5 lessons that vodka can teach us about hotel and restaurant marketing.

According to the 10 Most Successful Marketing Campaigns of All Time,

in the 70s/80s “Americans were consuming upwards of 40 million cases of vodka. One percent (about 400,000 cases) of that market was imported vodka, and a mere 2.5 percent of that was Absolut. The rest of the imported brands were Russian, and selling on the credibility of Russia as the authority on vodka…Today, Absolut enjoys a dramatically increased share of the vodka market in the U.S., 4.5 million cases, or half of all imported vodka.”

So how did TBWA/Chiat/Day, a marketing firm, do it?

Well, almost ironically, they chose to focus on the single, least-unique aspect of the brand – the boring, no-frills glass bottle – and really roll with it. Evidently it was a genius move.

For 20 years they created nearly  1,500 ads for the same bottle. The advertisements were jarringly simple. In the beginning they featured the bottle against a black background with the words “Absolut (insert key word here)” realized in a bold, white, sans-serif font. The campaign evolved to feature the silhouette of the bottle as a subliminal image hidden in objects, landscapes, islands, even New York City taxis. The ads successfully connected with consumers on a relatable level, triggering memories in order to sell vodka. Some examples from Absolut Ad are featured here

So what do vodka, hotels, and restaurants share in marketing aims? At their core they sell an experience, a lifestyle, or some prescribed moment of happiness that results in a lasting memory. These kinds of products require a kind of marketing that’s not only appealing and provocative but also intimately relatable. To lots of people. Different kinds of people. And at the same time.

While social media has championed direct marketing as a way to do this through crafty code and “ad inundation” techniques that are both effective and annoying, you’ll need more than just a Facebook or Twitter profile to fully optimize your marketing efforts. In short, you need content.

How do you create content? The success of Absolut vodka ads illustrates the effectiveness of a stripped-down, visual storytelling approach to advertisements that sell an experience; this approach produces highly visual, diverse content for a story that takes different perspectives, all while presenting this experience as an everything-to-all-people kind of product.

Interested but don’t know where to start? Here are 5 ways to apply Absolut’s visual storytelling marketing strategy to your small, independent hotel or restaurant, provided by SAYHELLO Creative:


1. Be yourself and show your personality!

Do you collect art? Are you a huge sports fan? Do you brew craft beers? Then tell the world! You aren’t a separate entity from your business so don’t market yourself separately. Your interests are significant and should be integrated into your brand. Even if your business has outgrown your own home, it is important to realize that a little bit of personality goes a long way. The advertisements for a certain internationally recognized brand of vodka are chock full of personality, which itself becomes a part of the brand.

2. A picture is worth a thousand words

TBWA/Chiat/Day managed to make Absolut Vodka one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time using a simple bottle image and 2 words, one of which always remained the same. So follow their lead. Take a striking, high res image of your sun glazed hilltop town, an elegant bottle of your homemade amber liquor, or even the rustic beauty of a nearby ancient stone wall (staples of any small town in Italy) slap on a simple title and you’ve got all you need to tell a  story. Save time and add skim value with suggestive images on your website and all your social media profiles.


3. Connect with people on a personal level

This is similar to showing your personality is understanding realness; again, I’m talking about you. Don’t pretend you’re a big property when you’re not. You have the ability to offer more personal, more authentic service than the bigger guys with high-end, 1:1 service delivery. Demonstrate your commitment to service by marketing your secret family recipes, personally designed tours and excursions, or homemade liquors. Need help? SAYHELLO Creative is specialized in creating innovative ways to connect you with your guests from marketing to delivery.

4. Dare to be different

For any business the mantra holds that the bigger the risk, the greater the reward. So go for it. Don’t fit any mold to be like your competition; instead lead your competition through innovation and then market your initiatives. For example,

    • Offer complimentary wine tastings in the afternoon for your guests, giving them also the opportunity to purchase.
    • Partner with other local restaurants and design dining coupons for a complimentary antipasto or dessert.
    • Implement simple sustainability initiatives to show your concern for the environment: use all natural, organic cleaning products, energy saving light bulbs, low VOC paints, paperless receipts, recycle, food sourced at 0km, etc.



5. Know your story and then tell it 200 different ways

In Italy, using history is one great way to get started adapting your story. What was your property 1,000 years ago? 500 years ago? 150 years ago? 50 years ago? Then get creative with your story. Twist it. Flip it. Turn it inside out. And always remember that your business today is the contemporary result of all this history.Absolut Vodka didn’t market itself as the best vodka for everyone by just saying so. TBWA/Chiat/Day created a slew of ads to reach every potential vodka drinker, telling the same story in a way that would respond to every kind of consumer.

But don’t get stuck on just history. Look at your business from all angles. Take a food lover’s perspective and market your home-cured meats; an adventure-seeker’s and advertise a walking tour of your favorite churches; an architect’s and tell the story of your property’s unique form. Reach out but stay true to yourself, and keep your story Absolut.