Electrik Branding: 5 Questions with Nicholas Guastaferro, Absolut US

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Absolut Electrik metallic bottles nightclub

Like brands in other beverage categories including beer and carbonated soft drinks, Absolut has faced a slow drip-drip loss of sales over the decades even as the spirits business is being reinvented.

So, lately, Absolut has been pivoting from marketing oriented around its iconic bottle design and new flavored vodkas toward making a statement about nightlife and its role in keeping it going, in a long-running campaign called “Absolut Nights.”

Whether that means on-premise marketing targeting bartenders or throwing house parties, the brand has been active in new ways, such as using a new series of TV ads filmed at one of its events as well as experiential activations to underscore its importance to keeping the good times rolling.

Last month, Absolut staged a one-night event in Los Angeles dubbed the Electrik House that utilized technology, design and music, with 100 “influencers” on hand to help all the guests enjoy the event. The party was indeed electrified, with the partygoers’ energy helping fuel everything from a statically charged dance floor to a larger-than-life electrified Absolut bottle created in partnership with Tesla Motors, a nod to the limited edition Absolut Electrik metallic bottles this holiday season.

We spoke with Nicholas Guastaferro, US Marketing Director for the Pernod Ricard-owned Absolut brand, about its new emphasis.

brandchannel: You have talked about using technology and content to remind people of what the Absolut brand and experience are all about. How are you doing that?

Nicholas Guastaferro Absolut

Nicholas Guastaferro: Absolut Nights was launched about a year ago—we wanted to explore and push the boundaries of nightlife. It’s important for us to stay on the cutting edge. So we started with four global experiences, such as taking the Red Hook shipping yard in Brooklyn and transforming it into an outrageous nightclub for one night only. That served as the basis for our TV ad campaign. Then we shifted to Electrik Nights.

As a brand, we’ve always looked to partnership. In the late ’70s, we worked with Andy Warhol, and through the years with contemporary musicians running the spectrum. And as a brand, we recognize that technology is becoming an important medium and another form of artistic expression.

Absolut Electrik Los Angeles house party 2015

So to develop a concept around a house party, it was important to bring in an element of technology. How can technology bring people together? If you look at macro trends, consumers are clamoring for more intimate experiences because we are living such online worlds. So technology, for us, is another form of creative expression.

As far as content is concerned, Electrik Nights was great for the people who were in Los Angeles. But we also want to use it as a starting point for consumers to reinvigorate house parties on their own. So you’ll see content that uses it on an overarching basis, where consumers can use our executions—such as drones in the kitchen at Absolut Nights—as inspiration for more tangible things.

bc: What’s the more important market for Absolut—home or out-of-home?

Guastaferro: One informs the other. The event in LA was brand-building and driving brand equity with key influencers and trade people. We market to bartenders in particular by giving them tools they need to be successful and developing cocktails that are inspirational. And we give consumers tips on how they can replicate those cutting-edge things at their own house parties.

Absolut Labs

bc: Why are house parties so popular with brands, do you think? Bacardi, for example, is taking a “house party” on wheels across America.

Guastaferro: It’s difficult for me to know their insight but if you look at our research in our new “State of Nightlife” report, we had the insight that consumers are quite nostalgic these days and are looking for smaller, more intimate gatherings. The way we will bring a house party to life is different from Bacardi. We’re bringing eclectic groups together for intimate, memorable experiences, driven by diversity of thought and background. And that’s what we tried to do in LA.

Absolut Electrik bottle

bc: What else can you do with your iconic bottle that you haven’t already done in marketing terms?

Guastaferro: That’s a question we ask ourselves quite a bit. From the communications and experiential perspective, the bottle is always going to be central to who we are. In events, it’s the portal through which consumers enter the party and are transformed into the world of Absolut. From a communications perspective, we’re always trying to find unexpected and witty ways to incorporate the bottle into our work and we’ll be emphasizing that even more.

Absolut Labs

bc: Tell us about Absolut Labs, which launched as a startup incubator and think tank last summer. How is that going?

Guastaferro: A lot of results are still forthcoming. It is based on strong partnerships and relationships with technology influencers throughout the world. It’s important to stay grounded with technology on the cutting edge and democratize it and make it relevant to consumers.

This holiday season we’ll be launching a new digital activation that will really be cutting-edge. I can’t provide the details yet, but we’ll be working with partners such as Facebook to help us push the boundaries of what’s been done before by consumers. And we co-create with startups over time so we can take unique technologies and make them relevant.


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