Sid Lee Transforms Absolut in Global Campaign Targeting Millennials

New lead shop uses four young artists

Headshot of Tim Nudd

IDEA: The transformative power of art can change the world. But can it change your world? Absolut tells millennials that it can in its first global work from new lead agency Sid Lee. The campaign, including a 90-second brand film featuring four young artists, takes the Swedish vodka maker's famed legacy of supporting the arts (from its first commissioned artwork for an ad, by Andy Warhol in 1986) and infuses it with a new energy and tagline, "Transform today." The result is a stylish cocktail the brand hopes will inspire restive millennials to transform their own lives (and if booze can't make them more creative, it can always help them drown their sorrows).

"We had a strong need for this brand to start speaking with one voice again … and talk about what Absolut believes in," said client global brand director Mathias Westphal.

And what does it believe in? Young creative people who are daring and live by their own code. "We want to bring that spirit to life in a modern way, especially now, when unemployment is rampant, when millennials face a bleaker future than their parents did," said Eric Alper, managing partner at Sid Lee. "We want to celebrate and inspire people to go out and create their own future, where all it takes is a dollar and a dream."

TALENT: The featured artists are Brazilian cartoonist Rafael Grampá; Chinese-born French fashion designer Yiqing Yin; American digital-media artist Aaron Koblin; and French musician (and sometime ad director) Woodkid. The agency looked at almost 600 artists before selecting the four.

"We're looking for cutting-edge artists, emerging artists, not necessarily the most well-known ones but the ones that really are shaping the future and are truly transformative in what they're doing," said Westphal.

Also important: They are all very different types of artists, and they come from different parts of the world.

COPYWRITING: The spot shows each artist furiously engaged in the creative process of conception, creation, completion and celebration (the latter, of course, with Absolut).

The "Transform today" line was hiding in plain sight. "We were trying to get to the nexus of what makes this brand singular," said Alper. "We found it was the idea of transformation—of the raw ingredients into this fantastic vodka, but also in the world of art. … And we said, 'To hell with making this complicated. Why don't we actually just say what we mean?'"

Consumer research revealed the same perceptions. "Absolut is a brand that allows you to become who you want to become," Westphal said. "It all came from that."

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Director Bob Harlow shot the spot in Lisbon over a period of two weeks. (Photogapher Norma Jean Roy shot the print ads at the same time.) The spot has an industrial look. The colors are mostly flattened, although the blues pop (blue being Absolut's brand color), from Grampá's chalk and paint to Koblin's lasers and Yin's haute couture dress.

SOUND: The song is Woodkid's "Ghost Lights." "Woodkid is someone who's been a bit of a chameleon in his career," said Alper. "He's been an animator. Then he made music videos as a director. Now he's a musician. And he has such a singular sound. It's so cinematic and orchestral. … ["Ghost Lights"] really captures the complexity of the artistic process."

Westphal said the track has "a bit of darkness, which goes well with the struggle that an artist experiences, but also a bit of celebration and energy at the end. It's a very moving piece of music."

MEDIA: The work is rolling out first in the U.S., Brazil and Germany, and then in all of Absolut's other markets worldwide in October.



Client: Absolut

Global Brand Director: Mathias Westphal

Global Marketing Director Creative: Nodjame Fouad

Global Marketing Director: Franz Drack

Global Communication Director: Sebastian Billing

Digital Media Director: Jonas Bäckström

Agency: Sid Lee, Amsterdam

Managing Partner: Eric Alper

Account Director: Nate Winstanley

Account Manager: Jonah Dolan

Creative Director: Jasmine Loignon

Senior Copywriter: Gillian Glendinning

Senior Art Director: Roger Leabody

PR: Jung Relations and Weber Shandwick

Media Buying: Vizeum

Print Photography by: Norma Jean Roy

TVCs Directed by: Bob Harlow

Branded Content Films Directed by: Ryan Hope

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.