Bacardi entered India, a largely whiskey-drinking country, in 1998. Riding on its premium-yet-fun image and its wildly popular jingle, the brand quickly marked a strong corner for itself in the country.
Nearly two decades on, the world’s largest privately-held spirits firm is preparing a whole new marketing brew, looking to ramp up its share of a rapidly changing market.
“The pace at which consumer preferences and cultural habits change in this country is not funny,” Anshuman Goenka, Bacardi India’s marketing head, told Quartz in an interview.
So, in recent years, the Bermudan firm has signed up comedians and hip-hop dancers, curated food events, and hosted cocktail evenings in collaboration with new-age cafes to tap into India’s new demographics.
“We have sort of moved into our next growth orbit by doing stuff very differently when it comes to brand building because of the cultural movements we are seeing. We have upped our understanding of pop culture and invested in such platforms in India,” said Goenka.
For starters, the company is going beyond just musical events such as its flagship NH7 Weekender.
In 2017, Bacardi, which sells popular brands like Bacardi rum, Grey Goose Vodka, and Bombay Sapphire Gin, tied up with events management company Only Much Louder to launch a hip-hop dance festival, promoting its Breezer brand, often the first alcoholic drink for many urban Indians. The competition, Vivid Shuffle, is hosted by Bollywood star Varun Dhawan and held in Delhi, Mumbai, and Shillong, among others.
In 2016, the ready-to-drink alcoholic beverage brand also signed up stand-up comedians Abish Matthew and Kenny Sebastian.
Then there’s the YouTube series with comedian Kanan Gill for its scotch brand Dewar’s. The series, Doers (a popular property globally as well), launched in India in 2017. It goes offline once a month, visiting bars and restaurants, for which it tied up with online food community Food Talk India.
Earlier this year, Bacardi tied up with Blue Tokai coffee for its maiden event for the Grey Goose brand of vodka to host an espresso martini evening in New Delhi.
“We have redefined social media marketing—for us, we have done a complete sea change. We have told ourselves, let us invest in building content that has an organic brand conversation and we can only do that if we understand pop culture and work with people who understand it,” Goenka added.
Bacardi has always tried to be culturally relevant as a brand, right from the onset, say market watchers.
“Right from Weekender (which they tried after competing for brand’s Smirnoff’s similar property), to what they are doing now. These marketing initiatives makes sense because they are tapping into the urban cultural codes, it might not get them the volumes but will definitely get them the brand stickiness,” said Santosh Kanekar, founder at investment advisory firm Belive Corp.
Premium brands like Bacardi cost up to Rs200 ($2.8) for a 180 ml drink. This, in a country where over 90% of rum costs Rs65 for the same quantity. In fact, a bulk of all liquor sales in India comes from low-priced alcohol.
In short, Bacardi’s business in India is relatively still small. With over 5 million cases—a case is 12 bottles of 750ml each— sold annually, it touched a turnover of Rs474 crore in 2016. Compare that to the over Rs9,000 crore made in the same year by United Spirits, India’s largest alcoholic drinks maker.
Besides, the overall rum market hasn’t expanded much in the past few years. If anything, it has seen a 6.1% drop in volumes in the past four years.
So the company has had to buck up.
In the meantime, India’s transformed, too.
Urban millennials with more disposable incomes are changing the way the country consumes, especially in the big cities. The younger generation is willing to spend more on better brands and experiences.
So the market has witnessed a slew of new brands emerge—Bira 91 and White Rhino in craft beer and Greater Than, India’s first craft gin.
“Our product launch rate has gone up significantly over the last three years, because of the opportunity we are seeing,” Goenka said. Consumers are experimenting across categories, prompting the liquor maker to launch newer products. In the next one year, Bacardi will add more premium rums, such as Bacardi 8 years and 10 years to its India portfolio.
There’s enough coming for the country’s young tipplers, then, to remain in high spirits.