Bacardi in India is going all out with its marketing and product innovations. The alco-bev company’s rum portfolio has long been associated with NH7 Weekender, an Indian music festival that supports independent musicians. The brand is bringing sustainability and inclusivity into this property, going to deeper pockets in India. Beyond that, the company recently launched LEGACY, its first India-made whisky. In a country where home-grown gin brands are brewing new stories, Bacardi India looked for an opportunity.
The company is now also taking a closer look at consumer trends. According to Zeenah Vilcassim, marketing director, Bacardi India, three big trends—comfort, curiosity, and convenience—have emerged globally. These trends were bubbling under the surface much before the pandemic hit. Vilcassim and her teams are taking a nuanced approach to these consumer demands.
In an interview with Storyboard18, Vilcassim, shares her in-depth views, from navigating through advertising regulations in the alco-bev category to building new brand narratives, and more. Here are edited excerpts.
Over the years, Bacardi in India has mixed music well into its branded content pieces and have built IPs that had impactful recall value. What’s that secret sauce?
The secret sauce is to be completely true and authentic to what Bacardi stands for as a brand, who our consumers are, and what’s relevant to them. With BACARDI NH7 Weekender, it’s been about independent music and sustainability. How we move into those things depends on different consumers in different markets. As a brand, we’ve always stood for building connections with people and empowering people to do what moves them.
The conception of BACARDI NH7 Weekender 12 years ago was wonderfully tied into celebrating the up-and-coming home-grown Indian artists. Every single year, it’s gotten bigger and better in terms of what our consumers are looking for, the on-ground experiences that we give them, the artiste line-up that we have, and how inclusive and sustainable we can be while making sure everybody has an amazing time, making new friends and building new connections every year. It’s as simple as keeping your consumers at the heart and being authentic to who you are as a brand and what you stand for.
Tell us the story of BACARDI’s association with NH7 Weekender. How has the property evolved over the years?
Twelve years ago, BACARDI NH7 Weekender was created as a festival in India to champion indie music talent, which is something that Bacardi BACARDI has always stood for—music. As the years have passed by, we’ve looked at expanding the artists’ line-up and having more international artists to make it even bigger.
Even within India, we’ve expanded to different regions. We’ve also looked at how we can bring together various elements of our brand positioning to life. We’ve evolved with consumer needs and wants and made the festival more inclusive and sustainable.
To move ahead with our sustainability story, we completely stopped the use of plastic at the festival. We now only use glasses made out of rice husk which can be reused and also use straws made of bamboo. We’re making the festival inclusive through our work with accessibility partners for the differently abled and inclusivity partners for the LGBTQIA+ community to achieve this. We even welcome pets, because we know how much our consumers love their furry little companions. Additionally, we have forayed into spaces like the metaverse and virtual festivals when we couldn’t meet in person. We will continue to evolve the platform and the festival based on what is right for consumers and add value to their festival experience.
Has the attendee profile changed in these years?
While the demographic data may have evolved over the years, the preferences of audiences attending the festival continue to remain the same. They care about listening to good music, celebrating indie talent, building connections, and meeting new people. That profile of the audiences hasn’t changed much for the last 12 years—these are inherent human needs, trends, and truths that will probably be the same.
The pandemic did hurt the experiential marketing activities for brands like Bacardi. How did you connect with your audience in the online world? Also, how do you tie it back when events are back on ground?
The pandemic was certainly tough for everyone. Imagine a festival where 30,000 people are attending the event on-ground and then not being able to meet anyone and having to be six feet apart at all times. It would be easy to assume that we just couldn’t do it. But instead, we looked at what this festival stands for—building connections with people and celebrating indie music. That’s exactly why we kept true to it. We forayed into the virtual festival space in 2020. We created party packs to deliver to people’s homes so they can connect with their friends.
We leveraged tech so they could have their own little rooms and parties together so that they weren’t feeling alone. If somebody was sitting in their house by themselves, they would still be able to connect with other like-minded individuals. Through 2020, we saw a little bit of a virtual festival fatigue because it was so saturated. We knew we had to evolve to add value to our consumers. We took the BACARDI NH7 Weekender space into the metaverse and we launched Casa Bacardi that enabled people to get their avatars to dance and celebrate. It was amazing because then we brought 19 countries into that virtual world. It wasn’t just India. It was people that cared about music and wanted to make connections by coming together from around the world. We’re always looking for new and innovative opportunities to evolve this space.
