In the early 1980s, every glossy magazine in America had an ad for Absolut Vodka. The stout clear bottle, sans paper label, was photographed alone in front a simple dark backdrop, floating above clever taglines like Absolut Clarity (a magnifying glass focuses on the words “Country of Sweden” to emphasize that a difference all the Russian hooch). In 1986, heady with success, Absolut commissioned art stars Andy Warhol and Keith Haring to illustrate the bottle for its ads. The ad agency behind the 15-year print campaign, TBWA/Chiat Day, suggests that the ads increased Absolut sales by 14,900%. One of the admen, Richard W. Lewis, even published a New York Times bestseller featuring all 500 versions of the ads in a coffee-table book. “The bottle’s the hero,” he’s said.
Today, Absolut is the number one imported vodka brand in the US. But as the market continues to grow (flavored vodkas are in – 115 exist – from whipped cream to bacon to wasabi), so does Absolut’s competition. Upstart lower-price brands like Svedka, Pinnacle and Sobieski have driven the king back to Madison Avenue. This fall, Absolut is launching Absolut Unique. It’s the same Swedish vodka in the same stout bottle but each of the four million bottles in this limited edition is painted differently. Not by hand or famous artist but by splash paint guns rigged in the Absolut production plant, which are designed to spray each bottle sui generis. Mass production maestro Warhol would be so proud. Hey, his studio wasn’t called the Factory for nothing.