The fruit bat made Bacardí rum recognizable to new and returning customers. They just needed to ask for “the rum of the bat.”
On a recent visit to Puerto Rico, my boyfriend and I toured Casa Bacardí, the Bacardí Rum Distillery. We purchased the tasting tour, complete with an assigned tour guide (aka “branding agent”) to guide us through the cathedral of rum. I rarely imbibe in fermented sugarcane spirits, but during my respite in the heat and sun (and coqui song), I enjoyed my fair share of mojitos at La Placita. When in Rum, right?
On the tour, I learned that Amalia Moreau designed the logo that made the brand, while her husband distilled the rum. As the story goes, a large colony of fruit bats were nesting in the rafters of their first distillery in Santiago de Cuba. This infestation — plus the good fortune, health and family unity signified by the bat in the Bacardís’ native Catalonia — inspired the image of Bacardíi’s fruit bat. Close your eyes … can you see the logo?
The original 1862 design consisted of a red circle with a thick black border. The black fruit bat with wings outstretched maintained the center of the circle. In 1870, 81 percent of the world’s population was illiterate; the fruit bat made Bacardí rum recognizable to new and returning customers. They just needed to ask for “the rum of the bat.” Today, businesses need branding agencies to develop, launch and manage brands and graphic design services to capture their company’s vision.
As Old as People and Goods
Our tour guide claimed that Amalia invented branding à la the bat. I am no branding expert, but even I know that this claim is a stretch of the truth (and an essential part of Bacardí’s narrative). Are logos as vital to consumers today as the fruit bat was to Bacardi’s customers at the turn of the century? I assumed not, and then I listened to Andrea Silenzi discuss logo design on her podcast Why Oh Why: “Why So Forlorn, OkCupid?”
Andrea talked logo design with Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut from Design Observer, and Teddy Blanks, a cofounder of the design studio Chips. They discussed the merits and design faux pas of various dating app icons — from the popular to elite, and the budding to well-established. The conversation began with OkCupid’s logo redesign in March 2017, and consecutive redesign in May 2017. Basically, the design went from simple to layered and then back to simple.
If Bacardí had abandoned the fruit bat for another icon after it had developed its faithful following, would the brand have survived? And would Bacardí be the brand that it is today? According to Business Insider, as of April 2016 Bacardí Rum’s brand value was estimated at $1.89 billion with a brand rating of AA+.
An Emotional Connection
Consider a plump orange with dew glistening on brilliant skin, pierced by a candy cane straw. You know the brand. This logo was Tropicana’s 17th rebrand of the design, completed in 1996. And then, in 2009, Tropicana made a bold move. The freshly picked, ready-to-drink, never-from-concentrate orange became a full, bubble-tinged glass of orange juice. The font changed from a dark green, orange-shaded curve welcoming you to the dew-covered orange, to a light green font lining the edge of the package, overlapping the full glass of orange juice.
The public outcry was swift and resolute. Tropicana experienced a 20 percent decrease in sales — a loss of $33 million — between January 1 and February 22. The consensus was that the rebrand cheapened the product that had been considered a premium orange juice. On February 23, Tropicana announced a return to the beloved design.
Embrace the Narrative
According to Jeetendr Sehdev, author of “The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells” (and “How to Do It Right”), brands can no longer “trick” customers. Rather, overexposure and transparency are key. Brands might benefit from operating under the standards established by Millennials and Generation Z. By 2020, Millennials could account for $1.4 trillion in spending, or 30 percent of total retail sales. Meanwhile, Generation Z’s purchasing power is currently estimated to be $44 billion.
Brands need to establish connections to previously untapped consumers. Research suggests that storytelling elicits a neurological rush resulting in increased focus and a feeling of optimism. Companies ought to brand with big data to analyze, plan and improve their narratives. Branding agencies and graphic design services can help your company capture your vision and embrace your narrative. Consider the fruit bat and find your fruit bat: an unmistakable representation of your brand.