NEW YORK: Absolut Vodka, the drinks brand owned by Pernod Ricard, has successfully created space for marketing innovation by forming a separate business unit dedicated solely to this activity.

Absolut Labs, an "idea incubator and think tank" based in New York, opened its doors last year, with the goal of tapping new technologies and tools that could deliver unique nightlife experiences.

"If you want to do breakthrough innovation, linking to a commercial organisation which has deadlines and processes and structures is really hard," Afdhel Aziz, Brand Director/Absolut Labs, said at a recent conference. (For more details, read Warc's exclusive report: How failure inspired marketing innovation at Absolut Labs.)

"So you [need to] create a space where you can do that kind of breakthrough innovation so it doesn't affect the main business as well."

At a time when many marketers are echoing Silicon Valley's startups by championing the importance of learning from failure, Aziz reported that Absolut's innovation hub resulted from "our biggest failure in the last two years".

More specifically, the brand had spent months planning for a campaign featuring Lady Gaga performing in zero gravity. But an accident involving a Virgin Galactic spacecraft meant these efforts had to be rapidly abandoned.

"We had to scramble to figure out what we did that summer, because we had distributors and retailers who were depending on us for that program," said Aziz.

"But it taught us a really important lesson. We had to create a space that gave us permission to experiment, to look at the future of our brand, and to harness new technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, the Internet of Things [and] wearable tech to drive change."

Examples have included virtual-reality activations with electronic-music acts deadmau5 and Bob Moses, as well as various in-person events – all of which give Absolut an early read on potentially significant marketing innovations.

"What we have to do is create experiences – whether they are physical experiences or digital experiences – that people will want to invite into their lives willingly," Aziz said.

Data sourced from Warc