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Lust for life

Although its Cuban origins preclude Havana Club from the key US rum market, that’s not holding the brand back. In fact, says Robyn Lewis, its carefree Latino heritage is the inspiration for a forthcoming ad campaign

The name Havana Club, it is said, was originally chosen to bring together the traditional Cuban roots of the brand and a sense of international nightlife. And with the imminent launch of a new international marketing campaign (more of which later), this is an association that the brand endeavours to maintain.

Dating back to 1878, Havana Club flourished particularly well during Prohibition, as the US elite flocked to Cuba to drink and party. It then experienced a decline in the turbulent 1950s, but was revived after the revolution by the Cuban government which decided to make Havana Club its priority rum brand.

The current business structure, a joint venture established in 1993 by the Cuban Cuba Ron SA and the French Pernod Ricard, is Havana Club International SA and this company controls the brand internationally. “It has always been a priority brand for Pernod Ricard,” says general manager, Philippe Coutin. “Today it is one of Pernod Ricard’s 15 key brands and we are keen to take the brand forward and develop it further.”

Going global
Currently the rum is exported to 124 countries around the world with the one notable exception, of course, being the US, where Cuban products are still embargoed. The US is very important to the rum sector, consuming some 42% of global sales according to IWSR figures based on 2004 sales. But exclusion from the market does not seem to have affected Havana Club, which has managed double-digit growth for the past 10 years and last year alone managed to add a further 320,000 cases, increasing annual sales by 16% to some 2.3 million cases according to Pernod-Ricard.

This has been made possible by a strong presence in Europe, which represents around 26% of the rum category globally and is showing the most dynamic growth, up 4.9% (CAGR 1994–2004).  Italy is the brand’s number-one export market, followed by Spain, which absorbs some 10% of worldwide rum sales (IWSR figures based on 2004 sales). Germany and France are also key. So far so good, but how, you might wish to ask, has the brand achieved this?

Cocktails have been an intrinsic element of the brand from the beginning. Since some of the world’s most famous cocktails come from Cuba, the rum has been able to hold a unique place in the cocktail revival of recent years. From Daiquiris to the now ubiquitous Mojito, Havana Club has strengthened its place in this market, targeting the burgeoning international bartending scene with its Cocktail Grand Prix held every two years in Havana.

“It has rapidly become one of the most eagerly anticipated cocktail competitions in the world,” says François Renié, communication director for Havana Club International SA. There have been six competitions to date, supported by both the International Bartenders Association and the Asociación de Cantineros de Cuba (the Cuban bartenders’ group). “We also have an international programme of masterclasses,” Renié continues, “as well as a programme of sponsoring Cuban musicians, giving them the opportunity to play in countries across the world, promoting Cuba, Cuban music and the brand.”

Tourist trap
Back at home Havana Club has yet more opportunities to develop its international reputation through growth in tourism. Some 2m or more travellers visit the country these days and it provides a perfect shop window for the brand, with one snag – a communist regime means no advertising of any kind and no promotions. “This does mean that we have to be more creative about what we do,” explains Renié. “One of our biggest assets is the Havana Club Museum of Rum, which received 153,000 visitors last year, even though we only opened in 2000.” The museum includes a guided tour, which explains how Havana Club is made, a rum tasting and a souvenir shop.

Spread the word
Back on the international scene there’s that new advertising campaign which promises to “move the brand into the next phase of its communications strategy”. The campaign will launch in Spain and be rolled out across other export markets during the summer.

Consisting of multi-media advertising as well as below-the-line and PR support, the campaign is a huge investment, though the company declined to comment on the exact spend. “The campaign has been born out of international consumer research,” says Coutin. “The aim is to engage consumers in the Cuban state of mind. That optimism, energy and lust for life
is encapsulated in the new strap line, written in Spanish: El Culto a la Vida meaning ‘cult for life’.”

And that, believe it or not, is an entire article on Cuba, cocktails and rum that doesn’t mention Hemingway.

© db July 2006

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