Absolut Bollywood

Vodka spins the tale of 'Mulit'

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Overshadowed by the accolades heaped on BMW Films, Absolut Vodka has quietly executed its own successful branded-film venture that has leveraged the movie trailer platform. In a program that broke prior to the debut of BMW's "The Hire" series, Absolut began producing faux trailers in 1998, under the Absolut Pictures imprint. As parodies of various movie genres, the quirky film trailers have run in theaters around the world and on Absolut's Web site, generating the kind of viral brand buzz that has transformed it into a pop-culture phenomenon abroad.

Among the trailers in the Absolut series are "Farewell, Casanova," a sendup of Pedro Almodovar films that's directed by Spike Lee, and "Good Morning, Mr. Grubner," helmed by "Living in Oblivion" director Tom DiCillo and rendered in the indie style of "Being John Malkovich." "Mr. Grubner" is a story about a man who sleepwalks through life.

The recently released "Mulit," the brand's fifth trailer, pays homage to Bollywood films. Shot in Bombay, India, and directed by Ivan Zacharias—a Czech director previously uninitiated in the frothy sensibilities of Bollywood films—"Mulit" is the tale of a hairdresser (Mulit) who falls for Nita, the Prime Minister's daughter. Nita is forbidden to see Mulit, but she, of course, defies him by asking Mulit to cut off her hair. Before he can finish the cut, Mulit is thrown into prison and Nita is left with a mullet-do. A new sensation is inadvertently created.

"I liked the script and I liked the idea of making a fake trailer for a film that didn't exist," says Zacharias, who spent a month in Bombay to prepare for the eight-day shoot.

Ann Stokes, Absolut's communications manager, says product placement doesn't play a huge role in the trailers, though at least 70 Absolut bottle shapes are subliminally integrated into the "Mulit" film—the bottle shape is, after all, the brand's source of iconic currency. "We don't pay for product placement for movies and TV; we can use our marketing money better in making more ads or trailers," Stokes says, adding, "I just don't think [product placement] is very creative."

The trailer, inspired by the low-rent "mullet" hairstyle associated with country crooners like Billy Ray Cyrus, struck such a chord with the audience that Absolut went on to create a 12-minute short film, its first, based on the "Mulit" story. Both the trailer and the short film are the fruits of Absolut's longstanding, successful partnership with Omnicom agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York—the relationship dates back to 1979—whose print campaign has transcended advertising and become a prominent pop-culture touchstone itself. "The idea [for the film] was that we literally had the material and we really liked what we had," says Stokes.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% The Absolut film trailers play a key role in the brand's print-driven marketing mix, Stokes says. "The idea came out of necessity. We work from print advertising and we noticed that in the Latin American market, for example, it wasn't enough to just do the print." Stokes says the company found that in certain markets, people were going to the movies twice a week, sometimes more. Besides Latin America, the trailers have run in Mexico, Russia, Canada and in several European countries.

A notable exception has been the U.S., where most theater chains have restrictions on spirits advertising, though that may change if they take cues from network TV. In exchange for producing responsible drinking ads, malt beverage Smirnoff Ice was able to run spots on network TV.

Absolut's association with cinema advertising began five years ago with the birth of the trailer concept. "We're trying to entertain people in a movie theater the way that they expect to be entertained in a movie theater," says Kim Wijkstrom, account director, TBWA.

"Fake trailers have been used by other marketers before," says Wijkstrom. "They try to concoct some silly story that the product is the hero, but it's cheesy. Our idea is to sneak Absolut in and give some Absolut perspective to the genre [of the film] but be true to the genre too," he adds.

Bollywood's cross-cultural appeal wasn't lost on Absolut. Universal Pictures' "The Guru" and Time Pictures' "The Hero" are both recent nods to Bollywood.

"We felt that the trend toward Bollywood has come into its heyday and we [wanted to] find a story to tell the story of the mullet," says Joseph Mazzaferro, TBWA creative director. It took Mazzaferro two months to develop the script and find Zacharias.

Absolut and TBWA are entering "Mulit" into at least four major film festivals, and film channels on the DirecTV satellite system—Bravo, Sundance and The Independent Film Channel among them—have expressed interest in carrying the film in select markets. TiVo has also come calling about the possibility of a "Mulit" branded showcase.

As for the natural comparisons to BMW, Stokes says, "They have a fantastic campaign and amazing directors, but they've had a different strategy [using the Internet to show the films]."

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