Havana Club believes ‘it’s up to us to expose Cuba to the masses’ as it opens immersive pop-up Casa featuring VR experience

Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club is embracing its Cuban roots and using virtual reality in order to do so within its pop up experience.

The alcohol brand is prizing its authenticity above all else at its current London pop-up experience, and senior brand manager Liam Murphy believes it’s up to the brand “to expose Cuba to the masses” as the country continues to open its borders.

Speaking to The Drum within one of the pop-up’s many themed rooms, Murphy explained the challenge of selling Havana Club as a Cuban lifestyle brand is separating its marketing from the traditional tourist tropes of old cars and cocktails – although to latter obviously cannot be ignored.

“The increased focus on Cuba is really exciting for the brand,” he said. “People are starting to realise what an unbelievable destination Cuba is. And once you really scratch underneath there is a huge amount of culture to explore.

“As a brand that's entrenched within their culture and society, it's up to us to try and really expose that to the masses.”

Digitally, Havana Club has used Instagram as a starting point to express its “authenticity”, eschewing the standard squares of well-filtered cocktails for original photos of Cuban streets, locals and wildlife. “It's shots that you wouldn't have seen on Google or online before,” explained Murphy.

The brand also isn’t new to physical experiences, having activated pop-ups at the likes of Taste of London and Rumfest previously. This summer’s offering however, is arguably its biggest standalone experience.

Casa Havana London’s Bateman Street scratches the cultural surface through three themes: drink, food and colour. The brand has partnered with Street Feast founder Dom Cools-Lartigue to produce a menu inspired by classics such as the Cuban sandwich and seabass ceviche, while global brand ambassador and Cuban native Meimi Sanchez put together the cocktail list. Local artists have been enlisted create works down in the basement to bring to life the ‘colour’ component

The “final piece” of the jigsaw for Murphy is an immersive true virtual reality experience produced by Found Studio. Inspired by the idea of immersive theatre, the VR is housed in an authentic Cuban storeroom and whisks participants away to the same room in Havana.

“There's a number of brands that are trying to integrate virtual reality into activity they're doing but we've found a genuine reason to do it here,” said Murphy. “For us it's all about trying to transport people to Cuba and the VR gives a literal vehicle to do that without physically flying everyone over there.”

The pop-up forms part of Havana Club’s strategy to ‘re-establish integrity and balance’ in the brand, alongside a new visual identity of its Club 7 variety

Much like the new visual identity of its Club 7 variety hopes to ‘re-establish integrity and balance’ in the brand, the PernodRicard label wants the pop-up to strongly communicate authenticity to its audience in London and beyond (it “amplifies everything [on social media] to the Nth degree”, according to Murphy).

Its connections to Cuba cannot be doubted – it still produces the rum there, and is part owned by the island’s government – however its challenge will be to watch out for rival Bacardi, whose CMO announced in May plans to start pushing his brands’ heritage further by opening up the real estate that belongs to its luxury spirits.

Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

All by Katie