In Rum Battle, Malibu Speeds Things Up As Cruzan Goes Slow

New Ads Take Different Approaches

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When it comes to rum, there is Captain Morgan, Bacardi and everyone else. The two brands dominate the category at a combined 67% share, with Diageo-owned Captain Morgan holding a slight edge with a 34% share, according to IRI, which excludes bars and restaurants.

But as the critical summer season begins, two smaller brands are trying to make waves with new campaigns that underpin two very different strategies.

Pernod Ricard-owned Malibu, which is the No. 3 rum with a little more than 8% share, has a new partnership with pop band OneRepublic as it continues to go after high-energy occasions. By contrast, Cruzan is urging consumers to slow down with its "Don't Hurry" campaign, which advocates for an island lifestyle in everyday life. The brand, which is owned by Beam Suntory, is the 11th-ranked rum by sales with just under 1% share, according to IRI.

As a whole, the rum category is lagging. Sales at stores grew by just 1.8% in the 52 weeks ending March 23, compared with 4.2% for all spirits, according to IRI. The star liquor of late is whiskey, which was up by 13.2% in the period.

White rum has "taken a backseat to brown spirits in recent years," Emily Pennington, editor of trade publication Wine & Spirits Daily, said in an email. "The tiki cocktail trend has helped boost [rum] sales on-premise, but off-premise it continues to languish as consumers demand more flavorful spirits," she added, noting that rum brands have begun pushing more dark rums in hopes that they can duplicate the success of Scotch and bourbon.

Cruzan, whose top-seller is an aged light rum, is pushing itself as the rum-drinkers rum, hoping to source volume from within the category, while other brands are looking to steal share from elsewhere in the spirits category. Some rums are trying to replicate the "clubbing feel of vodka" or the "heritage of bourbon," said Brendan Lynch, senior director of rums and cordials for Beam Suntory. But Cruzan wants to "stay with rum consumers," he said.

To do so, the brand's latest campaign by the Walton Isaacson agency encourages drinkers to seize life's small moments -- or at least pay attention. Digital ads begin Monday on sites including Hulu, Youtube and NBC. In one video (above), two frantic chess players take a drink, pause, and realize they are actually brothers. The approach is reminiscent of Corona beer's "Find Your Beach" campaign.

The ads follow last year's digital video which showed people transported to the "island of the don't hurry," with activities such as "sleep yoga" and "zero-K" runs. The brand got less than $1 million in measured media support last year, according to Kantar Media. Mr. Lynch said the budget would go up this year, although he declined to say by how much.

Malibu, which spent $6.5 million on measured media last year, is also boosting spending, said Josh Hayes, senior brand manager. The new campaign, called "Best Summer Ever," includes a TV ad that contrasts high-energy "summer you" with the "rest-of-the-year you." The agency is Forsman & Bodenfors, Sweden.

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The deal with OneRepublic includes heavy product placement in the band's forthcoming music video for the song "Love Runs Out." Malibu is also sponsoring the band's summer tour.

"For us, summer is a high-energy place," Mr. Hayes said. "Some brands want to be relaxed on the beach and other brands, like us, want to throw a party on the beach." And in doing so, the brand wants to take on other popular summer drinks, including flavored vodkas and beer, he said.

Meanwhile, rum brands continue to experiment with new variants and flavors. Captain Morgan is launching Captain Morgan 1671, a dark-colored, spiced rum named for brand namesake Captain Henry Morgan's 1671 battle in Panama City. Bacardi's latest introduction is a flavored rum called Mango Fusion, which will be supported with a national digital campaign.

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