by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Absolut Vodka and the LGBT community have a love affair dating back to the 1980s. Sure, the vodka tastes good (and just keeps getting better!) and the marketing is genius; but the union between the company and our community is built on the support and visibility they have provided us over the years. Never wavering, always championing, Absolut is a shining example of what big corporations can accomplish when they put their money where their mouth is.
Their support for us is & well, absolute.
Nobody knows that more than the man who lives and breathes the Absolut brand, Jeffrey Moran, vice president of public relations, sponsorships, and events for the company. Moran, who is openly Gay, has been with the company for over seven years. And if you think you might know that name, it's because you do. He's been featured on RuPaul's Drag Race a number of times, promoting the product and helping Ru choose which queen to send packing. He is the company's direct connection to us, the LGBT consumer.
'Working for a company like Absolut fills me with pride,' he told Seattle Gay News. 'I had the amazing opportunity to oversee a lot of LGBT activities. I love that part of my job. I really do feel that as much as I give back in my personal life, I get to do it professionally, too.'
Moran said that there is no doubt that Absolut cares about the Gay community, and as a Gay man, he has a unique position within the company to see just how involved they are with LGBT issues and marketing. He describes himself as a 'corporate citizen.'
Ask anyone and they will tell you that Absolut is known as the 'Gay vodka.' Moran says that is due to the company's long-standing relationship with local markets, such as Seattle, which include Gay Pride activities and working with foundations that combat hate. 'We've just continued to show that we are serious about supporting the LGBT community, and we've strictly courted that relationship.'
Moran points out that Absolut depends on the expertise of their local reps, such as Marty Weisbrod in Seattle. With Weisbrod's help, Absolut moves a lot of product to cocktail lounges such as Purr and The Lobby, nightclubs like R Place, and sports bars like Madison Pub. 'Our sales guys don't sit in a board room,' said Moran. 'They get out there and get to know the local community and they all know the importance of the Gay community and Absolut.'
'They know that if they screw around with those relationships, it can be detrimental to the company,' he continued. 'The Gay consumer is a smart consumer. They don't want a product that is 'Gaywashed.' Instead, they say, 'Show me something real and support me.'
Locally, Weisbrod has been successful in fusing Absolut with almost every major LGBT fundraiser in the city. From Youth Suicide Prevention Program fundraisers to helping raise money for local LGBT sports teams, Absolut and Weisbrod are there every step of the way.
'It is heartwarming from a personal and corporate perspective,' said Moran. 'It is very nice.'
The history between Absolut and the LGBT community began in New York City some 30 years ago. 'Michelle Roux was the original importer of Absolut to America,' Moran told SGN. 'While in New York, he became involved in the disco party scene. In fact, he was keenly involved with every aspect of going out on the town in New York City.'
Roux was a known friend of Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol. It was during the disco days that, according to Moran, Roux began to see that Gay men always seemed to be one step ahead of their straight counterparts when it came to consumerism - be it fashion, music, or liquor.
'He singlehandedly got Absolut into the Gay community,' said Moran. 'He realized that Gay culture was on the cutting edge of making things cool.'
The relationship between Absolut and the Gays has been solid as a rock ever since.
The Swedish government still privately owned Absolut when Moran joined the company. 'The Swedes knew good P.R.,' he said. 'They understood the importance of talking to the media and hosting and sponsoring events. They were embracive of me because of my passion for the brand, and they never once took issue with me being a Gay man.'
Now Absolut falls under the Pernod Ricard empire. 'They really have embraced the LGBTs, too,' said Moran. 'We are not going to pretend that we do everything 100% right, but we really do spend a lot of time looking at what we are doing to make sure it is the right thing.'
One of the things that Absolut can say they've done right is being the official sponsor for the wildly popular RuPaul's Drag Race on the LGBT-themed network Logo. 'Being a judge on the show is like a yearbook write-in,' admitted Moran.
At the time of the show's creation, Logo was struggling to get a hit. Moran says he knew the company had to take a chance with the show. 'Absolut said yes, we put the deal together, and after the first season, at a wrap-up party, we all looked at each other and knew that we'd hit gold.'
'RuPaul's Drag Race is a standout hit, and is as campy and out-there as I'd hoped it would be,' he said. 'The road shows, viewing parties, and marketing is just so successful. We are going to continue to build on the current success of the show.'
Moran says that Logo and Absolut, along with RuPaul, have helped to 'raise visibility for Gay programming.'
Beginning in 2007, Absolut began an aggressive 'city series' campaign. The company had upwards of 50 individual ads made that each included something that made that city special. The city vodkas are all flavored varieties.
'We had such an amazing response to those ads,' said Moran. 'Then, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we just knew that we had to respond with a New Orleans special-edition bottle and flavor.'
Absolut created Absolut New Orleans, made with mango and black pepper. Moran reports that 100% of the profits went to charities along the Gulf coast.
'It was a hit and proved to us that the city series of vodkas could serve two purposes,' he said. 'On one hand, we could introduce new innovations with flavors, and on the other hand we get to relive one of our most successful series ever - the city series.'
In the years to follow, Absolut released Absolut Los Angeles (2008), containing acai, acerola, pomegranate, and blueberry flavor mix; Absolut Boston (2009) with black teas and elderflower flavor; Absolut Brooklyn (2010) containing red apple and ginger flavor; and this year - as an homage to the company's long-standing relationship with the LGBT community - Absolut San Francisco, with grape, dragon fruit, and papaya flavor.
'San Francisco is, and was for many years, such a stronghold in the LGBT community,' said Moran. 'As a city, it has its own personality that is separate from the rest of California.'
The bottle is crafted after how Absolut views the city. 'Many cities are identified by the popularity of their neighborhoods,' he said, 'Seattle being one of them. But San Francisco has so many distinctive neighborhoods that just cannot be denied. San Francisco is on the fringe, on the edge, and a lot of what is on the bottle is evocative of these neighborhoods.'
As Moran pointed out, San Francisco has played a pivotal role in Gay liberation. So, to acknowledge that fact, Absolut has placed a pink triangle placard on the bottle to represent all of their LGBT consumers, as well as the Castro neighborhood.
Moran said he would like to thank Seattle Gay News readers for 'being a part of our family for 30 years. We look forward to many more years to come as we continue to grow and make beautiful music together.'
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