Absolut, the Swedish vodka sold by Pernod Ricard, took a gamble 30 years ago to market to the then-controversial gay market.
Jeffrey Moran, vice president of public relations, events and sponsorships at Pernod Ricard, says that being inclusive is part of Absolut’s brand.
“When Absolut first created its advertising plan for the U.S., it recognized that this community was a vital demographic that we wanted to work with. At a time when no other brands were talking to the LGBT community, Absolut took the initiative and engaged this trendsetting influencer community in a way that no one had before … and few have since.”
Absolut started advertising to the gay community in 1981 by placing ads in gay magazines the Advocate and After Dark.
Todd Evans, president and CEO of Rivendell Media, a company that focuses on the gay market, believes Absolut took a major risk because, “There were really no marketing studies on the LGBT community 30 years ago and for Absolut, a big brand company, to dedicate such large resources to an unstudied community is almost unheard of. No other spirit company took that risk.”
Evans says spirit companies generally target marketing campaigns to people between the ages 21-25 because that is when people start to form drink preferences.
“With Absolut focusing on the gay community 30 years ago, think of all the long-term customers they established because Absolut was the only spirit company marketing to the LGBT community.”
The company is celebrating the anniversary with a year-long campaign theme dubbed “Absolut Outrageous” that will feature nods to the 30-year campaign. There will be online and outdoor ads, campaign slogans such as “Celebrating 30 years of going out and coming out” and a contribution of $30,000 to Outfest and the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation.
A print ad will appear in LGBT publications like The Advocate, Instinct and Out as well as mainstream magazines Vanity Fair and Vogue. The marketing budget is estimated at more than $4 million.
“Loyalty is earned and Absolut understands this,” Moran says. “Many brands have attempted to duplicate the Absolut success story in the LGBT market, but the brand that helped invent LGBT advertising is constantly re-defining the segment. From Andy Warhol to RuPaul to David LaChapelle, Absolut has maintained relevancy among the spirits clutter by partnering with some of the most notable gay and lesbian icons over the past three decades. In addition, we realize the importance of a multi-platform LGBT campaign: print, digital, social media and experiential components are all part of our outrageous initiative.”
Evans recalls that Absolut received a lot of positive response from the LGBT community, thanking them for their support when the ad campaign launched 30 years ago. It was one of their standard ads of the day — a halo hovering over the Absolut bottle — but its placement in gay publications was unprecedented.
The campaign grew over the years as the company expanded by buying more ads, sponsoring events at bars, donating to charities and causes and more.
“Today, we advertise on Logo, a television station dedicated to the gay community, and sponsor ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ The ads are more tailored to the LGBT community,” said Moran. “Absolut is fully invested in the LGBT community.”
But could the impact be diluted as more spirit companies market to gays? Evans isn’t worried.
“At that time 30 years ago, we dedicated some marketing resources to the LGBT community and received responses. Today, we spend a lot more on LGBT marketing and receive little responses.”
Evans believes that for every one letter received, thousands feel the same way.
With new generations of customers and their response to ads changing, developing and measuring brand loyalty is becoming more difficult.
“With Absolut’s multi-media campaign, I think it is the right approach to attract customers and to remind them of Absolut’s dedication to the LGBT community,” Evans says, “I think once they have an Absolut product, they will be loyal a customer because it is great product.”