The ongoing brand battle between spirits conglomerates Bacardi and Pernod Ricard continues to escalate. The sticking point between the two companies is the Havana Club brand name. Both companies produce rum under the name—French-based Pernod Ricard does so globally and in Cuba, while Bacardi maintains the Havana Club name in the United States.
Amparo, an interactive theater experience from Bacardi, is just the latest piece in a situation that further heightened when Bacardi launched its “Forever Cuban” integrated campaign. The experience recounts the Arechabala family’s exile from Cuba following the country’s revolution in the 1950s—during which the government seized the family’s assets, including the Havana Club distillery. By telling the Havana Club story, Bacardi aims to establish an emotional connection between audiences and the brand’s history.
The double-name fight is unique in that it was created as a result of the US opening its Cuban embargo, and then in 2016 approving Pernod’s trademark for the Havana Club brand in the US for 10 years, sparking a legal battle between the two companies. But what began as a trademark dispute has grown into an issue that has, at times, become highly emotional for the two companies, with both claiming to have the truly authentic Cuban brand of rum.
Ramon Arechabala sold the rum recipe and production techniques to Bacardi in 1994, and the embargo against Cuban imports allowed it to sell its brand of Havana Club in the US.
Meanwhile, Pernod Ricard has been distributing its version in countries around the world since 1993 in partnership with CubaExport’s Cuba Ron, an agency owned by the Cuban government. Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club has since become an iconic brand in Cuba itself, with its logo adorning parts of its namesake city, as many see rum as part of the nation’s culture.
“[Amparo can help] educate the public about the wrongdoings of the Cuban government and their business partners, Pernod Ricard, against the Arechabala family, the original owners of Havana Club rum,” Bacardi Rum’s marketing director Roberto Ramirez explained to AListDaily. “In telling the story of the Arechabala family, we hope to end the confusion as to which Havana Club is the real, authentic version and reinforce that it does not matter where Havana Club rum is produced.”
Bacardi’s Havana Club is produced in Puerto Rico, but Ramirez asserts that “Forever Cuban” is taking a stand against its competitors by upholding the authenticity of the rum’s heritage. The campaign launched in advance of the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, featuring a 60-second commercial starring Cuban-American actor Raul Esparza, who recites the poem “Island Body.” The poem is written by Cuban poet Richard Blanco, and the commercial is written, produced and directed by Cuban exiles in Miami.
Additionally, Bacardi claims that Pernod and the Cuban government have been profiting from a stolen trademark, generating millions of dollars by selling an “imposter rum poured into a bottle and marketed under a stolen name.”
Pernod Ricard responded to Bacardi’s accusations by doubling down on its own message of Cuban heritage. A Pernod Ricard representative told AListDaily that its two production facilities, one located in Santa Cruz and the other in San José, were built during the post-revolution. Therefore, it is not profiting from stolen property. Pernod claims that a truly Cuban brand is one that is created in Cuba, since rum is “tightly entwined in the history, culture, celebrations and daily life of the Cuban people.”
It is a sentiment that is echoed in an emotional statement by Maestro del Ron Cubano (Rum Master) Asbel Morales, who argues that the Cuban soul is linked to the country, its lands, culture and environment. Pernod claims that the “Forever Cuban” campaign is misleading the consumer public, asserting that for a rum brand to be authentically Cuban, it must be created from cane to glass in Cuba.
“Pernod Ricard and the Cuban dictatorship have perpetuated a lie since they began their collusion in 1993, and continue to do so today,” said Ramirez. “Since Pernod will not share the true story of Havana Club Rum with their consumers and with the world, we will.
“Unlike Pernod Ricard, the Bacardi and Arechabala families are not misleading consumers. Our Havana Club Rum is now proudly made in Puerto Rico. It is based on the original recipe and techniques that were used by the Arechabalas to make Havana Club in Cuba prior to the Cuban Revolution.”
Pernod, which says that the legal battle should be left to the courts, not the media, is ready to bring its Havana Club to the US even though its consumers currently see it as a Bacardi brand.
“We intend to use the Havana Club brand in the US as we have been doing everywhere else in the world for decades, across 120 markets,” said Pernod Ricard.
“We’re confident in our position, and look forward to proving our case at trial,” said Ramirez. “We expect our court system to once again follow well-respected US and international principles that do not legitimize illegal confiscations.”
Ramirez added that, as the case is in litigation, Bacardi will continue to “focus on raising brand awareness by leveraging the Arechabala family story and origins, as well as continuing to educate the public on the truth behind the real Havana Club rum.”
Bacardi will expand Amparo into a more permanent theatrical experience for consumer audiences in Miami, then New York, with other cities to follow based on demand.