absolut vodka

Drinking fashions

What bottle

Feb 15th 2001 | From the print edition

Absolut: Biography of a Bottle. By Carl Hamilton. Texere; 312 pages; $24.95 and £16.99

HOW did an up-tight, state-run liquor monopoly in Sweden—a country which restricts booze ads to matchboxes—come to own one of the hippest, most successful spirits brands in the world? And how did the Swedes pull this off with Russia's national drink? The story of Absolut vodka is a perfect illustration of the con trick that is modern advertising—the creation of something out of nothing.

Carl Hamilton's book tells how Absolut was invented back-to-front. First came a trip to Madison Avenue in 1978 to find an image. Absolut's image broke the rules. Even its creators thought the clear, stumpy bottle looked like a hospital plasma bag. And its ostentatiously simple, go-anywhere ads (a bottle with a bow-tie, for example, over the slogan “Absolut Elegance”) were at odds with the burnished, regional imagery that sold most booze. Then came the high-end names. Andy Warhol painted the bottle. Among many celebrity endorsers, Annie Leibovitz photographed Salman Rushdie clutching a burning ad for Absolut.

The drink was an after-thought. Once the makers had an image, they found a white-coated scientist to devise a recipe, which was described on the bottle as being more than 400 years old. Despite or because of its topsy-turvy birth, Absolut became a world hit. With annual sales of $3 billion, it is America's largest imported vodka. Besides drinking it, you could use it to explain to Martians what icons are.



By btails     02/05/2023
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