The annual Bacardí Legacy Global Cocktail Competition doesn’t just bring the best bartenders together, it calls on some of the biggest and brightest names from around the world to sit on the judging panel. Kofi Amoo-Gottfried is a case in point. As the former Bacardí Global Communications Director for the rum category, now Head of Brand and Consumer Marketing at Facebook, who better to evaluate the 34 competitors’ promotional campaigns?
We chatted to him about black role models, Bacardí and the creativity of bartenders.
You’ve had a fascinating journey from Ghana to your current role as Head of Brand and Consumer Marketing at Facebook. What did the 13-year-old Kofi think he’d be when he grew up, and how does it compare to where you are now?
Well, I don’t really know the answer to that. But I’d say this, my dad was in the medical profession and if you know anything about Africans or most immigrant communities for that matter, there’s a clear rank of desirable jobs that will get your parents approval. You can be a doctor, a lawyer, some kind of engineer and there are no jobs that exist after that! So keep that in mind…
At 13 I thought I was going to be a doctor because my dad had a clinic and I thought I would follow in his footsteps. But somewhere along the line I realised that particular path wasn’t for me. So at 14, after ‘O’ levels, I switched from the sciences to the arts, doing economics and other things. My dad was terribly disappointed, to the point that when people say to me today: “your dad must be really proud of you,” I tell them that my dad doesn’t really know what I do!
Well, it’s not exactly an easy thing for him to get his head around…
Not really but let’s just say he knows that I’m not a doctor. So let’s be clear about where I stand in the stack rank!
Job titles and father’s approval aside, how do you describe yourself, both professionally and personally?
Oh, that’s tricky… The easiest way to describe what I do is I’m a creative marketer. I try to figure out what makes people tick; try to figure out how brands can connect with people; try to see brands from a consumer’s perspective. Most brands try to push out what they can, I think a lot about what people care about and how brands can meet those needs in fresh, creative ways.
As for personally… first and foremost I’m Ghanian. I grew up in Ghana until I was 17 and that’s a huge part of my identity and sense of self. But I’ve also lived in all sorts of places, so in a lot of ways I see myself as a third culture person – I’m a Ghanaian who’s spent six of the last 12 years in the UK, my wife is American, my kids are bi-racial, so I now find myself in this position where I’m still Ghanian but I’m also a lot of other things. Being a father, that’s it’s own thing that you have to figure out how to navigate. So I think I’d say that these days I feel most like a dad – my family is the most important thing; work stuff comes after that.
You’ve packed in some impressive work in your time, what are you proudest of?
That’s much easier… I’ve had lots of incredible jobs but in terms of what I’m proudest of at this moment, that would be the agency I set up in Africa. I moved back to Ghana in 2009 to set up a business with Publicis and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was building something completely from the ground up in a place that didn’t have any infrastructure or a ton of heritage around the advertising business but it was really, really fun to do. It was super hard too no question – I’m talking about 18 hour days for three years. But we built an incredible team and an incredible agency that went on to be recognised as one of the best on the continent and pretty much won every piece of new business we pitched for. It’s one of those things that if you were to ask me if I was to know how hard it would be, would I do it again, I probably wouldn’t.
Let’s talk colour for a moment: you’re an incredibly successful black man working in a prominent position in one of the biggest companies in the world. A lot has been said about young black boys not having role models, who, apart from your brilliant uncle [Kofi Annan, founding chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, Nobel Prize laureate and Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006] was your role model? And do you see having one as being important?
Yes, I think it’s critical to have black role models. I’m lucky that having grown up in Africa this wasn’t an issue for me because everyone around me who was in a prominent position was black. We don’t talk about this enough, the privilege of what it is to be black and grow up where you are not the minority. Having been in the States in my professional career there hasn’t been a lot of role models but I’ve been able to find people who have provided inspiration and guidance, however, it’s a much more acute issue if you grow up in the UK.
