New Bacardi Ad Re-Creates Rum-and-Coke History

Jake Scott-Directed Spot Begins New History-Focused Campaign in U.S.

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Bacardi USA's answer to Captain Morgan is Colonel Roosevelt.

The marketer's flagship rum brand on Monday plans to introduce a TV commercial evoking the history of the "Cuba Libre," better known as the rum and Coke cocktail, which Bacardi says was created in Cuba in 1900 as then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders helped fight for the nation's independence from Spain.

Directed by Jake Scott, the spot is the first in a series of ads that will emphasize the historical events that shaped the 151 year-old brand, which has links to the creation of other rum cocktails such as the Daiquiri and Mojito. Global parent Bacardi Limited began looking back last year, with a global campaign celebrating the brand's 150-year anniversary. The new campaign -- called "Vivimos! ("We live!") -- was created for the U.S., although elements might be expanded globally. It is the first work overseen by boutique agency OW, which Bacardi USA recently brought on board to oversee brand and creative strategy.

Rum ads have lately been turning toward historical figures frequently. Diageo, for instance, has found success recasting its once-cartoonish Captain Morgan as real-life privateer Captain Henry Morgan of the 1600s. Advertising for Sailor Jerry rum, which is marketed by William Grant & Sons, evokes Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, a renowned American tattoo artist and Navy man of the mid-1900s. Last year, both brands gained market share on Bacardi, which remains the top-selling U.S. rum with 35.4% share in 2012, down from 36.5% in 2011, according to Euromonitor International, which measures volume of liters sold. (Captain Morgan is No. 2 with 23.2%, up from 22.6% in 2011, while No. 7 Sailor Jerry grew to 2.6% from 2.5%.)

But Bacardi executives say its rivals can't match their brand's history. It is still controlled by the descendants of founder Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, who first distilled it in Cuba in 1862 at a tin-roof distillery with bats in the rafters -- the explanation for the brand's bat icon.

Millennial consumers are "really looking for brands that have authenticity and a heritage and a story," said Toby Whitmoyer, Bacardi USA's VP of marketing for the rum brand. "Bacardi has been incredibly successful as a business, but we really haven't taken the time to tell consumers the real story behind the brand."

The first commercial, which will be accompanied by digital and print executions, harkens to the turn of the 20th Century when, according to the Bacardi Limited web site, "American soldiers celebrating victory after the Spanish-American War requested their Coca-Cola be mixed with Bacardi rum," as they "toasted to a free Cuba." Thus was born the Cuba Libre.

(Coke is not part of the campaign, which uses the generic "cola" phrase.)

The campaign is timed to coincide with Cuban Independence Day on Monday. Bacardi is partnering with Rolling Stone to celebrate the holiday with a concert event in New York at the Roseland Ballroom, featuring Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Fitz and The Tantrums.

Of course, Coke and Bacardi left Cuba in the 1960s in the wake of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution. Today, Cuba and North Korea are the only two countries where Coke is not sold; Bacardi rum is made in Puerto Rico. So the ad tries to recreate as closely as possible Cuba in the early 1900s, but because of political restrictions on access to Cuba, the spot was shot in Uruguay.

Bacardi has further material in its archives that would seem like good matches for a U.S. audience. The Daiquiri cocktail, for example, was invented in 1898 by an American engineer working in the Cuban mining town of Daiquiri, according to Bacardi. The marketer also says that one of the first recorded recipes for the Mojito included Bacardi rum. It was an adaptation of a cocktail recipe from the 1500's which "used crude and harsh tasting aguardiente," according to Bacardi, while the Mojito "featured the easily mixable, light-bodied" Bacardi rum.