We continuously tuned in to our consumer needs and preferences, it helped us maintain our human connect during the tough times: Zeenah Vilcassim, Bacardi India

  • As alcohol brads cannot advertise on traditional mediums, many of them have heavily depended on on-ground activations, comedy gigs or music shows to connect with their audiences.
  • Bacardi is one brand that has built a lot of its marketing around these live events in the past.
  • So how did the brand re-calibrate, once the pandemic hit? Zeenah Vilcassim, Marketing Director, Bacardi India tells us.

As live events came to a screeching halt after 2020’s pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, brands that depended on live events and on-ground activations needed to completely re-think their marketing strategies.

Bacardi is one brand that has, in the past, heavily depended on live events and music shows. With the pandemic, the brand, like many others, had to transform the way it reaches out to its consumers.

From lively offline events, the brand pivoted to offline events, adding innovation and technology to create virtual events that could make a similar impact like the old, physical events.

We speak to Zeenah Vilcassim, Marketing Director, Bacardi India to understand how the brand re-calibrated its marketing to stay relevant in this new world order and what its areas of focus will be, to continue being an important part of its consumer’s lives.


Q) How have the last 1.5 years been for you as a brand?

The past 1.5 years hasn’t been easy on any of us but it has helped us refocus on our priorities. Being a family-owned company, our priority during such a challenging time was, and is, the health, safety, and well-being of our employees and the people within the communities we operate in. When the pandemic initially hit, we supported the supply of sanitizers, producing 400,000 gallons through our local productions facilities in India and around the world. Whilst it seems like there might be light at the end of the tunnel we know that mental health issues can lag and hit you at any time so we continue to support our primos (the Spanish word for cousinsm), and their families, with free access to confidential counselling, an informational service helpline, and an internal emergency helpline.

Whilst this base was so important for us to support and cover we also continued to try and innovate within the marketing space. In the face of the pandemic restrictions and rapidly changing consumer behaviour, we’ve had to rethink our marketing strategies and alter our brand-led properties at an equal pace. In many cases we had to completely rethink our marketing models but more on that later…

Q) For a brand that has relied so much on live events, how did you need to recalibrate, rethink your strategies? How were you communicating with your consumers during the initial months of the pandemic?

With safety as our top priority, live events were obviously out of the question. Interestingly, consumer behaviour changed significantly, and they were keen to explore new avenues and platforms for experiences. We explored new consumption trends and innovative formats to stay relevant. At-home leisure activities expanded and covered a whole gamut of entertainment and learning new skills. At the same time, virtual became the mainstay for all of us, and we were keen to recreate pre-COVID experiences on digital platforms. We understood evolving consumer needs and helped them creatememorable moments. We listened to what our consumers wanted and delivered that, during the first year of the lockdown consumers were really missing the bar experience so we launched the Doers Home Edit, bringing the bar cocktail experience to consumers’ homes with a bartender and everything that is expected in a bar. Keeping our consumers curious and engaged.

We pride ourselves on being leaders in creating culturally relevant experiences so there came a point where we knew we had to go further than ‘just another’ virtual experience. To take things to the next level we created an AP virtual immersive 3D island. We transported people across 25 different countries to our Caribbean paradise – an ode to brand BACARDI’s roots. The highlight for the fans was the ability to enjoy a complete sensory experience through spatial audio and personalized avatars.

The pandemic has brought drastic shifts in our lives, some trends and platforms might be quick fads and some might be here to stay. We will continue listening to the consumers, anticipatetheir needs, and truly adding value – all with a little bit of creative rebellion of course!

Q) What are some new formats you’ve explored to engage with your audience?

During the initial days of the lockdown, we started with virtual mixology sessions across brands such as BACARDÍ, DEWAR’S and BOMBAY SAPPHIRE, helping consumers indulge in some of their favourite cocktails from the comfort of their homes. Then proceeded to virtual concerts and weekend gigs such as BACARDÍ #HappyAtHome Sessions. We also encouraged consumers to add a dance twist to their daily chores through BREEZER’S #BreezerShuffle Campaign.

Eventually, we shifted large-format activations to the digital realm, like Casa BACARDÍ moved to Lemonade Social last year and then came alive in a 3D virtual avatar this year. The happiest music festival, BACARDÍ NH7 Weekender, also went live digitally. BREEZER Vivid Shuffle, India’s biggest hip-hop league, was held virtually too. In its milestone 5th season, it was launched online this August but as a hybrid model where online and on-ground will merge seamlessly together.

Q) Things are slowly opening up now. What is your revival plan?

We’ve been extremely agile through these changing and challenging times, continuously tuned in to consumer needs and preferences. It has helped us maintain our human connect. Since we’ve been very active across our brands it mitigated the need for a drastic revival plan. Apart from hosting content and campaigns digitally, we’ve also held some on-ground experiences where possible. For instance, last year, the Casa BACARDÍ – Halloween Staycation was curated at Abode Bombay for select guests by following all COVID safety protocols. We were able to host a quintessential BACARDÍ experience with no holds barred and curated fun content. Our platforms remain the same it’s just the channel in which we communicate will be fluid. We will continue to work this way and cater to the dynamic consumer demands and explore newer innovative formats.

Q) Has content marketing become a more important tool for you as a brand in these last 1.5 years?

Content has always been a core marketing tool for us at Bacardi and even more so lately as it transcends geographical and physical boundaries. We’ve consistently built culturally relevant conversations across our brands with influential and passionate people. It’s important for us to not overly invest in one specific channel or mode of communication as we know real people have multiple media touchpoints throughout the day. It’s important to understand this journey, what is the most effective channel mix, and how do we adapt our messaging or content to add value in each channel. Multi-channel media marketing can be hard in a dark market but we will always work with the regulation to be both responsible and effective at the same time.

Q) BACARDÍ and music have gone hand-in-hand for years. Apart from the properties that you have built over the years, are there plans of coming up with more music properties?

Brand BACARDÍ has earned the right to participate within the music space in the country with its dedicated efforts. BACARDÍ NH7 Weekender has been the happiest music festival for over a decade now. BACARDÍ Sessions, launched as BACARDÍ House Party Sessions, has also provided a platform for many budding artists and opened up avenues for artists across dance and art last year. It has also curated fun content and weekend concerts like #HappyAtHome Sessions and #PassTheBeat, where artists across 4 countries literally passed a beat virtually.

Globally, the brand launched an exciting new edition of ‘Conga’ earlier this year, enabling consumers across the world to participate. We take great pride in each of these platforms and the way they’ve supported artists and brought new experiences to audiences, and we’ll keep building more such avenues across cultural pillars, keeping our consumers at the core.

Q) From a marketer perspective, are there a few things that have changed forever for brand Bacardi in this new world order? Going ahead, what will be your broad marketing strategy to build a deeper connect with your consumers?

It is indeed a new world order, but it hasn’t changed our core pillars; instead, it has instilled more faith in our purpose and human-centric approach. Brand and businesses tend to panic in crisis and make drastic changes. True brands that can stand the test of time should have courage in their convictions and believe in what they have always communicated. Sure, you’ll always have to adapt to your context, but for Bacardi it’s about staying the course and in moments of uncertainty. People will remember brands for being true to what they have always stood for. Going ahead, we’ll continue to focus on real people, their preferences and aspirations, and strengthen our brands’ stronghold in culture.


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