Case study: Absolut Vodka – shaken, not deterred

4 minute read

Absolut is a quality premium vodka company, strongly rooted in Swedish values of diversity and inclusion. For more than a century, the company has operated under a one source, one community philosophy, where its processes from wheat harvest to water collection to distillation and production exclusively take place in and around the village of Åhus, Sweden.

The worldwide brand has successfully cemented itself into popular culture, cultivating an image of fun and creativity with revellers and collectors, thanks to its deceptively simple bottle with distinctive blue lettering. It has appeared on the screen, filling the glasses of James Bond and Carrie Bradshaw, and in iconic print advertisements in partnership with world-renowned artists like Keith Haring, Annie Leibovitz and, most famously, Andy Warhol.

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Meeting the challenge of a holiday campaign during lockdown

Every year during the winter holidays, the brand’s licensed distributor, Corby Spirit and Wine, issues a special edition bottle of this classic libation. Absolut fans keep an eye out for the limited run, so the bottles have a following among collectors. Traditionally, Corby has supported this special product with a multi-media campaign and made good use of in-store displays and point-of-sale elements. The 2020 holiday season, however, put a chill on that.

Pandemic-inspired safety measures meant liquor stores were open – but to create space for physical distancing, they weren’t allowing as many in-store displays. Corby still needed to reach its customers and drive sales to Absolut’s special-edition bottle, but now faced the challenge of doing so without its favoured tool.

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Enhancing the customer experience by re-evaluating the media mix

Absolut was not alone. Creating meaningful connections with customers whose world was rapidly changing (almost by the day) required brands to constantly reconsider and re-evaluate their media mix to remain relevant. The home environment and gifting became a critical component of the holiday strategy to ensure sales remained strong in a challenging year. And, according to Kantar’s cross-channel study1, physical media is among the most impactful touchpoints for food and drink.

A direct mail piece for Absolut Vodka. “Gift the season’s spirit with the new Absolut holiday limited edition bottle.”

With pandemic lockdowns in place, most brands turned to digital communication. That presented an opportunity for Absolut.

We thought it was a good time to test and learn.

Anika Sharma

Assistant Brand Manager,

Corby Spirit and Wine

With other channels clogged, trying something new – namely a print message – let the company stand out.

For this special edition bottle, Corby targeted urban millennials. Research proves that groups respond well to direct mail (DM) if it’s relevant to them.3 “We’re not used to getting mail; it’s all digital culture for us,” says Sharma. She also knows that campaigns that use physical and digital outreach drive higher recall. “It was the perfect time to kick it in an old-school kind of way,” she says.

Engaging and enticing with precise, data-driven targeting

Canada Post identified specific neighbourhoods with a high percentage of young, downtown professionals. To drive awareness for this new bottle, Corby would send 250,000 pieces of direct mail in combination with social, digital and targeted out-of-home.

With its sophisticated data-driven targeting capabilities, direct mail can deliver specific demographics with unrivalled precision – in this case younger adults in condos within urban centres near specific retail outlets. Each one had to count. “If we’re investing in that many pieces,” says Sharma, “we want to make sure they’re going to the right 250,000 people, not a random collection.”

A person takes a cell phone photo of a QR code that appears on an Absolut Vodka direct mail piece.

Neither Sharma nor Havas, Corby’s agency, had ever worked with direct mail before, so they enlisted Canada Post Expert Partner, Marketing Kitchen, to help. “The Expert Partner made it turnkey for Corby,” says Robin Nordlander, Canada Post Business Acquisition Manager.

Corby targeted neighbourhoods in Ontario and British Columbia where the holiday bottles were available.

Working with Havas, Corby developed a three-panel direct mail print piece. Sharma explains that it included three perforated gift tags “to elevate the gifting proposition,” as well as recipes for inspiration and a QR code where people could find a location close to them that had the bottle. “The material was high-quality and vibrant to push the premium cues,” says Sharma.

Driving record results with direct mail

What Corby saw was a 70 per cent increase in sales of the limited-edition bottle compared to 2019, when the campaign didn’t include direct mail media.

“I can tell you we haven’t done this level of sales in any of the past years. It was phenomenal. People were walking into LCBO carrying the DM piece.” says Sharma.

Direct mail is not a space that’s tapped into enough. It’s not overly cluttered in our category, the way digital and social are. So, we get more brand recall that way. Direct mail provides an elevated customer experience you don’t get through digital. If there’s another opportunity, we will consider direct mail for sure.

Anika Sharma

Assistant Brand Manager,

Corby Spirit and Wine

As a result of this campaign, Havas is now recommending direct mail for other clients.

This is an abridged version of the article, “Shaken, Not Deterred,” which appears in Media Rethink, the latest issue of INCITE.

1 Kantar. Multimedia Campaign Effectiveness.
2 Canada Post. Omnibus report, spring, 2021.

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