ABSOLUT EYES MIDDLE AMERICA

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Middle America meet Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and ... Absolut vodka.

The House of Seagram, which took over marketing the U.S.' No. 1 imported vodka on Feb. 1, is aiming to keep Absolut growing by paying more attention to areas outside the top five media markets.

There, Seagram wants to add greater emphasis on providing point-of-purchase displays to better leverage traditional consumer advertising.

"Absolut has been built on a classic advertising pull," said House of Seagram President Steve Kalagher. "It worked in areas like New York, Chicago, Massachusetts and New Jersey. It will work in Des Moines, too, but not as well."

"We will bring added value to middle America ... more of a push than a pull," he said.

The marketer will bring to Absolut the store clout of the Seagram brands and the company's direct marketing capability.

Seagram won't change TBWA's award-winning advertising that has been the mainstay of the brand for years. That campaign features the Absolut bottle in a variety of environments, many drawn by top artists.

Seagram marked its takeover of the brand on Feb. 1 with a page ad in the eastern edition of The Wall Street Journal, featuring an Absolut bottle reflected in New York's Seagram Building; a color version is running in trade publications.

Mr. Kalagher hinted the company is pleased enough with TBWA that the New York agency may get more Seagram business. DDB Needham Worldwide handles most other Seagram spirits brands.

Carillon Importers, owned by Grand Metropolitan's International Distillers & Vintners unit, last year spent nearly $20 million on Absolut advertising. Mr. Kalagher said Seagram would spend at least that and probably more.

While Seagram plans Absolut's future, Carillon President Michel Roux last week began the task of interviewing as many as 30 potential agencies for its replacement to Absolut-Stolichnaya, the nation's No. 2 imported vodka. International Distillers acquired rights to distribute the Russian vodka from PepsiCo.

Stoli's $3.5 million account, now at Calet, Hirsch & Ferrell, was in the final stages of a review under former distributor Monsieur Henri Wines. Mr. Roux is interviewing the four remaining shops in the review-Margeotes Fertitta Donaher & Weiss; Angotti, Thomas, Hedge; Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano; and Lord, Dentsu & Co.-plus about 25 others.

Mr. Roux said last month that he wants a campaign playing up Stoli's Russian heritage.

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