Here’s to the Family You Choose

Absolut Vodka has a long-standing history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. We had a chat with Maxime Henain, the Campaign Lead, about the upcoming Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign. Highlighting the importance of a chosen family and safe spaces, we learn how Absolut is driving consumer-centricity and how the brand will continue to be at the forefront as an advocate and ally to the community.

What’s the story behind the concept for the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign?

The concept took inspiration from a consumer insight deeply rooted in the lives of our LGBTQIA+1 consumers. After conducting some consumer research, which confirmed that many people from the LGBTQIA+ community still experience rejection from their biological families, we were inspired to create a campaign about the concept of chosen family. Even though things are getting better––and I want to emphasize that they gradually are––our research showed that one in two from the LGBTQIA+ community experience rejection in some way. This is a really sad number. 
After dialoguing with some charities we have been partnering with for years, we confirmed our belief that creating and safeguarding safe spaces is key for the community. These may be physical or mental safe spaces, such as a support system, if you will. When we speak about physical spaces, we typically refer to venues, bars, and clubs where you can meet your chosen family. Unfortunately, these places are disappearing. Absolut Vodka is a social brand by nature. We’ve been mixing people up for years, and we enjoy this catalyst role, bringing people from all walks of life together to meet over our drinks. This is also how we’ve been present in the community for more than 40 years now, by being present in those safe spaces. This is how we decided to hero the chosen families formed within the community, and to hero the power of these.

1 LGBTQIA+ is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.

The campaign says, “Here’s to the family you choose!”. You touched on this, but could you describe the importance of a chosen family a bit more?

Having a family-like support system in the community is crucial. We wanted to highlight these chosen families in our campaign and emphasize their importance as a support system, which is not only relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community. Most people can probably relate to having a chosen family of friends you feel connected to in this way; these people whom you have such a special bond with.
We have had three words as our guiding principle from the beginning: power, not pity. Over the past few years, the advertising featuring the LGBTQIA+ community has often focused on the struggles. As a brand, we are still a passionate advocate for fighting against any forms of discrimination together with our partners through lots of local actions, not shying away from the struggles. But this time around, we wanted to represent acceptance and love in a different way.

What is the key to creating a relevant campaign on this? 

There are two things at play here. First, we made sure to work with partners from the LGBTQIA+ community. From the teams, the PR agency, the cultural agency, the photographer, and the director to all the talents, almost all are from the community. This enabled us to have very interesting discussions from the conceptualization of the project and was key for me to make the campaign relevant and authentic. The second is that our consumer feedback and communications with charities confirmed my and the creative team’s gut feeling for the project––this is crucial to ensure that the work resonates with consumers; otherwise, there is no need to proceed.

As a brand, we are still a passionate advocate for fighting against any forms of discrimination together with our partners through lots of local actions, not shying away from the struggles

What’s been most challenging working with this project?

I expected the education within the organization to be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. The aim for us was to show a broader representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in the campaign, showing the rich spectrum of people the community is made of. That diversity and richness is such a strength. This is also where I personally realized how strong the LGBTQIA+ culture is and how it is gradually spilling over into the mainstream, which is fascinating to witness. 
Absolut will also take this further in the years to come in future campaigns, and we have decided to create an internal LGBTQIA+ network for our employees. We’re in the process of putting it all together, and we are quite excited about it. Basically, the purpose is to educate and create a safe space for the employees to connect, chat, and make sure that we can be as inclusive as possible as an employer.

Maxime Henain

Absolut has a long history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. How does this historical significance come into play in the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign?

We have been supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community for a long time, it is very much part of our DNA. We have always believed that everyone should be able to love whom they choose. Back then, in the early days, we bought ad placements in LGBTQIA+ magazines when no one else dared to. We have been working with artists from the community for a long time––through art collaborations with Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Tom Ford, for instance––which gave them a platform and supported the fantastic work they put together. We have also been partnering with charities from GLAAD to Stonewall. We are a proud partner of the Gilbert Baker Foundation, which is very dear to us. We have been heroing his legacy on our Rainbow Limited Edition bottles for some years now.
We have been, and are, part of this culture and are incredibly proud of contributing to it. Inevitably, after working with the community for a while and sharing some values, we feel that we are constantly getting to know each other, and I must say that some of our markets have very close ties to some charities. Working hand in hand with our partners allows us not to feel shy in this space. We’ve all seen blatant instances of rainbow-washing in the past few years. Advocacy within the community is built over time, so we are proud of pushing that historical legacy, especially as the community is prompt to call out pink-washing––and rightly so!

