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Liquor isn't quicker in terms of generating ad awareness, but if clever, creative and consistent, a brand can get there over time.

Take the 15-year-old campaign for Absolut vodka, once marketed by Carillon Importers, but now from Seagram Beverage Co.

It seemed unlikely that any advertising for any distilled spirit would beat Absolut's fourth-place finish in 1992 on Video Storyboard Tests' list of Top Print Campaigns.

After all, most of print's other winning brands draw considerable support from their broadcast advertising. And cigarettes, which can't by law use TV, still retain residual interest from their broadcast heritage.

Absolut is among the few brands to establish themselves itself through print alone, given the spirits industry's voluntary ban on broadcast ads. Yet it somehow managed to outdo itself on our soon-to-be released list of Top Print Campaigns for 1995, with its advertising from long-time agency TBWA Chiat/Day, New York.

Despite immediate acceptance by the ad community (the Swedish vodka started amassing awards soon after the 1981 debut of "Absolut perfection" from TBWA), the struggle for share of mind has been even more challenging than that for share of market. Without broadcast support, Absolut required nearly a decade to break into the print rankings.

By comparison, it took only five years for the brand to dominate the category.

Once there, however, Absolut has stayed in the top 10. Equally important is that Absolut's awareness has come from "owning a look" that plays, essentially, off five themes: the product ("Absolut purity"); cities ("Absolut L.A."); artists ("Absolut Warhol"); designers ("Absolut Nicole Miller"); and special-interest groups like skiers ("Absolut peak").

This sort of segmentation is as pure as the product itself. As Arnie Arlow, the artist responsible for the majority of Absolut executions explains: "It works best when you combine advertising with artistry... Then you can be tongue in cheek with your audience and still deliver a relevant message for the brands."

Dave Vadehra is president of Video Storyboard Tests. Campaign Clout reports on consumer response to current advertising.

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