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09.2009

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Liza Weisstuch

If there’s any city in this country brimming with iconic American images, figures and monuments, Boston tops the list. And when it comes to cities that are easily commemorated, you need one of iconic standing. The spirit (if you will) of a city is what the folks at Absolut Vodka draw on as it continues to roll out its city concept, a series of limited releases of specially formulated flavors, each representative of, devoted to and named for a major metropolis. Absolut Boston is the latest release (the third) in this clever series, and it’s going to be a monster. (A green one – wink!)
Absolut Boston, which hit the shelves in August, is a limited release of 1O,OOO cases. The bottle design features a rendering of Fenway Park’s Green Monster on the backside of the standard one-liter Absolut bottle. The front label is a written tribute to the city and the beloved monument.

“Boston is great for the brand. It’s been in the works for two years,” said Brand Manager Anna Battiloro. “Tea was the obvious choice. We always approach the limited edition cities so that they embody the city – with a twist. Tea and elderflower captures the revolutionary past and modern, forward-thinking ideals.”

Pernod Ricard SA acquired Absolut through its purchase of Sweden’s Vin & Sprit in a deal that was finalized in October 2OO8. At that time, the company’s city line of vodkas was already in full swing. Absolut New Orleans, which was mango flavored with a kick of black pepper, was launched in the summer of 2OO7. It was unveiled at Tales of the Cocktail, an annual event in the Big Easy that draws industry professionals of all stripes as well as consumers. Absolut Los Angeles, flavored with a medley of new age healthy fruits, like acai berry, pomegranate, blueberry, acerola cherry, was released in 2OO8. The line of limited edition flavors was developed based on the success of the city-specific ads in Absolut’s renowned, long-running print ad campaign that flourished in the mid- to late 198Os. “The city executions of the ad campaign were very successful because they tapped into specific consumers’ sense of pride of place,” said Battiloro.

Battiloro said the intention is to launch one city product each year, and they’re very selective about the locations they choose. “Our selection is based on how relevant it is to our target consumer. We pick cities people live in, visited or aspire to visit. That’s how we landed on Boston, because it’s relevant. We get estimates based on how the economy is going and how relevant the city is to the rest of the country because the product is available nationally.”
It’s easy to presume that the faithful citizens of Red Sox Nation are snatching up the bottles as a token of their personal love for the legendary team, a commitment the Absolut brand has shown for many years. Absolut has been a longtime sponsor of the Sox, and Battiloro calls the relationship an “incredible partnership”. The brand has been a distinct presence at Fenway since the summer of 2OO7 when the Absolut Clubhouse opened. She explained that the Red Sox were involved in approval of the packaging of Absolut Boston. “We presented the concept and they gave the thumbs up. The management team was supportive of the creative approach, but they had no direct connection to the initiative.”

The Red Sox, of course, are the keystone of the fully integrated advertising and marketing campaign, which Battiloro describes as a “massive city takeover”. “You cannot walk out the door without knowing about it. There’s everything from a media takeover of Kenmore Square to buzz-worthy PR executions at Fenway. Awareness driving tactics will be extended to viral digital and radio, as well as private consumer events and managed bar nights.” Digitally, Absolut is aligning with MLB.com and local sites, like Boston.com and Thrillist, a lifestyle e-newsletter that skews towards men. The digital partners are being leveraged to ensure various influential consumers are invited to events. In addition to radio, digital and out-of-home, print ads were planned for local magazines like stuff boston and the weekly dig, and national publications, like espn’s magazine and sports illustrated.

Point-of-sale merchandise for on-premise is designed to support the managed bar nights, Battiloro explained, and there’s also point-of-sale for off-premise, as she expects to get a lot of case stackings. Battiloro expects 6O% of total sales to come from off-premise, chiefly because the bottle is a collector’s item. As far as the on-premise activity is concerned, cocktails are a primary focus. Local Pernod Ricard reps have been busy identifying bartenders who are invited to design signature drinks to be featured at each private consumer event. “It’s incredibly mixable,” Battiloro says of the vodka, which is made from Swedish winter wheat and contains no added artificial flavors, sugar or glycerin. The flavors are added before distillation, and the distillation process extracts any impurities. “It mixes with the most basic mixer, and it’s really good in a martini because it’s great to drink on its own. We definitely want to promote premium cocktails. It’s easy to mix with in general, but we’re really pushing more elaborate, premium cocktails with four or more ingredients.”

To further round out the concept, profits from each product in the Absolut cities line are committed to a local charity. “It’s important to give back to the city that served as inspiration, so we always donate to local charities. A portion of the profits from Absolut Boston will go to the Charles River Conservancy, which funds the renewal efforts of park land, park programs and tree plantings around the Charles.” The release of Absolut New Orleans coincided with the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. One hundred percent of the profits went to rebuilding the Gulf. For Absolut Los Angeles, the company partnered with Green Way, an LA-based nonprofit that’s involved with projects that filters rainwater from the streets before it flows into the LA River.

The ultimate aim of the city initiative is to reinvigorate the Absolut brand in the public conscience. “That is the hope. It’s strategically positioned to bring people back to portfolio. We need to launch advertisements that reengage consumers and bring them into the brand so they identify Absolut as a brand that’s called for in bars and one that they’re proud to serve at home,” said Battiloro. Of course, another hope is that the Red Sox will take home a championship ring this year.

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