Mount Gay Rum’s Repositioning Draws From Its Storied Past

Mount Gay is made with a rhythm and style that hasn’t changed in 310 years” according to Erin Newby, head of strategy at Radical Media, the brand’s agency charged with its repositioning. Sir John Gay introduced the rum in Barbados in 1703 (B.C.), that’s before cola, or even ice. So the liquor had to stand on its own merits rather than being part of a mixed cocktail.

Newby appeared on a Creative Week panel along with Mount Gay’s global brand director and others from Radical Media’s team on Tuesday in New York to discuss the repositioning strategy and launch of its Black Barrel product. The multimedia effort included new graphics, print ads, video and redesigned website that brought the brand’s history to life. Their brand ambassador program is now spreading the word about Black Barrel.

Strategic evolution: Mount Gay’s earlier print ads featured product shots with the tagline “the rum that invented rum”. The agency tapped further into the brand’s history as the world’s oldest rum, which became a natural strategy, Newby said. The new line, “There’s a time and a place” captures the brand’s provenance and its slow double distillation process in copper stills. Mount Gay’s M.O. is “rum is ready when it’s ready, not before.”

Competition: “Everyone else focuses on flash and beach scenes”, said Justin Wilkes, Radical’s president of media and entertainment. Their biggest competitors include Bacardi and Captain Morgan. Added Fannie Young, Mount Gay’s global brand director. ”We wanted to position the brand in a more premium space.”

After visiting Mount Gay’s Barbados facility, Newby said their goal was to be real, not “too oldie and folkie”. Young noted, “Other rums often have to make up stories.” Added Brent Eveleth, Radical’s group creative director, “We have no imaginary pirates and no need to embellish or create fanciful mascots”.

Target audience/Brand character: “We built our consumer around our brand. This new approach appeals more to their intellectual side”, Young said. “The target isn’t someone who’s following the pack”, Newby added. The brand’s character captures the founder’s English roots and the spirit of Barbados, Eveleth explained. “The approach combines “English wit and the openness of the islands.”

Graphic design: Artist Chris Rubino, serving as Radical’s creative director, used printing with wood blocks, movable type and an etching process. For the color palette he researched online images to capture “Barbados’ lush green landscape and the blue of its ocean and sky. The pink added a pop look”, he said.

Online/Digital: The recently launched website “takes the look and feel of the woodcut across the site”, Eveleth said. (as does its Twitter feed) It includes the history of crafting rum, its connection to sailing, classic cocktail recipes and flavor notes as well as information about visiting Mount Gay’s Barbados distillery.

PR initiatives: Mount Gay introduced a brand ambassador pilot program in London that’s being rolled out in the U.S. for Black Barrel’s launch. Young said its focus is “select key influencers in major cities”. Events feature mixology sessions and rum pairing dinners. The star attraction is Allen Smith, their Bajan master blender who’s fond of telling Mount Gay stories. As Young noted, Black Label is new, and “it’s history on the rocks.”

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