Bacardi North American CMO: ‘We are transforming how we engage with consumers’

This is the last installment of The Digiday List of Innovative CMOs series, featuring a handful of trail-blazing brand marketers who are driving the bottom line through digital innovation.

Vergara: ‘Moving lots of ad spend’

Bacardi is used to shifting behaviors. Once most associated with its namesake rum, the brand was outpaced by whiskey when customers’ tastes changed. Now to reach those drinkers, and newer ones, its own approach to digital has had to evolve.

The brand replaced its single global CMO with two CMOs last year, one based in Europe and the other in the U.S. And Bacardi consolidated its portfolio of more than 200 liquor products — including Cazadores, Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire — under one ad agency, BBDO. The company also made its first move into programmatic a few months ago through a partnership with media agency OMD.

“We are moving lots of ad spend, effort and brand focus into digital, especially mobile,” said Mauricio Vergara, CMO for Bacardi’s North American operations. “This year you can see lots of innovations in terms of how we engage with consumers.”

Here, we break down how Bacardi is changing the way it’s doing marketing.

Better use of data
As Bacardi diverts more resources to digital, Vergara’s team is using more analytics from social and mobile to optimize media investment. The company uses data to understand not only who its consumers are but also where and when they will see the brand message, said Vergara.

For instance, Bacardi is able to use geodata to identify consumers when they are at the bar, and then serve them branded posts on Snapchat or Instagram. And it can use data to learn which one of 10 different edits of the same video resonates most with consumers.

We are increasingly data-driven and intent-driven,” said Vergara.

Bacardi also made its first foray into programmatic a few months ago through a partnership with OMD, in hoping to serve more targeted ads. While many big ad spenders are bringing this functionality in-house, Bacardi doesn’t plan to do so anytime soon.

“Community management and content have to be owned by Bacardi. But right now, we are still learning the right balance between partnerships and in-house,” said Vergara.

Focus on experiences
Data aside, Bacardi is looking to go beyond parties to become more “relevant to the culture,” by offering consumers unique experiences.

Its experiential marketing takes place both online and offline. Last month, Bacardi-owned Bombay Sapphire — in collaboration with its agency BBDO — created Artifier, a Chrome extension that turns any banners into art from Bombay Sapphire’s Artisan Series program. In August of this year, Bacardi and BBDO teamed up with electronic music artist Goldroom on a digital scavenger hunt, where the brand hid 10 pairs of tickets on its website. Participants had to turn on Google Chrome’s incognito mode or follow clues on Goldrooms’ Twitter to unlock sweepstakes including tickets and exclusive tracks.

In July of this year, Bacardi also named artist Swizz Beatz as its chief creative for culture. Brands have made similar hires in the past — mostly stunts — including Polaroid’s ill-fated appointment of Lady Gaga as its creative director and Intel’s odd hiring of of the Black Eyed Peas as its “Director of Creative Innovation.”

But Bacardi’s teaming with Beatz is organic, said Vergara, a natural extension of the brand’s collaboration with him at the brand’s first contemporary art fair, No Commission, in Miami last year. No Commission exhibited emerging artists’ work that was curated by Beatz through his foundation, the Dean Collection. More than $1 million in art were sold during the event, said Bacardi.

“Influencers are becoming critical part of our marketing strategy. By working with them, we are able to give our consumers unique experiences and amplify our brand message,” said Vergara.

Reignite the rum brand
Vergara believes that marketing innovation and product innovation are closely related. Across the liquor industry, the sales of vodka and rum have been flat while whiskey has been thriving, but he thinks that rum will gradually make a comeback this year or next. In response, Bacardi will launch more craft, artisanal rum options.

“We always keep an eye on how the trend is evolving,” said Vergara. “At Bacardi right now, we have a very strong agenda on the position of rum and the category overall is moving towards premium.”

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