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Case Study: Absolut Disco

Absolut has long been renowned for its creative and innovative approach to the design of everything from its packaging to its advertising campaigns. But it was the 2007 launch of the Absolut Disco mirrorball gift pack that really captured imaginations around the world.

Absolut Disco

‘When we got the brief, we had already been doing work for Absolut for a couple of years,’ says Mårten Knutsson, executive creative director of Stockholm-based design agency Family Business, which created the packaging.

‘Structurally, Absolut Disco was a winter campaign intended to defend the brand against price-offs during the Christmas period, and we had made another shot at spectacular packaging, Absolut Bling Bling, the year before (2006), so we already knew how much fun and what good results we could get from an in-store campaign that was, so to say, activated already at the vodka factory.’ Absolut Bling Bling is now much sought-after on trading sites such as eBay.

Absolut Disco was a natural follow-up and one that further extended the possibilities of what a gift pack could offer to consumers. ‘Absolut Disco builds on the legendary Absolut history of creative and groundbreaking bottle and packaging design,’ comments Katarina Nielsen, international marketing director, V&S Absolut Spirits. ‘Our consumers want to give their personal interpretation of contemporary culture.

The Absolut Disco gift pack and website offer them the possibility to create their own version of disco, no matter where they are.’ In addition to the gift pack, a campaign-dedicated website also enabled visitors to experience the Absolut take on disco by using an intuitive web camera application provided by groundbreaking web technology.

‘The campaign website with its hand disco video generator is truly interactive and lets the visitors create their own disco moves,’ says Christina Bergman, communications manager, V&S Absolut Spirits.

The brief given to the team at Family Business was very specific: to raise the visibility of Absolut vodka within its category, and create added value to start a word-of-mouth process and also build sales.

Although specific in its intentions, it took a number of discussions to develop this further, especially with regard to what added value really meant in this case. ‘We concluded that, for today’s Absolut consumer, an exciting design experience is worth much more than a pair of sunglasses, a glass, or something else that is standard fare “added value” in the spirits category,’ continues Knutsson.

The team also spent a lot of time developing alternative ideas in case the Disco design turned out to be unfeasible in terms of either technology or cost. ‘We had two other exciting designs on stand-by all the way to the minute when the final decision had to be made.’

Absolut Disco

For the client, it was vital that the creative team had a good understanding not only of the brand itself, but also of what was driving purchase and consumption in the sales channels. It was also very important to find a core idea and core concept that could be translated and further developed across a range of media.

‘Family Business is one of our main agencies for below-the-line initiatives and their knowledge of Absolut and creative skills in design and packaging were key in this project,’ says Cecilia Falk, director of channel marketing for V&S Absolut Spirits. ‘Family Business is very skilled at finding simple yet very stylish ideas and design that fit Absolut vodka’s core values.’

‘Our creative process is about spending a lot of time thinking,’ says Knutsson. ‘First, we think about the problem as much as we possibly can, then we think about the solution. If we don’t find a solution, we haven’t thought enough about the problem, so we have to go back. It’s much more fun than it sounds!’

Taking its inspiration from the mirror ball, the classic dance symbol, the Absolut Disco gift pack is all about ‘dancing, having fun and giving your own interpretation of disco.’ The pack is made up of exactly 1,000 reflecting prisms, formed in the shape of a classic Absolut vodka bottle, and is opened by sliding it apart to reveal a bottle of Absolut vodka. The empty gift pack can then be used as a mirror ball by hanging it from its integrated loop.

As with any campaign or product launch, a strong client-creative relationship can mean the difference between success and failure. And the close, constructive relationship between Absolut and Family Business certainly paid dividends here, allowing the teams to meet regularly and ensuring a tight ongoing dialogue throughout the creative process.

As many aspects of this project were highly technical, it was also important for the client to ensure that the global needs of its markets were being met. At the height of the project, the teams met several times a weeks for status reports and progress checks.

Absolut Disco

‘Our relationship is very intimate and open! We get two kinds of briefs: the specific ones and the open ones. The open ones are the best: this is a problem in our markets, how can we solve it?’ says Knutsson. ‘The Absolut people used to be part of all our creative workshops, but nowadays they don’t have the time. Still, I would say that they are close. We don’t have big presentations every six weeks. Instead they prefer to come by our office for a discussion a couple of times a week. I think that far too many agency-client relationships are about being scared of each other.’

