Author: Michelle Burtt
There’s no doubt that market research can provide firms with vital information, but how sacred are these results? Should companies rely solely on this information to make executive decisions?
Prior to launching the Absolut Vodka brand in the US in 1979, the American importers conducted a $64,000 research survey gauging consumer interest. The results indicated the brand would likely fall flat in the spirit market , thus the super-premium priced product should have stopped right then and there.
The spirit market is one of the most competitive in the world; who would buy an unknown premium priced vodka from Sweden? Consumers generally place emphasize for superior vodka on the quality of the alcohol and the connection to the traditional vodka culture- the usual selling proposition being of Russian origin.
The survey revealed three factors working against the brand:
- A gimmicky name
- An unrecognizable bottle with no paper label, and
- A country of origin (Sweden) not known to consumers to produce high quality spirits.
Although research warned that importing a vodka would be “a risky venture”, the importing company, Carillion, had already invested significantly in the venture. “We wanted to recoup what we had spent“ said Roux, president-chief executive officer.
During the first year on American market, only 10,000 nine-liter cases of vodka were sold. Being unable to call on their Swedish origins, Absolute Vodka employed a strategy of focusing on the local culture when entering new markets, thus creating brand relevance and differentiating itself in an already cluttered vodka market .
The bottle, as it turned out, was a key selling point. Modelled on a popular antique Swedish medicine bottle, the design was purposefully elegant, different, simple and very Swedish. There was to be no label to hide the purity of the contents, and blue colored writing to identify the brand. This time it was the marketing department that returned the negative feedback- the short neck made the bottle hard to pour from, and there was no actual label on the bottle .
Despite this disapproval, the design went ahead. It proved a hit. A combination of dynamic imagery, contemporary packaging, strong links to fashion/ artists/ designers, off beat advertising and clever promotions helped build their image. Hundreds of limited edition bottles with second skins have since been produced.
Absolut has won over 350 awards in recent years for its “bottle ad campaign” and is now the most famous bottle of Sweden. In 2013, Absolut launched its brand localization strategy in China, launching the brands first limited edition bottle in China .
Today, Absolute is present and available for purchase in more than 80 counties around the world, and is the number one selling imported vodka in Canada, the USA, Finland and many other counties. Few consumers ever stop to consider why they prefer to drink a Swedish vodka rather than a Russian one. “We think this is all `smart` marketing“ declares Roux, who had enough foresight at one time not to give into research .
The gamble certainly paid off for Absolut, but how many other brands ignored the same advice and lost?