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With a cartoon pirate as first mate, Pat Tate-O'Connor has steered Seagram Americas' Captain Morgan spiced rum to the forefront of fast-growing spirits brands.

Fueled by a distinctive taste, a mischievous mascot, line extensions and a humorous advertising campaign, the brand grew 24% in 1997 and has carved a niche for itself as the No. 2 rum brand behind Bacardi.

Bacardi has 53% of the market and Captain Morgan has 20%.

Ms. Tate-O'Connor, 42, rum category manager for Seagram Americas, notes the brand hit its first million cases in 1995, after being in the market for more than a decade. She predicts it will hit its second million in another two years.

"Captain Morgan delivers a flavor profile that consumers love, and the Captain's persona-his swashbuckling posture-puts a persona to the brand beyond the flavor system," says Ms. Tate-O'Connor. Since she took the wheel for Captain Morgan in 1994, sales have grown 20.9% to 1.6 million cases, according to industry newsletter Impact.

"I really believe advertising played a role in accelerating growth of the brand," says Ms. Tate-O'Connor. Seagram spent $9.2 million on Captain Morgan in 1997, up a whopping 91.7% from 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Seagram Americas further buttressed the brand by introducing extensions that complement the spiced rum, including clear, superpremium and a coconut-flavored rum called Parrot Bay directed at the women's market.

Until 1993, advertising focused on the brand's taste. That changed when agency Grey Advertising, New York, launched "The Captain Was Here" campaign, in which characters in print and outdoor ads were defaced with mustaches and beards similar to the "Captain's."

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