Brand Strategy Alcohol Marketing

Can advertising tell the truth? This vodka brand is giving it a shot


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

March 18, 2024 | 7 min read

Would you drink vodka if the bottle told you that it causes liver and heart disease? A Swedish liquor brand thinks that being honest about health risks will provoke debates about alcohol and the ethics of marketing.

Bottles of Alcoholic Vodka which feature the human body on the label

1,000 bottles of Alcoholic Vodka sold so far / Alcoholic Vodka

Alcoholic Vodka is the brainchild of two Swedish advertising execs, Johan Pihl and Magnus Jakobsson, who, after 30 years in adland, were compelled to test whether marketing could be more honest.

“We are interested in the limits of transparency,” explains Pihl, who is executive creative director at Swedish agency Farm. “Consumers today are a lot more advanced and they are much more interested in honesty and transparency. The dilemma is, obviously, do you have a product and a company that can be transparent?”

Taking a cue from the harms listed on smoking packaging, the pair wanted to look at alcohol in the same way. A bottle of Alcoholic Vodka lists six of the biggest alcohol-induced diseases, ranging from liver damage to mental health disorders and cardiovascular diseases. On the lid of the 50% proof vodka, the label brandishes the product as ‘extremely hazardous.’

Powered by AI

Explore frequently asked questions

The initial batch of 1,000 bottles has already sold out and there is also an alcohol-free beer in the works. The venture is not for profit, with all sales of the £40 bottle going back into the development of the product and project.

Jakobsson, who is creative director at Nord DDB, says: “We’re not trying to make death or the risk of death ’cool’ for profit. That’s been done too many times before. Instead, we’re shining a spotlight on all the diseases you can get from drinking alcohol in all our marketing and branding.”

Alcoholic Vodka isn’t the first brand to push the boundaries of honesty in advertising, of course, with Death Cigarettes, which launched 33 years ago, being one of the most notable and controversial examples.

The pair admit that Alcoholic Vodka has received criticism for being a contradiction. While acknowledging that selling vodka might also be part of the problem, they believe that getting the product into the environment where people are drinking alcohol will make for a more impactful conversation.

“Even though the vodka itself that we sell is part of that problem, on the other hand, this is a more honest type of product,” says Pihl. The pair have heard anecdotal stories of Alcoholic Vodka customers talking about the negative effects of alcohol at parties. “That’s a big step forward,” Pihl says.

Initially, Pihl and Jakobsson did not know if the product could be produced or sold. The challenge was not only finding a distiller that would help promote that alcohol causes harm, but also getting Sweden’s government-controlled liquor shops to stock the vodka. The bottle design also features a human body, which is something Swedish alcohol regulation prohibits.

“We wanted to see if this product would succeed and even be launched because it had everything stacked against it,” Pihl says.

An experiment in honest marketing

According to Pihl and Jakobsson, any product that has an adverse effect or negative aspect to its brands has a responsibility to address that in the marketing.

“If you have a product with a lot of sugar in it, start talking about sugar; if you have a product that could damage, start talking about the negative side effects because eventually, that’s going to catch up with you anyways,” says Pihl.

This approach, he argues, will foster a stronger relationship with customers. “By being proactive and trying to be honest, we stand a better chance of creating a good solid, long-term relationship with our customers.”

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

Pihl does acknowledge that it might be hard for more established brands to be this honest. “Once you become transparent as a brand, there is no turning back.” He references Patagonia, which boldly started to publicize all elements of its supply chain but landed in hot water when Peta exposed the mistreatment of sheep within its chain. Newer brands should be exploring this type of marketing however, he says.

“It’s an interesting dilemma for brands to start thinking about. Are there limits to transparency and how do you balance the benefits of being honest with the potential backlash? We recommend that, by providing data to your customers of great value, you can help people become better in their decision-making process.”

Brand Strategy Alcohol Marketing

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +