Bacardi Legacy is now seven years old but take us back to the beginning. What was the original idea?
I’ve been running cocktail competitions for 12 years but I take no credit for the genius of the idea behind Bacardi Legacy, more the evolution of it. The original idea came out of the UK team in 2009.
Bacardi was a brand built by bartenders and through their classic drinks. It was the rum of the Cantineros who made drinks like El Presidente, Mojito, Cuba Libre and Daiquiri, so being a drink-led competition works for us.
Does a bartender have to be from a key account to enter Bacardi Legacy?
A bartender has to have made a drink with Bacardi rum and then serve that drink in their venue.
Every bartender wants to create a new classic. Can it be done through a branded competition?
When I was a bartender – not a very good one – I must have created three drinks from scratch every night. Many of them were great, but who cares? Because I didn’t take the time to make them stick. Look at Audrey Saunders. She had the same core drinks on her menu from day one – the Old Cuban, the Gin Gin Mule, the Earl Grey Martini - they’ve never left. Just when you’re sick of the drink [as a bartender], that’s when it’s about to kick in. I use the analogy of a live show vs an album. Bartending is a live show but at some point you have to lay down some tracks. People that never get the chance to sit in your bar can still try your drinks. A bartender’s career is finite but his or her drinks need not be.
Competing in Bacardi Legacy involves an almost year-long promotional campaign. What’s the benefit to Bacardi and to the bartenders that do the work?
The promotional part of Bacardi Legacy is great – it gets people to recommend Bacardi drinks for us but it’s very time consuming in terms of our resources. It’s almost a second job for some of us, mentoring the bartenders over the year. Bacardi Legacy gives us a platform and touch point to support bartenders. It’s a mechanic by which we can talk about our classic cocktails. It gives consumers a way to interact with Bacardi in a new way or through a new drink. It provides exposure and positive noise. But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think bartenders got a lot out of it.
For the competitors, it separates the weekend heroes from the ones that really want to strive in their career and succeed. Look at Shingo Gokan – he was the least likely global superstar. [Before Bacardi Legacy] he spoke very little English and was from Japan working in New York. Now he operates bars on two continents and has regular consultancy work. It’s a big opportunity if you can grasp it. The promotional part of Bacardi Legacy rewards the people that are ready to hustle for that success.
The competition has grown to an almighty size - it must be hugely expensive. What’s the return on investment?
There’s an article of faith – you have to bridge the gap. Does spending X dollars on a cocktail competition result in Y dollars? I’m not sure anyone can say that. The pure mechanic of a cocktail competition – we have no trouble justifying that. The harder point to justify is the time it takes. It becomes a second job for every one of our ambassadors. But we are in an industry that is very particular. If we just wanted to be in an ROI industry we could sell toothpaste. For Bacardi, Bacardi Legacy is protecting and building the brand for the next generation and the generation after that. Viewed as a company that will be around for another 150 years, Bacardi Legacy makes more sense.
At different times the spirits industry shifts its channel-focus – travel retail, consumer campaigns, celebrity endorsement and, in recent years, bartenders. Will it always be the case that bartenders see this level of time and investment from Bacardi?
We are active in all the various touch points but I would say some of the traditional media has fallen away [in importance]. The recommendation of your friends remains the most important and the recommendation of experts. The guy that works in a bar tells you what to drink and that’s a very powerful recommendation. Some some sales people might ask why we don’t just buy a billboard on a freeway. I say: we have 2,500 employees and 600,000 bartenders in America. What if I could tell you I could get you 600,0000 extra sales people that work 50 hours a week and are going to sell Bacardi in a way that feels natural and organic? Bartenders recommend a drink every two minutes. Isn’t that more impactful than a billboard? People that have gone into a bar to buy a drink have opted in in a way that people in a shopping mall haven’t. A lot of people in travel retail are just trawling through. You don’t go into a bar to window shop.
How do you go about choosing the host city of Bacardi Legacy – is there an underlying market strategy?
We want to go to cities with great cocktail cultures that we know people want to see. There are many touch points with this year’s host city San Francisco. It is probably second only to NYC as a cocktail scene in the US. Jerry Thomas worked here and also because of San Francisco’s close affinity to the internet, this is where the movement to put cocktail books online first started - this is where the archaeology of the cocktail started.
This year there is also a really nice dovetailing between the story of San Francisco and the story of Bacardi – earthquakes, fires... – this is a city that has been through that too. Also the other component for us is that San Francisco - and California - is a very important market for us.
Bacardi Legacy 2017 will take place in Berlin.