Absolut Tales

The Gulfstream took off from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport with a full load of executives, all of whom had the satisfaction of knowing that the global distribution rights to Absolut were signed, sealed and delivered.

If you’ve ever flown on a corporate jet, you know how great it is. You board quickly and easily, take off on time (or even ahead of time) and generally are met on the tarmac a few steps from the plane and off you go.

Despite this great convenience, I’ve heard people complain about the absence of frequent flier miles, which always makes me laugh at the silliness of the thought. For me, however, this particular flight had one disadvantage — it was full of Seagram brass. Every one of the 14 seats was taken and there was no place to hide. And, every one of the 14 had 5 or 6 ideas about marketing and how best to grow the brand further. After all, we were taking over the brand from the legendary Michel Roux who grew the brand with a series of innovative and effective marketing actions.

While getting the brand elated us, we were also mindful of the daunting task ahead. Especially the marketing guy…me.

This was best summed up by the owner who, after laying out his thoughts and vision, said, “Arturo, I have four words for you — don’t f**k it up.”

Michel Roux was indeed a hard act to follow. Carillon Importers was part of a large corporation, but he ran the brand entrepreneurially, with vision and resources to take this fledgling brand to renowned marketing levels.

There is a great story about Michel’s brand champion efforts that I recently asked him to confirm. I wasn’t sure if it was true or a booze business myth.

It seems he was in the Detroit airport waiting to depart when he noticed a man wearing an Absolut t-shirt. Alarm bells went off in his head for two reasons. First, there were no Absolut t-shirts and he and didn’t want them, so clearly it was counterfeit. Second and most important, the man in question (according to Michel) must have weighed over 350 pounds and despite the triple XL size, it was a very snug fit.

Clearly bothered by his brand portrayed in such a manner, Roux stopped the man, told him he was looking for that particular t-shirt and offered him $100 to buy it. The man accepted the generous offer. They went to a souvenir store, bought a replacement and now Michel owned it.

The man left happy with this transaction and the Absolut t-shirt was promptly tossed in the trash.

True story.

In my opinion, the Absolut brand has gone through 4 periods in its development. The first era was with M. Roux and Carillon Importers. Next came the Seagram years and further, albeit different, growth. The third period was one in which the brand began to languish despite the efforts of some (but not all) capable people. Today, the ownership of the brand is in the hands of Pernod Ricard with the difficult task of once again polishing its luster.

I plan to cover the Absolut story from these vantage points in the future.

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