Welcome to BACARDI. We are committed to responsible drinking. You must be of legal drinking age in your country of residence to enter this site.
Warren Ellis’ and Mike Allred’s contribution to the world of brand storytelling and content marketing. This is an interesting artefact, not really because much of these two gentlemen’s style or eccentricity has truly bled into it - it is, to be frank, a quite boring comic. But it’s very of its time, a marker of all sorts of current assumptions about marketing and branding and even comics.
Let’s start with the comics. Someone at Bacardi knows that there is a level of cultural cachet around comics at the moment. Not just because making a comic about Emilio Bacardi’s life seems a good use of marketing cash, but because whoever at Bacardi thought of this also realised there’s extra leverage to be had in getting credible creators involved. The kind of young men - I’m presuming Bacardi’s target is men, this is a comic about men talking and politicking - who know who Warren Ellis and Michael Allred are might also be drinking Bacardi when once they drank only Snakebite.
At the same time, the choice of those guys speaks to comics’ status right now: an engine of popular culture yes, but simultaneously a slightly raffish, slightly indie presence on the edge of that culture. Ellis and Allred themselves are creators who flit in and out of the mainstream, lines of communication between the centre and the nearer fringes of comics, not remotely obscure but still kinda hip - it’s the equivalent perhaps of getting a Pitchfork favourite to soundtrack your ad (or, to get a little more modern about it, curate your branded Spotify playlist).
So this isn’t much like Hostess Twinkies ads in Spiderman, or product placement of cars in comics - its closer to something like the Japanese “business manga” micro-genre, except without the kinetics and exaggerations manga storytelling tends to bring. But that stuff is coming out of a culture in which graphic storytelling is absolutely familiar and accepted - business manga exists because businessmen have stories and one of the ways you tell stories is manga. The Spirit Of Bacardi comic is a more rarefied bloom.
(One of the ways you can tell this is in the presentation of it on the Bacardi site - the Spirit Of Bacardi comic is not presented page by page, but with a really aggressive “guided view” type technology, darting Prezi-style around captions, speech bubbles, elements of the frame. This is designed to hold the hands of people who have never read a comic before, but actually cripples the web-native reading experience, making it almost impossible to get a feel for script and art simultaneously, let alone page composition. It’s a incredibly cautious way to present comics.)
Spirit of Bacardi is also a marker of where we’re at in content marketing terms. The idea of content marketing is that your brand creates something people might like to have anyhow, rather than things designed only to sell shit to you. As the planner John Willshire puts it - talking more broadly about 2010s marketing - “making things people want” beats “making people want things”.
On paper, that’s working out for Bacardi. They have a very good writer and a very good artist making a comic for them. It is a very lavish production, it must look and feel beautiful. Is it a good comic? Is it a “thing people want”? No. It’s a Wikipedia article on Emilio Bacardi with illustrations. It feels like the stuff that used to be in the Eagle magazine in the 1950s telling the life of St Paul. It’s on that kind of level of excitement.
Is this the fault of Ellis and Allred? You suspect not: the brief’s the thing. On paper they’re the right guys for the job. The story revolves around conversations between men of power, and Ellis is usually great at giving a sense of the stakes in a conversation. The art revolves around men in suits, and Allred is good at drawing casually cool men in suits. But the brief isn’t giving either skill much to work with: Ellis’ conversations work because there’s a tension in them, and here the story is a simple processional. Allred’s rumpled suits work because they bounce off a wider, wilder world, and here the world is the world of corporate booze, where everyone drinks and nobody is drunk.
Why waste time criticising a corporate comic done for the money and rum? Not to slight either man’s talents: the quality of this thing is utterly irrelevant to the wider careers of two fine creators. But for content marketing, that’s precisely the fatal problem. If you want to “make things people want”, those people have to care about whether it’s any good or not - more, whether it exists of not. And I do care about whether “a comic by Warren Ellis and Mike Allred” exists, in the abstract. I do not care about whether “a comic about Emilio Bacardi, published by Bacardi” exists, in the specific.
That’s the difference here, and it’s the difference between “content marketing” and “brand storytelling”. In this case, and in many cases, those two things end up pitched against each other, and nothing interesting comes of it. Brand stories are to brands as drug experiences or dreams or holiday photos are to people: touchstones for the individual, tedious for anyone else. You mine them, you don’t tell them.