Absolut Warhol: pop vodka and the art of branding

Everyone knows Warhol was a bigger brand than the rest. Why else would Campbell’s Soup be so famous? Why is Marilyn Monroe merchandise so ubiquitous? And why did so many pine for just a fleeting moment with the artist?

With such weight attached to his name, it is no wonder that – after Absolut re-discovered Warhol’s missing blue painting of one of its apothecary-inspired vodka bottles – it was keen to capitalise on the connection with a new limited- edition bottle.

And what better place to kick off the campaign than the premium world of travel retail, where consumers typically put their normal price constraints to one side as they pick up tax-free lines and look for that extra touch of cool.

The Swedish vodka label has previously leveraged its initial connection with the artist by rehashing his iconic colourful 1986 Absolut painting with a 2014 limited edition. Ten years on, launching off the back of a lesser-known re-discovered work feels like even more of a win for the Pernod Ricard-owned label.

Warhol's face on an iconic Absolut vodka bottle, you can also see a rendition of his 'blue' Absolut painting. It is no wonder that after Absolut is keen to capitalise on its Warhol connection with a new limited edition product. Marketing Beat explores fame, the exclusive and why Absolut Warhol is art.

A touch of the exclusive is what every party goer wants, right?

Speaking to journalists at the launch of the new product, Absolut’s global marketing VP Deb Dasgupta admitted that the move isn’t about driving sales – it’s about engaging a consumer base.

With high-end 3D out-of-home to be located in top airports including Heathrow, the brand is cleverly using the eclectic duty-free zones to give a nod to the melting pot that Manhattan was in Warhol’s heyday.

“The reason behind the limited edition is to create appeal relevance and culture,” Dasgupta said.

“It’s an opportunity to build the iconicity of the brand because in the US it’s already big, but in the rest of the markets there’s an opportunity to build its status.”

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Dasgupta also added that by tapping into Warhol, who’s so well-known that he’s recognisable across age ranges, Absolut is aiming to reach a younger generation who may be less familiar with the brand’s heritage.

She reiterated Absolut’s ‘Born to Mix’ slogan, emphasising the link with Warhol’s reputation of elevating his bohemian crowd of followers to stardom at his studio The Factory. In an effort to keep up with that ethos, Absolut is donating, in the form of a licencing fee, to the Warhol Foundation which supports up and coming artists.

The artwork will also be displayed at Stockholm’s Sprit Museum on 17 October 2024 as part of an exhibition entitled ‘Andy Warhol, Money On the Wall’ curated by art historian and Warhol biographer Dr Blake Gopnik.

“The philosophy of the brand is about mixing people and cultures because when you come together you create something magic,” Dasgupta added.

“Not only is this a limited edition. As a brand we carry a responsibility to promote art, to promote diversity and creative expression.”

To promote the product a stylised short film set to the tune of T-Rex’s ’20th Century Boy’ has been produced by New York-based Mexican artist and filmmaker Santiago Sierra Soler (known for capturing an array of icons including J Lo, Michael B Jordan, Beyoncé, Dua Lipa and many, many more).

Also speaking at the launch, Soler described the timeline of Warhol as emblematic of people who have lived the transitions of a “post-Duchamp world” in which the lines between “what is art and what is commercial are blurred”.

Artist Marcel Duchamp (known for startling the cultural elites of his day with his sculpture of a urinal) pioneered Dada. The 20th Century art movement highlighted how ordinary objects can be elevated “to the status of art by the mere choice of the artist” as Duchamp himself put it.

“I am here telling you I am an artist, and I am. But I also direct commercials. Does that still make me an artist?” Soler said.

“I think it’s the same with Absolut. Is this bottle a piece of art itself because its branded with Warhol and Absolut, or is it not? Those are exactly the questions that Warhol and Duchamp before him were raising.”

Ultimately, Dada highlighted how art is all about liberty because under Dada anything can be art  – and Warhol too represents the ensuing 20th century spirit, in which people won and exploited a multitude of freedoms.

Warhol bestowed fame just by deciding to. That’s why the world of fashion – and premium brands in particular – have been so keen to tap into his legacy.

Primarily a vodka brand, Absolut is heavily associated with cocktails, riotous parties and a certain level of debauchery. An exclusive bottle that’s a taste of Warhol – isn’t that liberty? Absolut certainly wants you to think so. And Duchamp would call it art.

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