India is the most exciting consumer market: Zeenah Vilcassim, Bacardi India – Exchange4Media

The Marketing Director of Bacardi India shares more on how the brand navigates the surrogate advertising space, the challenges of the Indian market and what drives the brand’s growth

India is one of the fastest-growing markets for Bacardi globally, and the company is rapidly investing in its vision for the market.
The company recently forayed into the Indian-made whisky segment with the launch of ‘Legacy’ – first-ever Made-in-India whisky with Indian and Scottish malts.
Early this month, Bacardi introduced its 8-year-old Dewar’s Japanese Smooth Mizunara Oak Cask Finish Scotch Whisky in India. On the sidelines of this launch, exchange4media spoke to Zeenah Vilcassim, Marketing Director of the India arm of the company, to understand the challenges of marketing, the media mix and factors driving its growth.
Given India’s restrictive ad policy for alco-bev brands, how does Bacardi drive its marketing strategy?
We’ll always go where our consumers are, what channels they’re in, whilst adhering to the guidelines and the regulations of the market. The BACARDÍ NH7 Weekender, which is now entering its 13th year, stands true to our positioning, which is all about reconnecting with what moves you – dancing to the beat of your own drum, building connections, and championing independent music. The experience brings to life the positioning of our brand while creating new opportunities for us to talk to our consumers through the festival they love.
With BREEZER Vivid Shuffle and DEWAR’s Soda Water – we look to optimise exactly where and what touchpoints are needed and what we can achieve with our brand extensions.
Liquor brands are often accused of indulging in surrogate advertising. How can this issue be addressed?
I think the guidelines are pretty clear in terms of what we can go into and there’s a huge distinction between surrogate advertising and brand extension.
Surrogate advertising is a product that you just use to push the brand, but we have brand extensions. The BACARDÍ NH7 Weekender, which is a full-blown music extravaganza, BREEZER Vivid Shuffle, which is all about championing homegrown Hip Hop talent in India, are experiences close to what our consumers care about.
They generate the right amount of revenue, and they’re brand extensions to talk about our brand positioning in a way that’s relevant. Accordingly, we’re able to use the full marketing mix to advertise. We’re not here to challenge the environment or advise on where it should go; we’re just here to work within it, and do what’s right for our consumers.
How much do you spend on advertising and which digital platform is the best in terms of ROI?
We keep consumers at the heart of everything that we do. This is why we look at a suite of digital platforms and tailor assets and messaging based on what will work where.
The platform depends on the objective that you’re trying to achieve, whether it is driving awareness, desire or being culturally relevant. For digital awareness, paid media works really well. We also use content creators to leverage their authentic voices to present a more relevant conversation. Additionally, we use advocacy a lot to build the environment.
What is your digital media mix?
Currently, most of our money is spent on Facebook and Instagram because the suite of activities that you can do is really strong – you can amplify an event, use content creators to talk about your brand extension and the positioning of your brand, run paid media and advertising, and more.
While we have big global partnerships with some of the bigger platforms, India is operating very differently right now with massive love for homegrown brands across sectors. The goal is to see how we tap into those as well in the coming years.
How different is the Indian market in terms of consumption, quality and consumers?
Previously, I worked as the Global Brand Director for DEWAR’S, which operated in 90 countries and gave me access to a whole host of experiences in marketing across markets.
Today, I can honestly say that India is the most exciting consumer market across the board – it’s the most challenging, but it’s also the most exciting. Out of the country’s 29 states, we operate in about 14 to 15. I know the joke is that every 50 miles in India, the language changes, the culture changes, the consumers change, and what they need changes. This also creates opportunities to create locally relevant content, use local creators, think about local languages, and then tap into local insights that would resonate with consumers far more than a pan-India approach.
Where is your growth coming from – rural India or metro cities?
Let’s call it ‘A tale of two Indias’ because our approach to this challenge is two-fold. In India, premiumisation is a key trend where consumers are drinking less but better. We already have our scale plays, which are BREEZER and BACARDÍ, and now we’ve just launched LEGACY, a premium Indian whisky, which we’re so excited about. We also have our premium portfolio, which includes DEWAR’S, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE and GREY GOOSE.
With these diverse portfolios in place, our approach is two-fold: identifying what will give us the scale in tier two upcountry markets and what will build cultural revenues, drive education, drive premium in our tier one markets. We look at both these things as a key part of our strategy as opposed to different things and engaging with one more than the other.
How has your marketing strategy evolved over the past few years?
Earlier, we’d take the global marketing strategy and activate it in India. But India is a diverse market full of different people, different cultures, and different consumers, and we realized that it’s also changing massively post-COVID. A purely global strategy was not going to work in India.
So, 2021 and 2022 were all about us focusing on understanding the consumer. In fact, this is when we spent more money on market research in India than ever before. The research revealed some really interesting insights about things that do and don’t work in different cities and different markets. It really transformed the type of product innovations that we launch, the types of campaigns that we do, and how we tap into tier II, tier III and upcountry markets versus tier I.
With the cocktail culture growing in India, we are also shifting focus to on-trade.
How has the business been in terms of revenue?
In 2018, we set out a global strategy, in which we wanted to double our business overall. We wanted 40 per cent of that growth to come from five key emerging markets – Mexico, India, China, South Africa, and Russia.
With India being one of the key emerging markets for us, the focus on the country has increased. Back in 2018, the strategy for India was to grow our business five times by 2030. But post-Covid, we have been able to double our business from where we were in 2020 to where we are now, which has been amazing. Now, we’re aiming to grow our business six times by 2030. India is our number one emerging market across the board.
From a revenue standpoint, more than half the growth comes from India in AMEA – India contributes 66% to the AMEA business.
What is your biggest challenge?
I think that the biggest challenge for us right now is continuing to be relevant in an ever-changing Indian consumer environment. We’re coming into a global recession, but the Indian consumers’ economic indicators are going up. They’re very optimistic about the future. They care so much about sustainability, more so than the global average cares about sustainability. They plan on spending more money on experiences than any other country in the world, second to Thailand.
I think the challenge of every single company will be to tap into these new and emerging consumption patterns, and at a pace faster than your competitors to deliver exactly what the Indian consumer wants and deliver it first.
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