Havana Club looks to transform rum’s image from ‘cheap’ to premium

Havana Club says rum is still too often seen as an “informal” spirit and is keen for it to instead be associated with “luxury”.

Havana Club is on a mission to capture a bigger slice of the premium rum sector by changing public perceptions around the spirit.

Speaking to Marketing Week, the brand’s communications director François Renié says even though the market is diverse and includes premium options, rum is still very much seen as “fun” and not premium.

“Rum still has a dominant perception of being cheap and we are fighting to get the luxury, prestige or high quality image that we really deserve,” he says.

Renié adds this change of image will also help build the overall category. In order to achieve this, rum brands should be working towards the same goal.

He explains: “If we have more brands working to remove this idea that rum is cheap and that it can be premium, it will build the category. Compared to vodka, tequila or whiskey, rum is really under-premiumised in percentage of the overall sector. It needs to be more premiumised and we are fighting for that space.”

‘Providing a soul to the brand’

One way the Pernod Ricard-owned brand is looking to be more premium is by developing its ‘Havana Cultura’ initiative, which launched 10 years ago, which looks to give a platform to Cuban artists from all disciplines and show the world “a more modern side to Cuba”.

“For us, Havana Cultura provides a soul to the brand. We build loyalty and advocacy this way. It might not have the impact of a global advertising campaign, but it does have a deep effect on a small group of influencers and we are solidly building the brand this way,” he explains.

We don’t do EDM, and we are not like Smirnoff or Bacardi that are fighting [to sponsor] major DJs like Avicii. We don’t have the money or want to lose our soul.

François Renié, Havana Club

Numerous other alcohol brands have decided to go down the music route in order to reach new audiences. For example, Heineken launched the #LiveYourMusic campaign in April and now sponsors more than 1,000 music events globally. Meanwhile, Corona set up its own global music festival SunSets in 2014 to increase awareness of the brand among millennials.

Renié insists, however, that Havana Club does not want to compete with global beer and spirit companies and is keen to take a less mainstream approach.

“We don’t do EDM, and we are not like Smirnoff or Bacardi that are fighting [to sponsor] major DJs like Avicii. We don’t have the money or want to lose our soul,” he sneers.

In its bid to become more obviously premium, Renié says it is also shying away from mass advertising in favour of “more meaningful small-scale content”.

He concludes: “A big TV campaign does not satisfy everyone, and in the case of spirits it doesn’t satisfy [anyone] at all. We have to be edgy and authentic to cut through. We want to inspire people.”

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