Founded in 1879 in Åhus, Sweden, Absolut Vodka got its start by busting the country’s vodka monopoly as the “absolutely pure” option. But when it launched in the United States a century later in 1979, it struggled to stand out among competition: With the popularity of brown spirits tanking, American consumers had turned their attention to clear spirits like vodka, most of them gravitating toward major player Smirnoff.
To claim its stake in the vodka race, Absolut hired leading advertising agency TBWA in 1980. They tasked the creative team with convincing American drinkers the Swedish export was smart, stylish, and of superior quality — and they weren’t afraid of provocative ideas. The agency decided to capitalize on Absolut’s signature bottle design, which was inspired by antique Swedish apothecary bottles, and remains the same today. At the time, this design was wildly different from the tall, sleek, and thin bottles next to it on shelves. And thus, the legendary Absolut Perfection ad campaign was born.
Depicting a spotlighted bottle of Absolut with a glowing halo over its cap and the simple yet bold slogan “Absolut Perfection,” the striking image would launch a 25-year-long campaign featuring over 1,500 print advertisements, and would go on to be known as one of the best and most recognizable print campaigns of all time. It was also an incredible monetary success, skyrocketing Absolut’s sales from 10,000 cases in 1980 to a massive 4.5 million by 2000, cementing Absolut as the top-selling vodka in the U.S. at the time.
While Absolut’s archetypal campaign ended in 2006, these advertisements still deserve to see the light of day. Here are 10 of the most creative and iconic Absolut Perfection ads.
Six years after the start of the Absolut Perfection campaign, the vodka and its distinct bottle shape had started garnering the attention of the artist community. It even caught the eye of Andy Warhol — who didn’t even drink — but opted to use the spirit as a perfume. And according to Richard W. Lewis’s “Absolut Book: The Absolut Vodka Advertising Story,” Warhol proposed the idea of putting forward his own iteration of the vodka bottle over dinner one evening with Michel Roux, the top liquor executive at Absolut’s distribution company responsible for bringing Absolut into the U.S. A few weeks later, Roux commissioned the artist to produce the now-iconic ad for $65,000. The partnership between Warhol and Absolut marked the beginning of the vodka brand’s long-standing support of and collaboration with artists both well known and up and coming.
Rising to prominence in the 1980s East Village art scene, Keith Haring was known for his signature graffiti-style aesthetic that deliberately blurred the lines between high art and street art. Absolut Vodka, looking for ways to communicate that its product was accessible to the masses without sacrificing quality, identified with Haring’s frequent declarations that “art is for everyone.” In 1986, the artist and vodka brand teamed up to produce Absolut Haring, an advertisement that utilized Haring’s distinctive style. By displaying the vodka bottle among a sea of adoring fans, Absolut Haring aimed to bridge the gap between high culture and consumable goods.
Perhaps the most recognizable advertisements in the Absolut Perfection campaigns were those in the City Series collection, which featured the Absolut bottled carved into notable landscapes from cities around the world. Ads in the City Series collection went on to be some of the most collected from the campaign, with consumers attracted to the personalized ads unique to their lived experiences. Embodying the sun-drenched nature of Southern California, 1987’s Absolut L.A., the first in the series, featured an Absolut-shaped swimming pool.
Absolut New York
Another installment in the City Series, Absolut New York was originally released to advertise the lemon-flavored Absolut Citron. Captured by photographer Steve Bronstein, the lead ad image depicts 34 of New York’s distinctive yellow taxi cabs on a bustling city avenue, lined up in the shape of an Absolut bottle. The photo, along with print ads specifically catered to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, further catapulted the success of the City Series.
Whereas Absolut L.A. and Absolut New York focused on man-made landscapes, Absolut Aspen took a much more natural approach. Leaning into the town’s obvious ski-heavy atmosphere, the advertisement — also known as Absolut Peak — delineated a number of ski and snowboard runs carved out around the shape of an Absolut bottle.
If you’ve ever been to a music festival, you’re familiar with the pain of having to wait in a miles-long line to use a decrepit porta-potty. Absolut, a longtime supporter of the arts, made light of these less-than-ideal facilities in its 1998 ad, Absolut Festival. The ad, which features a stand-alone portable toilet with the door cut to the shape of the bottle, was used to advertise the vodka’s presence at a number of concerts that year.
While there may be some contention regarding the birthplace of downhill skiing, it’s widely known that ski jumping finds its roots in Norway. In fact, ski jumping — which involves accelerating down a hill and then off a ramp with the intent to land as far away as possible — is so popular in Oslo that the city constructed Holmenkollen, a man-made ski jump used for local and international competitions. The jump is an Oslo landmark and was the subject of Absolut Oslo, the Norwegian installation in the vodka label’s City Series.
Absolut Take Off
Further framing itself as a vodka for everyone, Absolut Take Off highlights the excitement that air travel can promise, from first class to basic economy. Created for duty-free shops in airports, the advertisement illustrated a jet taking off into the sunset and leaving behind an Absolut-shaped contrail in its wake, creatively inserting the Absolut brand into commuters’ minds.
Debuting in June 2000, Absolut Paik was envisioned by Nam June Paik, the first artist selected to create an Absolut advertisement in the new millennium. The then-68-year-old Paik knew it would have to be paradigmatic, so “the godfather of video art” constructed a seven-foot tall electronic sculpture in the shape of an Absolut bottle lit with a fluorescent glow.
Launched in 2002, Absolut Idol depicts a swarm of adoring fans chasing a limousine — presumably with the idol inside — with the car and the fans funneling into the shape of the vodka bottle. The image capitalized on the boy-band craze of the early 2000s, and aimed to solidify Absolut as a star within the category.