NEW YORK—Roland Kiefer, a recently hired art director with the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, was overcome with emotion Monday upon learning that he will join the team responsible for the Absolut vodka campaign.
"Absolut set the bar for brand image and recognition," said a visibly moved Kiefer, 34. "Over the past 22 years, they've made themselves one of the world's most recognizable brands, not just of vodka, but of any consumer product. A bottle of Absolut vodka is not just alcohol—it's an icon. I just hope I'm up to the task."
Prior to joining TBWA/Chiat/Day, Kiefer worked at Andrews & Skibell, a Louisville, KY, ad agency. His accomplishments there included designing ads for Franks Nursery & Crafts, stay-in-school public-service ads for highway billboards, and Rallys Hamburgers inserts for the Sunday Louisville Courier-Journal coupon section.
"This is definitely a step up to the big leagues," Kiefer said. "Here is a product that has positioned itself as the nation's premier vodka brand. I mean, they've dominated the market to the point where a lot of people actually think the word 'absolute' is spelled 'absolut.' Now, that's brand saturation."
Though not much of a vodka drinker himself, Kiefer has long admired Absolut.
"When you're out at a bar, what do you ask for, a vodka cranberry or an Absolut cranberry?" Kiefer said. "Absolut, right? Why is that? By definition, vodkas are supposed to be odorless, colorless, and tasteless, so there really shouldn't be that much difference between them. People want Absolut not just for the flavor, but to be a part of the whole Absolut experience. And that all stems from this legendary ad campaign. I am honored to be carrying the torch."
According to a March 2001 Advertising Age cover story, the Absolut campaign ranks among the 10 most memorable and effective of all time, standing alongside such giants as the Energizer bunny, the Wendy's "Where's The Beef" spots of the '80s, and the Burma Shave billboards of the '50s. While Kiefer admitted that the Absolut campaign's storied history is "more than a little intimidating," he said he is confident that he can contribute to its ever-growing legacy.
"Everything they've done, from Absolut Warhol to Absolut Manhattan, is just so inspired," Kiefer said. "How do you top an image of Manhattan with Central Park shaped like an Absolut bottle? You don't. You can only hope to come close."
"And that's exactly what I hope to do with my Absolut Chan," Kiefer continued. "It's going to be a picture of a piece of wood with a bottle-shaped piece cut out in the middle, which is where Jackie Chan gave the thing a ferocious kung-fu kick."
Kiefer said the Absolut ads are "more than just ads—they're art."
"What other ads do you see people actually collecting?" Kiefer asked. "Absolut ads get shown in galleries and sold at auctions. That's when you know you've created something truly special. Man, if I could get one of my Absolut ads displayed in a gallery somewhere—and maybe even take home a Clio in the process—I'd die a happy man."
"The ads' power comes from their simplicity," Kiefer continued. " Two words and one image sell you not just a vodka, but also a lifestyle. These ads say, 'You are a creative and intelligent person who doesn't need to be told what to buy using some sleazy, gimmicky pitch.' The term 'trailblazing' may seem a bit grandiose for an ad campaign, but that's precisely what Absolut has done. Sheer genius."
Erica Schlangen, Kiefer's girlfriend of two years, does not share his enthusiasm for the ads.
"I don't get what he's so excited about," said Schlangen, 26. "I mean, take a chimp, give him a banana Photoshopped in the shape of an Absolut bottle, caption it 'Absolut Monkeyshines,' and—pow!—you have an Absolut ad. I just pulled that out of my ass. How hard can it be?"