How does Absolut’s work with and for the queer community differ from other leading companies in the industry?

We, at Absolut Vodka, have always been a brand for, not against anything. I will be among the first to applaud and very much support the good work done by other companies, including competitors. I think some brands are finding interesting angles and support the LGBTQIA+ cause in their way, and we support these––this cannot be a case of us vs. them. The fight for more inclusivity and acceptance needs all the allies it can get! But most important of all, the support needs to be authentic and consistent over time. 
We favor a grassroots and local approach by partnering with local charities in our markets to help us push our acceptance message, as we have done for 40+ years. At the end of the day, it helps us keep our feet on the ground by being as relevant as possible to what our consumers are experiencing, and it helps us keep our finger on the pulse. This may not be the magic recipe, but this is how Absolut does it.

What is Absolut’s role in the LGBTQIA+ community today? How can you continue to be a strong supporter in years to come? 

We are supporters of foundations like the Gilbert Baker Foundation, GLAAD in the US, the Stonewall Foundation in the UK, and others in markets like Australia or Spain. We also do grassroots work by supporting local LGBTQIA+ charities. This is something that we will continue to do. The second thing is regarding our role as a social brand by essence. We are here to create social and convivial moments by being present in venues and during Pride celebrations and events. But we are also doing a lot of work outside of Pride and want to make sure that we create these great experiences for the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year as well––that’s a sort of raison d’etre, that’s what we do, and that’s what we’re here for.

As I’ve said, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years; however, some of our rights are still in danger

We will also continue to push the envelope in the years to come through different activations like the Out & Open campaign in the US, which is fighting against the closing down of physical safe spaces and raising awareness on the issue with the help of Bowen Yang. Recently, the media has shown that power, not pity for the community, is also a complementary way to portray the community. The Netflix show Heartstopper, which got incredible reviews, is the first LGBTQIA+ show that portrays love, romance, and identity in a warmer and light-hearted way. This feels altogether soothing.

As I’ve said, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years; however, some of our rights are still in danger. I will always believe there’s more to be done. And Absolut will always be at the forefront. 

Where and when will the campaign run?

It began running in Australia during the summer and the Australian Mardi Gras in February and March. We are really happy with how our consumers responded there. We’re now approaching the pride season of the Northern Hemisphere, starting in June and ending in August. The campaign will run in some European markets, the global travel and retail business, and with some variations in the US and Canada. In the US, for instance, we are going deeper into safe spaces, tackling the issue of disappearing physical spaces. I am really excited to see the consumer’s response.

What is your goal for the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign? How would you like it to be received?

It is twofold. First, I want our LGBTQIA+ consumer to look at the campaign and feel like they can relate. We all have chosen families, and they are essential––whether you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or not. No matter the hardship of coming out, this is your chosen family, they are your support system, and they have your back.
The second thing pertains to the wider public, and this is to recognize the campaign’s sentiment. We didn’t want to create an LGBTQIA+ campaign that non-LGBTQIA+ consumers wouldn’t understand and vice versa. This is where we believe that, although experienced differently, the insight of Chosen Family proves to be broad and universal. Indeed, my goal was to show that even though you’re not from the community, a chosen family is something many of us can relate to––this is something most of us all have in common, and Absolut, as a brand, always wants to highlight what brings us closer. I believe campaigns highlighting this positive side do contribute to further acceptance and close the infamous us vs. them gap.

My goal was to show that even though you’re not from the community, a chosen family is something many of us can relate to

Can you please share a personal, cherished, chosen family moment with us?

You know those family celebrations that are very traditional, like Christmas and Easter? I remember moments when I was living abroad and couldn’t celebrate with family, moments when my chosen family was extremely important and felt just as cherished. These moments are about the love that is shared around the table. It’s usually during a meal. (Maybe because I’m French, but it’s usually a meal!) You get together with friends, and you have that moment together, and it feels like family––it is family––and at that specific moment, that mix of people simply feels like home. I am convinced we can all relate to that.