Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Aug 20, 2013

Absolut heralds small swirls of vodka education for Chinese drinkers

SHANGHAI - In the nascent vodka market in China, building a brand is about educating consumers on how to mix and consume vodka, aspects the Swedish brand Absolut has been focusing on with all of its ATL executions in digital as well as BTL events for the past three years.

Absolut heralds small swirls of vodka education for Chinese drinkers

The brand's latest ‘Slurp vs Suck’ digital campaign, via TBWA Shanghai, has just been launched across 15 cities in China (Ningbo, Shanghai, Nanjing, Kunming, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi'an, Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang, Qingdao, Guangzhou and Shenzhen).

It is essentially a promotional campaign that introduces another way to drink Absolut—by mixing flavoured green jelly and ‘caviar’ made from grape juice with the iconic Swedish vodka.

Engagement of a core target audience between 18 and 30 years old takes place across key social-media and mobile platforms, with activation points including Sina Weibo and WeChat.

Consumers will receive campaign information and coupons to redeem gifts when they purchase Absolut in selected family KTVs. Those who share videos or photos of themselves slurping or sucking the drink get the chance to win a seven-bottle pack of Absolut miniatures.

Tracy Wang, brand director of white spirits and innovations at Pernod Ricard China, said the idea of slurping versus sucking is a "unique and provocative approach to drinking", and being bold, daring and creative is what Absolut is about.

When operating in Western markets, it is taken for granted that consumers in general know how to concoct cocktails, so Absolut's global creative 'Drinkspiration' recipes make the cut for the image-driven brand.

But these are too complicated for China, where the culture of mixing drinks is not that pronounced. Baijiu, the most widely-consumed white spirits alcohol among Chinese consumers, is drunk neat.

Mixing drinks, to the Chinese, is considered an individualistic approach that transmits "a feeling of the West” (洋气) and appeals to the non-mainstream target audience who would not necessarily align themselves with traditional Chinese values such as collectivism. 

The brand has been making mainly below-the-line efforts for the last three years in embarking on a basic educational process for younger consumers on just how to drink Absolut, without losing the creative vibes of the core brand.

The key word is 'fun', communicated across digital channels and physical touchpoints at on-trade premises like family KTVs and bars, and off-trade locations with free trials.

Starting with a target audience who is "confident enough not to be overly showy about their success" and "really understand what constitutes being fun and free-spirited", the Absolut brand still has some way to go as consumers are still fairly unfamiliar with vodka.

"Most initially thought of Absolut as having Russian origin, and were confusing it with low-quality vodka. But the slow but sure growth of the whole vodka category in China can be said to be led by Absolut," said Wang.

Absolut's main competitors are Smirnoff, Belvedere and Stolichnaya, who similarly have been using BTL experiential executions such as tasting parties at universities. "These are more effective, and moreover in our current brand stage, digital channels like social networking are the best way to build up affinity and develop consumer-generated brand connections".

Absolut Wild Tea and Mandrin has been selling well as they are more acceptable to Chinese tastes. From July 2010 until last month, total sales volume of Absolut increased 160 per cent, Wang revealed.

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