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Bacardi Focuses on Being ‘Fearless’


The renowned rum company says it won’t back down in the face of challenges.

For Bacardi, it is not only essential to continue to produce its famous rum, but also to keep its finger on the pulse of current trends and technologies. These best practices allow the company to successfully capture its core customer base of millennials.

“Bacardi has always been a fearless, founder-led innovative company and brand,” Vice President of BACARDÍ Rum for North America Lisa Pfenning declares. “We’re always looking at how we can surprise and delight consumers.”

Hamilton, Bermuda-based Bacardi’s roots go back to 1862, when the Bacardí family bought a distillery in Santiago de Cuba and made blends with their own unique rum-making process. As the company built itself up, it gained more than 150 years of rum-blending experience.

Today, Bacardi makes it a top priority to be a player in the premiumization of the rum category, Pfenning says. As part of that initiative, the company launched a line of aged rums that are produced at its Puerto Rico facility.

These include BACARDÍ Añejo Cuatro, which is barrel-aged for four years, as well as BACARDÍ Reserva Ocho, which was once a private family blend and is aged for eight years. The company also produces BACARDÍ Gran Reserva Diez, a sipping rum that is aged for a minimum of 10 years, and BACARDÍ Reserva Limitada, which also is made for sipping and aged for an average of 12 years.

“Our rums are aged under the Caribbean sun, which gives them a great blend of complexity and smoothness,” Pfenning says, adding that Bacardi has seen a lot of interest from consumers in the ready-to-drink format.

This led to the introduction of its BACARDÍ Coquito rum, which is a cream-based coconut and cinnamon liqueur. “It’s a traditional Caribbean drink that’s usually made around the holiday season,” she says, noting that its recent launch sold out in a matter of weeks.

Made for Moving

Another priority for Bacardi is to stay relevant in its marketing campaigns aimed at millennials. Currently, it spends approximately 60 percent of its total media investment online, where it is most likely to reach the demographic. “We meet them on their own terms,” Pfenning says.

Bacardi also aligns itself with influencers who will draw in this demographic, including reality TV and social media celebrity Olivia Culpo. Recently during Super Bowl weekend, she managed the Stories feature on the company’s Instagram account, allowing its followers to see how she enjoyed the BACARDÍ Mojito at several bars in Miami.

The company also featured electronic dance trio Major Lazer and singer Anitta in its “Do What Moves You” campaign, with their summer anthem, “Make it Hot.” The use of music is a key component in the BACARDÍ Rum campaign, Pfenning notes, since it inspires people to get up and move.

The summer season is important to the company as well. “We like to say, ‘When the sun comes out, the rum comes out,’” she says. “We find people want to enjoy rum during upbeat and uplifting moments.”

Reaching Consumers

Bacardi’s current best practices have roots that stretch back to its past experiences of coping with challenges. These include Prohibition, which marks its 100th anniversary this year.

In the nineteen teens, explains Bacardi Heritage Communications Coordinator Rachel Dorion, the company was enjoying a growth spurt stateside.

In 1916, Bacardi opened its own bottling plant in New York City. But when Prohibition was enacted in 1920, the company and its peers “were forced to cease operations and stop shipping to the United States,” she says.

Bacardi had the option of giving up on American consumers, but it chose not to quit. “Their mentality was, ‘If we can’t reach Americans, we can bring Americans to Bacardi,’” Dorion says.

The rum company did that by taking advantage of Cuba’s popularity as a travel destination. As many Americans visited the country, they also enjoyed Bacardi products in local bars and clubs.

In a sense, Bacardi was far ahead of the curve in experiential marketing, as it promoted Cuba as an experience for consumers. One way it did that, Dorion notes, was with promotional postcards that travelers could send home. On one card, an illustrated happy traveler is shown packing his return bag home with souvenirs that include a bottle of Bacardi. The caption: “Greetings from Cuba, isle of Bacardi.”

Rafael ‘Pappy’ Valiente with American tourists enjoying BACARDI Cuba Libre cocktails. Courtesy of The Bacardi Archives.

The company also hired Rafael “Pappy” Valiente, a man who had a reputation as the “happiest salesman in all Havana” and served as its rum ambassador. His role, Dorion explains, was to greet tourists when they arrived in the city.

Not only would he serve them rum, but he also drove them around the island and showed them its best tourist destinations. The company also built the Bacardi Building, which was Havana’s first skyscraper.

“In the lobby, there was a black and gold art deco bar where Pappy would show them how to make the perfect daiquiri,” Dorion describes. Guests took these recipes back to the States and created their own variations.

The bar also hosted celebrities of the post-Prohibition era, including Errol Flynn, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, who spread the word about Bacardi when they returned to America. Demand was so strong for the rum in Havana, Dorion notes, that Bacardi had to return to America to purchase empty bottles.

To meet demand, the company repeatedly increased the size of its distillery in Santiago. “[This was] not only so they could serve people in Cuba, but the rest of the world,” she says, noting that Bacardi invested millions in expansions.

Expansion wasn’t limited to Cuba; during the beginning of the 20th century BACARDÍ distilleries in Mexico and Puerto Rico were established, making it the first Cuban company to internationalize. This proved to be incredible foresight when the family and company were exiled after the Cuban Revolution in 1960, marking another moment in time when an innovative mindset help the business survive. The family was forced to leave and rebuild outside of Cuba.

A Fearless Future

A sixth-generation member of the Bacardí family, Dorion sees a strong future for Bacardi. She vows that it will continue to operate with the same level of ingenuity it had during the days of prohibition. “That agility and mentality of fearlessness was key,” she says.

Dorion hopes to inspire the next generation of family leadership as she oversees The Bacardi Archives and shares its stories. “I hope some of the younger family members feel that same inspiration and want to spread the word about the history of this company and the family,” she says.

Pfenning also predicts that Bacardi will continue working in the music space when it comes to its marketing. “There’s a lot going on for this coming year, but also some very exciting announcements coming soon,” she states.

According to Pfenning, its campaigns will continue to be rooted in the company’s “Do What Moves You” platform. “This mentality will continue to play an integral part in all of our products,” she predicts.