Working on a project over 18 months alongside a major client active in over 100 markets, a few problems were inevitable. ‘I think the first crisis was the discussion about whether disco was a trend or a phenomenon, the kind of discussion where there is no proof available,’ recalls Knutsson. ‘No one wants to do the wrong thing, and in big projects you always meet people that are not primarily communicators, but economists.’

Due to the many practical and technical aspects of the project, design and construction were always at the forefront of the teams’ minds. The design also had to work at a very high volume production level.

Another concern lay with the uncertainty about whether the Disco shells at the bottom of a shipping container would stand the weight of all the vodka on top of them while being transported around the world.

The only way to find out was to fill a container with prototypes and send it on a ship! ‘Some markets had a problem in that they ran out of stock too fast, which meant that they did not have much vodka left for the rest of the campaign. But I guess that’s a happy problem,’ says Knutsson.

For Falk, the most memorable part of the project was seeing all the markets’ executions afterwards. ‘It was a real success, and each market maximised that market’s potential.’ For Knutsson, it was the global impact of the design and the positive response from his peers.

‘Firstly, to get the fantastic sales reports from all over the world and to hear about empty shelves wherever there used to be Absolut Disco was fantastic,’ he says. ‘Secondly, all the recognition that we received from the international blog and the design and advertising community for what is basically a simple in-store promotion concept.’

So what did they learn from the experience? ‘That the most important thing in marketing processes is to create concepts simple enough for people on all levels to understand, not just the marketing executives and the consumers,’ says Knutsson. ‘That is the only way to get a thorough implementation in the sales channels.’

Falk took away several key concepts: how to create campaigns that can genuinely be executed on a global level, and the success factors in driving sales and brand image in a single campaign.

The creative team at Family Business had three main objectives when designing the gift pack: to sell more Absolut, to be visible in the trade channels during a very busy season and to build brand equity by being talked about.

These were more than achieved. With some 2.9 million gift-packs sold, Absolut Disco completely sold out in most markets internationally before the campaign period had even ended.

Absolut Colors, 1999

Extreme visibility was reached (in a lot of accounts Absolut went from three facings to 70) and the Disco bottle certainly increased word-of-mouth about the brand, proven by everything from Google hits to the numerous advertising and design awards it received. Moreover, Absolut’s promotion evaluation has shown that sales lifted approximately 14% during that specific period of the year.

Absolut Disco ran in approximately 80 to 100 markets at the end of 2007, but many simply couldn’t wait for the product to launch globally and were bidding $50 for an empty Disco skin on eBay up to a month before the product’s global launch.

Disco fever also reached Changi Airport in Singapore, where entrants to a disco contest just wouldn’t stop dancing. Five Japanese travellers even missed their flight to Osaka as a result. ‘The footage from that dancing competition also taught me never, ever, to dance in public,’ says Knutsson.

Knutsson believes it would have been interesting to have had more time and money to develop further supporting activities, such as technically advanced dancefloors.

‘On the other hand, I think that one of the beauties of Absolut Disco is that it is about one simple packaging design that can be put in a lot of different contexts, depending on local marketing needs. And no one wants to change a success. Therefore, Absolut Disco will be just the same when it is launched in the US and Canada in winter 08/09.’

Heidi Lightfoot on Absolut Disco at the D&AD "How the hell did that get in?" event

As Family Business continues to work with Absolut on a long-term basis, there are always new projects in the pipeline. In addition to finalising the drawings for the 2009/10 winter campaign, they are also currently collaborating with the Absolut Company on product development, design guidelines, product launches and tactical campaigns in several markets around the world: and much more.

Packaging is often overlooked in the ‘good design’ stakes and often categorised as a ‘need’ rather than a ‘want’. Absolut Disco shatters this misconception with a design that not only fulfils its functional objectives but is also almost as integral to the success of the brand as the product itself.

To have people bidding on auction sites for packaging that does not even contain the project is testament to that. Moreover, Family Business has succeeded in injecting a much-needed fun factor into their design: it’s evident just from looking at it that this project was fun for all concerned. That fun factor has, in turn, been passed onto the consumer: not an easy achievement.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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