from marketing mainstays like Allied Domecq,
American Express, Bristol-Myers Squibb, British American Tobacco,
Johnson & Johnson and Xerox.
"Just think about the world 20 years ago when Absolut
began to advertise in The Advocate," said Joan M. Garry,
executive director of Glaad in New York. "What a risk
She paused, then added, "And what a smart business decision
at the same time."
The Glaad Media Awards received about $1.5 million last year
from corporate sponsors, Ms. Garry said, "with Absolut
at the top of the list." The "Absolut Glaad"
ad is to run in the programs to be distributed at the 2001
presentations of the awards, at ceremonies in Los Angeles,
New York, San Francisco and Washington scheduled from April
16 through June 9.
Glaad seeks to correct what its members consider negative
depictions and praise what they perceive as positive
depictions of gay men and lesbians in the news media.
For instance, Glaad was among organizations asking CBS to
run public service announcements during the broadcast last
night of the Grammy Awards because of the participation in
the show of the rap artist Eminem, whose lyrics have been
criticized as condoning violence and intolerance. CBS, owned
by Viacom, planned to run three such spots during the program
if time permitted.
Ms. Garry said Glaad was not concerned about "criticism
of corporate sponsorship" of its work, especially when
the contributions come from liquor marketers like Seagram.
"For us, particularly with a change in administrations,"
she added, "companies that find benefits from supporting
our community enable us to grow the scope and influence of
Ms. Garry is among those who are watching whether Absolut's
support continues under another owner of the distribution
rights. Seagram will lose those rights after the purchase
of its beverage assets by Diageo and Pernod Ricard S.A. is
completed later this year.
Those assets were put up for sale by Vivendi Universal, the
entertainment company that acquired them in buying Seagram.
Vin and Sprit is in final negotiations to sell the rights
to Fortune Brands and Maxxium, a consortium of liquor marketers.
Whatever the outcome, Mr. Lewis said, Absolut "hasn't
forgotten its roots and what made it successful," adding
that TBWA/Chiat/Day is "still commissioning art from
artists, fashion designers and writers."
"We're talking to Yoko Ono," he added, so an ad
could appear carrying the headline "Absolut Ono."
That was probably the reaction of many people reading a new
Absolut ad saluting the city of Norfolk, Va., which rendered
the top of the bottle as a periscope. Unfortunately, the ad
is running after the American submarine Greeneville sank a
Japanese fishing boat near Hawaii. However, Nissan Motor has
recently been running a print ad showing the Concorde, months
after the crash of an Air France Concorde.
Hmmm, maybe ads supporting causes even causes that
may turn off some consumers are better than ads centered
on accident-prone means of transportation.
Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. February 22, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times. All rights reserved.