A Changing of the Guard on Absolut

Sid Lee supplants TBWA as global creative lead

Sid Lee has knocked TBWA off its perch as lead global creative agency on Absolut.

The changing of the guard comes six months after Absolut asked Sid Lee to tackle a global brief on the brand. That invitation came two months after Sid Lee head of strategy Eric Alper spoke at Absolut's annual global summit in France, according to Mathias Westphal, global brand director at Absolut Vodka.

Absolut's interest in Sid Lee stemmed from its success in creating experiences that appeal to millennials—an age bracket that's important to the vodka brand, Westphal said. 

In an interview with Adweek, Westphal cited Sid Lee's work in particular for the likes of Red Bull, Cirque du Soleil and Adidas. He said the shift was rooted in the belief that consumers today are moved more by experiences than traditional advertising.

"The doing part is far more important than the saying part," Westphal said.

Another factor, he acknowledged, are the restrictions that European countries like Russia have placed on the use and placement of traditional advertising for spirits.

TBWA, which has become synonymous with Absolut through decades of work, including an iconic print campaign centered around the brand's clear, unusual bottle, will continue to serve as a "global strategic adviser" on the brand, said Westphal. TBWA also continues to handle advertising for Absolut in many local markets around the world.

In addition, the agency works on other brands in the portfolio of The Absolut Co. and its parent company Pernod Ricard, such as Kahlua and Jameson. 

Going forward, however, Sid Lee will lead global marketing efforts on Absolut, handling traditional and digital advertising, branded content development and experiential work. The agency's Amsterdam office will steer the efforts, with help from offices in Montreal and New York. The new shop's first work is expected to break next summer.

"It is an incredible privilege to help guide the future of one of the world's most daring, transformative brands," said Sid Lee chairman Bertrand Cesvet, in a statement. "We know that in a world in which advertising is all too often wallpaper, we need to do something different. We have to engage the consumer in experiences and demonstrate the purpose of the brand."

Looking back on TBWA's tenure on Absolut, Westphal credited the Omnicom Group shop with playing a tremendous role in turning the brand into an icon, through humor, insight and style. "It has truly been a fantastic journey" with the agency, he added.

TBWA declined to comment.

The shift does not affect Great Works, a Stockholm-based agency responsible for the digital work related to Absolut.com. Also, media responsibilities, which are assigned to different agencies in different markets, remain with their existing shops.