In a crowded market, such as vodka, you need to work hard to establish and defend a position as a premium product. The Swedish vodka ABSOLUT, owned since 2008 by French drinks giant Pernod Ricard, has done this brilliantly by commissioning work from hundreds of painters, sculptors, glass designers, musicians and fashion designers, to generate artwork for the bottles themselves or as supporting material.
But for its latest initiative, dubbed ABSOLUT UNIQUE, the human touch has been dispensed with to generate bottles bearing four million different designs. As Absolut puts it, "For ABSOLUT UNIQUE, ABSOLUT had to re-engineer its entire production line. It required a complex interaction of human and mechanical elements, and a carefully orchestrated randomness, to achieve the desired end result. Splash guns and colour-generating machines were set up and complex coating, pattern and placement algorithms were programmed in to ensure that no two bottles would be alike. Thirty-eight different colours were used, and fifty-one pattern types were applied to the bottles. A striking look was achieved by colour contrasts and a white, mat paper label that features each bottle’s unique number."
According to Jonas Tåhlin, Vice President Global Marketing at The Absolut Company, "ABSOLUT UNIQUE feels a bit 'mad scientist,' a bit street art. When the bottles first appeared on the conveyer belt, we cheered. By that point the production line looked more like an artist’s studio than a bottle factory. These are really striking bottles. Everyone will find a personal favourite."
To make the unique bottles, Absolut used twenty-two colours for the coating, five for the splash guns and sixteen colours for the fifty-one pattern types. Mattias Elg, a Quality Management Professor from the Linköping University in Sweden, figured out that Absolut could create 94 quintillion bottles – that's 94 times 10 to the 18th power – before two similar ones would appear, which equals more than 13 billion bottles for each person on earth. That would be some party.