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Ahhh, a bad word for rum: ‘positioning’

By Dan Biondi

I love rum, and all its facets. I could be considered to be a provocative guy today, and really I play it safe. I do love rum, and I’m sure if you are familiar with my posts you already know.

Something that has stood out to me a lot as of late is how Rum is being re-discovered in what is a cluttered jungle of mature and new, up-and-coming spirits: in terms of image, new trends, and appeal. In one word this development can be summed up into a new rum “positioning.” In Europe this isn’t really necessary. In many markets rum is on the rise, and in Italy as well it’s in good shape, but… personally I think its always best to being looking towards new opportunities.

Last year I had the huge pleasure of meeting Mr. Charles Gordon, who is sadly no longer with us, but left behind his legacy as the creator of the single malt whisky category in the 60s, Hendrick’s Gin, and many others. Meeting him, I came to understand how an 85-yea-old man could be so inspired. He was always one step ahead of the game.  I told him I was fascinated to know how to create a brand and its dream, how to build a cool brand, how to make consumers look at a Gin and enter a dream-like experience of a surreal Victorian mood, or how to make a spiced rum reminiscent of a wearing a tattoo in the 40s.  How to make having a drink living an experience?

Rum like other aged liquors is a spirit with a long, fascinating history. Rum embodies the Caribbean – its real people, its real ageing process, its real characteristics that producers have long bet on. Rum “messages” have always been things like raw material, distillation, ageing. Rum “visuals” have always been faces, stills, barrels, etc. We can see that the positioning and storytelling is the product itself.   Some big brands are going into lifestyle messaging, but it is only a way to catch a target, and is not strategic positioning of the product itself.

What do you think, could a rum brand come out lifestyle positioning like that? By maintaining its product quality, but leaving the discussion of them behind? Or do you think that “positioning” is only for brands that have nothing real to tell? The questions “is marketing good or evil?” is always around the corner.

Let’s take a look:  Could a famous rum become the spirit of regattas, positioning itself in the world of sailing, captivating sea imagery and aiming at a high-end target?  Or could a rum brand direct itself at the tropical region by representing a French flag for environmental projects?  Could a rum brand get its hands on deck for the old British Navy by employing relevant imaginary from the late 1700s?  Even considering provenance, could a rhum agricole go for the Belle époque representing a St. Germain mood? Try the same exercise, and don’t start with rum, rather start with cool imaginary that pops into our mind, then adapt that to rum and steer clear of falling into a competitor frame of thinking.

What is true is that a small new European rum brand, owned by a European could be successful. On the contrary, it would be very difficult for an old institutional brand with deep-rooted land history to pull this off. The fewer the rums available in a region, the more responsibility they have to embody the country’s culture. No space for new concepts, no acceptance in local market, no space for European marketing and no leeway for ‘fake’ histories. What do you think, is rum a slave to its beautiful nature?

‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc.’

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