Absolut plans to embed itself at grassroots level with creative technologists so that it can identify products and services that will give people new reasons to try its brands.
This could be anything from ticketing and guest lists to payments and projection mapping. It’s a broad remit but the aim is that by exploring so many different ideas by working with entrepreneurs, Absolut can influence the future nightlife experience.
While the reasons for Absolut are clear, the need for innovation is more urgent now when people are less likely to experiment than to stick to one or two favourite alcohol brands. Just 39 per cent of a Maxus study of 6,5000 adults across UK, Australia, China, Germany, India and US said they enjoyed experimenting with different alcohol brands and mixes, with this number rising to 51 per cent among the under 35s. Being a brand that understands how, why and when those younger drinkers drink then is key and why Absolut set up its Absolut Labs think tank two years ago.
But until now, the brand has not pushed for creative technologists. To do this is it ran a “innovation challenge” – essentially a hackathon – with its technology partner SharpEnd during the Sonar music festival last month. Running as part of the Sonar+D conference, which is actually the International Congress of Digital Culture and Creative Technologies, the business identified key concepts (via first prototyping and future iterations) that could then be deployed and scaled across bars, clubs and festivals.
For the challenge, the vodka brand issued three scenarios to the teams to solve: ‘I went to X and saw or did: the most amazing thing’: ‘I went to X and met some amazing new people’: ‘I went to X and everything just worked’. Each scenario was purposefully broad in order to span product, service and experience design, with all three core to Absolut Lab’s innovation plans.
Some ten concepts were identified, two of which were prototyped at the event in just 36 hours. The “showcases went well and we are now looking at how we can continue to develop and pilot these concepts in Ibiza over the Summer,” said Andrew O’Sullivan, the global head of experiential at Absolut.
Hopefully, some of these concepts “could lead opportunities to get more involved with these businesses,” he added.
“We are embedding ourselves at a grassroots level to find the next big things in the nightlife scene… Absolut has always been committed to supporting artistic expression and celebrating emerging artists. Today creative technologists understand the relationship between hardware and software in a way like no generation has before - and this maker community is playing a key role in improving the overall nightlife experience using new technologies. We call these the makers of #AbsolutNights and are now exploring how we can support this rapidly emerging scene using our brand, partnerships and spaces.”
It sounds like the typical approach to mining innovation talent but Absolut is adamant that its starting from a “slightly different” place to many of its peers. It’s actually shaping 'why’, versus ‘how’, the brand should work with creative technologists and start-ups, something which SharpEnd has helped with in order to create the right working conditions and rules for innovation to be effective.
“I’m from the start-up space and have seen so many times how brands can just burn the time and resources of young businesses by wanting to simply have as many conversations as they can with people who they have heard are ‘innovative or disruptive’,” said Cameron Worth, founder of SharpEnd.
“Meet ten people, discuss four briefs, send two proposals, and then not get to actually work on anything for whatever reason. I feel a duty to try and correct this wherever possible and think it mostly comes down to stakeholder alignment and activation capabilities. I also think the ‘how’ - in terms of ‘how can Absolut provide value to working with start-ups?’ - was an important business alignment, as there is simply so much that Absolut has to offer young companies who want to grow. Absolut is one of the world’s most recognisable brands with global partnerships, great activations and a team of real innovators internally that want to push the boundaries of what’s currently possible and in-market.”
Accelerator schemes or venture capitalist divisions, strategic partnerships or specialist divisions, there’s no silver bullet to scaling innovation and Absolut’s efforts reflects how there are more paths to it than ever before. What’s changing is that whereas it used to be easier for companies to buy innovation that could immediately enhance their earnings, now it’s harder (and costlier) to integrate those businesses, and it’s just as likely to be a drain on earnings than it is to be an accelerant. Consequently, companies like Absolut are trying to incubate and experiment from within as well as look outside for new, acquired growth opportunities.
“The unifying ideas behind Absolut are diversity and community, which means we view technology as an enabler of new social experiences and connections,” said O’Sullivan.
“Whether through the overlap of audio visual technologies to create original forms of immersive theater - to the most seamless and human-centric service design. We want to try and get people off their phones and onto the dance floor.”