Zeenah Vilcassim, marketing director, Bacardi India
In a way, musicians are the OG creators. What are the ways in which you engage with artists, of course, beyond event associations?
True partnerships are the ones that are formed beyond leveraging musicians or talent for one-off activations. We’ve worked with a lot of artists, in fact, we’ve actually helped accelerate a lot of artists’ careers—like Prateek Kuhaad who was a part of our brand Dewar’s experiential platforms. Within the Bacardi portfolio, we always want to maintain long-term partnerships, for instance, Nucleya and Ritviz. With musicians and talent in the music space, we look and see what we can do and how we can partner with them in a way that goes beyond a one-off festival or a one-off association.
Recently, Bacardi got into the domestic whisky market with LEGACY. What’s the marketing line-up for LEGACY?
LEGACY is so exciting for us. It is arguably the most exciting launch that we’ve had for Bacardi in India since the company was launched 25 years ago. Likewise, when we create platforms for our brands, we don’t do it as an afterthought. We do it in an authentic way that’s relevant to our consumers. It’s like BACARDI NH7 Weekender taps into the love that people have for indie music, talent, and connections with friends; Breezer Vivid Shuffle taps into the grassroots of the hip-hop community, and LEGACY is all about being proudly Indian and celebrating everything that is beautiful about India. The platform and the ambassador we’re working with for LEGACY will stay true to that. We’re so excited to roll it out and see the reactions of all our stakeholders including our consumers.
What are the key consumer trends that have emerged in the liquor category in 2022? How are you infusing those in your product and marketing plans?
Three big trends emerging at a human level, globally, that were bubbling under the surface before COVID, got accelerated post-pandemic. Those three trends—comfort, curiosity and convenience—had an impact across all industries. With comfort, it was all about creating a work-life balance, and understanding the stress levels that everybody was facing. These thoughts have also seeped into the alcohol space where people now prefer mindful drinking, are drinking less but better, also giving an impetus to the non-alcohol space.
From a curiosity standpoint, people still had an appetite for new experiences. This need for virtual festivals or new and exciting experiences, including culinary experiences, translated into a completely experimentative space when it came to spirits. People were trying new brands and were on the lookout for new categories. For example, the gin category exploded massively, giving people something different from their usual standard spirit choice, which also led to a premiumisation trend. People were more experimentative around the types of drinks and cocktails they were making at home and around the types of spirits, they were buying. That led to people leaning into more premium spirits that naturally move into that experimentative space.
Then in the convenience space, we saw that the use of e-commerce platforms skyrocketed. This need for convenience also led to the emergence of trends in the alcohol segment such as cocktails in cans, simple serves, and pre-mixers. The trend caught on because along with leaning into something more premium and experimenting, it was also convenient. Therefore, keeping consumers at the heart of everything we do, we’ve also continued to evolve—we launched our Bacardi non-alcoholic mixers, which was great in terms of creating a convenient drinking experience. We also created the Dewar’s home experience that can enable people to have a bar experience at home with their friends, with fun and music.
We hear women as a consumer set are surprising alco-bev brands. How are they surprising brand Bacardi in India?
If you go beyond women into the consumer in general, alco-bev consumers have become more experimentative across the board. We’ve seen everyone, both men and women, surprising us in terms of their drink choices. We have seen a lot of men move from whisky to gin, which is something that’s never happened before. We’ve seen a lot of women moving to whisky with simple highball serves, cocktails and mixers. This uptake in women consumers in the spirits segment can also be attributed to women being more comfortable about choosing a product because they have the knowledge to do so and can walk into a store and ask questions about what they like or don’t like.
I think we’ll continue to see that evolve across demographics. It then becomes exciting to have conversations around how we engage with an audience that previously might not have been at the forefront in India just because of the split between men and women drinking. Now we’re seeing a huge increase in that and it enables us to be more creative with our marketing plans.
Advertising regulations are tight in India for alco-bev brands. Is it still challenging for Bacardi? How do you overcome these bumps in the overall strategy?
We always work within the regulations. Within that, it goes back to being authentic to what your brand stands for. That’s why the BACARDI NH7 Weekender is such an amazing platform. It’s a genuine brand extension of what Bacardi stands for—which is connections, music, and sustainability. For us, it’s about how we add value to our consumers, keep them at our heart and give them experiences or products beyond just alcohol. That acts as a true brand extension and not a surrogate for us at all.