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Voice Tech Bacardi Marketing

Bacardi CMO: ‘We’re approaching briefs with how an ad sounds, versus how it looks’


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

February 26, 2020 | 5 min read

Bacardi’s experiments with voice commerce and ASMR-inspired ads have led its chief marketer to say that the “sound” of an ad is now just as, if not more, important than how an add “looks.”



The drinks giant has been on a massive digital transformation drive as it looks to push more sales through e-commerce channels and has been experimenting with voice commerce along the way. It was one of the first to trial Amazon’s Alexa Skill through its Patron brand of tequila. Called ‘Ask Patron’ it offered cocktail recipes to those that engaged as well as facts about tequila.

Since launching in 2016, it has gone on to roll out on subsequent devices, including Google's voice assistant, and has attracted over 100,000 users, an impressive figure that’s pushing it to achieve its reported goal of having 500,000 people making Patrón cocktails at home.

Despite the apparent successes, John Burke, global chief marketing officer of Bacardi and president of Bacardi Global Brands, suggested that it’s still cautious about the future of its brands on voice platforms. He's not alone. According to a recent survey by Episerver into the attitude of more than 4,000 online shoppers, fewer people are using voice-assisted devices to find and buy brands. Last year, 17% of respondents used voice to complete a purchase multiple times a month, compared with just 7% this year. Meanwhile, just 8% used it to research a product this year, versus 22% in 2019.

“For us, there are more pressing areas we see than voice,” Burke said. “You need to be in play with these emerging trends and experimenting, but still remember the business you’re running and making solid plans on the areas you focus on. But the big lesson [from Patron's voice skill] was around how people search - it was a different intuition.”

Since beginning Patron's experiments with voice commerce, it's been optimising its content for Google based on learnings to focus on delivering "localized geo-targeted content", it said. And through understanding how people were inquiring about the brand on voice devices it's made a concerted effort to create content for Google Quick Answers (the box of information on Bacardi which appears at the top of a search) which resulted in 68% increase in Quick Answers in two years.

But it’s not just digital insights that trials with voice have delivered. The process of getting brands on to platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have led it to think more about the “sound” of the brand and what the experience of it is without any visuals.

“As we think about something like cocktail mixology, there’s also a lot of richness in that space and how to serve that just through audio,” continued Burke. “We’re now thinking about the sound [of a brand advert] first versus the look second. It’s a really interesting way of approaching that immersive consumer experience.”

A brief to its ad agency AMV BBDO last year that prioritised this. The creative shop delivered a 60-second advert called the Sound of Rum, which rolled out last September, to celebrate the brand’s Caribbean heritage. It made the sounds of cocktail-making, such as bottles clinking, fruit chopping and cocktail shaking, into a song which became the soundtrack for the spot.

Bacardi said the ASMR-inspired work generated 122 pieces of news coverage and reached 33 million people, resulting in a 366% increase in brand mentions across social media during its launch month. It's still waiting for the sales data to work out how commercially impactful it was.

As it looks ahead at the coming year, Burke said that social commerce and the opportunities presented by 5G will take precedence over any further experiments in the realm of voice.

“We implemented our new strategy direction last year. One of the key parts is putting the consumer at the heart. The desire to shift to be much more consumer centric in the way that we look at how we solve for out customers. Brands were guilty of being brand centric in the past but this is changing,” he said.

Another partnership with Amazon UK has hinted at the direction this will go. Digital sales of single malt whisky was a $630m business in Europe alone and is growing at 10% each year, according to the company. So last year its whisky brand John Dewar & Sons partnered with Amazon UK for the first livestream alcohol tasting.

To ensure it’s not relying on agencies to come up with these ideas, a major focus has been stepping up the digital capability of all of its staffers.

“I personally get involved in the training and we’ve kicked off the year by training 120 people in social media,” said Burke. “That’s a big part of how we’re looking to improve the organisation.”

Working hand-in-hand with Burke will soon be Kathy Parker, the Diageo marketing exec who was hired this week as chief marketing officer for Patron and Grey Goose vodka.

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