Absolut Vanilia part of plan to boost flat market share

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Absolut Spirits Co. in mid-February launches its first new flavor since 1998, Absolut Vanilia, as it tries to revive sales flattened by high-end competitors such as France's Grey Goose and disruptions in its own distribution system.

The $7 million launch will include interactive, outdoor and print. A teaser campaign that breaks in March magazines, including Conde Nast Publications' Bon Appetit, Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp.'s ESPN The Magazine and Dennis Publishing's Maxim, bears a punch-out of Absolut's iconic bottle and the words "Absolut extract." Distribution should be national by mid-March, said Jim Goodwin, VP-marketing at Absolut Spirits, part of Sweden's V&S Vin & Sprit. A radio campaign is planned for summer and the holidays, all from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York.

Absolut is still the nation's No. 3 liquor brand and the leading imported vodka. But sales were basically flat last year at 4.56 million cases, according to Impact, and its share among vodkas slipped to 11.7% from a 2000 peak of 12.2%.

"Absolut has got so many people champing away at its heels so it's got to stay one step ahead," said Frank Walters, Impact's director of research. "They came a huge way, and everyone else saw [their success] and said `I want a piece of that market."'


Mr. Walters said Absolut's softness had come from the unflavored base brand. Mr. Goodwin attributed it to a shift in distribution from Seagram Spirits & Wine Co. to Future Brands, a joint venture between Absolut and Jim Beam Brands. He called the softness a "temporary phenomenon."

The country's most popular spirits category, vodka used to be the purview of No. 1 Smirnoff, marketed by Diageo, and Absolut. Now, the sleekly packaged Grey Goose, marketed by Sidney Frank Importing, is causing worry, along with other elegant-sounding offerings that are priced 40% higher than Absolut. To compete, Absolut next year will launch its own higher-end offering.

"Stores and the backs of bars aren't getting any bigger" so marketers must get more creative, Mr. Goodwin said. Absolut has been judicious in line extensions, having rolled only four-Peppar, Citron, Kurant and Mandrin-before Vanilia, pronounced "va-NIL-ya." It is designed to tap into Americans' desire for super-premium spirits and flavored products.

Mr. Goodwin declined to comment on spending other than to say Vanilia would be "one of the most well-supported spirits introductions in the past 10 years." Absolut's agency since 1979, TBWA/Chiat/Day, handles Vanilia as well as one of the few Absolut U.S. campaigns in two decades not centered on its iconic bottle. That heritage campaign extolling the brand's qualities broke in December issues of titles including Conde Nast's Gourmet and Architectural Digest.

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