It’s something that I worry about for my sons. We live in the Bay Area in San Francisco, which is a lovely coastal town but not diverse at all. While my sons will always have me, I do worry that I’m not enough and that they won’t be around other black role models.
L-R: Jacob Briars, Kofi Amoo-Gottfried and Colin Asare-Appiah
Do you give talks in schools to show young black children, boys in particular, what they can achieve?
I should do more in schools but we have recruiting teams who do that. What I tend to focus on is mentoring young black people who are already in business. I help them to figure out where their next opportunities are going to come from and how to navigate particular issues they have. One of the things I’m particularly proud of from a recognition perspective is an organisation called AdColor in the US which recognises people of diversity in the marketing industry. It shines a light on people of colour for excellence in their work but more importantly, for giving back to the community. It’s called Rise Up, Reach Back and I got honoured by them last year for the work that I do.
Now for a different kind of education: how does it feel coming back to Bacardí, albeit in a different capacity?
Bacardí talk a lot about family and for me, even though I left the company four years ago, I’ve always felt very, very connected to the business, to the people, to the brand. If I go to a bar or an off-premise and I see the packaging I still feel that I helped to build it. When Jacob called and asked me if I wanted to be part of the judging panel, I said yes immediately. For me, to understand how young bartenders market their creations is an incredible learning opportunity.
During your time at Bacardí you came up with the ‘Untameable spirit’ tagline. Short, simple and to the point but something that powerful and succinct is often the hardest to come up with. How long did it take?
I certainly can’t take credit for it all – it was team work. We had an amazing agency we were working with at the time.
Bacardí has always been this great brand but it never really told its story. We kept stripping back the layers and what we thought was important was to go back to the beginning and think about where this brand comes from. But beyond telling the story, we wanted to find the one thing that was the equity: the thing that was true to the family, true to the story and true to the product; the thing that would be attractive to people.
As we were going through all the stories we came to this notion that this family, regardless of what happened, however traumatic just got on with it. The notion we had was this family always had an irrepressible spirit – you just couldn’t keep them down and they created this liquid which was in itself an irrepressible spirit because it could mix with anything. So that’s where we started and the agency said the way to talk about it was through the untameable story. We knew right away that was it.
Having judged 34 promotional campaigns for this year’s Bacardí Legacy Cocktail Competition, what would your tagline be now, would it change?
Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about that at all… No, not really. What I think is interesting and why that line resonated as the traders mark is that a lot of these guys have that same spirit. One of them [Sim Sze Wei from Atlas Bar in Singapore] has only been bartending for 10 months, prior to that he was a banker but he didn’t enjoy it; it was something that his parents wanted him to do. After 10 years he decided to do the thing that he was really interested in – bartending. There were so many stories like that: people finding themselves in love with bartending and being excited to pursue it. Even if you look at the campaigns themselves: a lot of the competitors didn’t have a lot of money or resources – they just went out and figured out a really smart way to hustle.
Have you been impressed by their use of creativity and also social media?
Oh yes, it’s been really interesting. Everyone has used social media in some way but what’s been really interesting to see is how. Some people have been really smart around influencers, working with other blogs and celebrities and people who could help amplify their message – we’ve seen a lot of that. Some people have had really clear distinctions between how they use different platforms – I’ve seen a lot of people using Facebook for organising events and driving people to things, and then using Instagram for showcasing their cocktails. There’s also been that rich tradition of storytelling, using these platforms to amplify the videos that they’ve created about their drinks, so yes, it’s been interesting.
This year’s Bacardí Legacy Global Finals semi-final and promotional campaign judges
It’s been said that you don’t know where planning ends and creativity begins, do you think that applies to the competitors as well?
100%. I think it applies to probably any act of creation; the process is like figuring out forms of a puzzle. I think when it works really well is as a team you’re just firing off each other and the ideas just build. I think it’s exactly right for these guys, none of them have any formal marketing training, they’re just following their instinct. They’re doing planning and creative at the same time without calling it those things, they’re just making it happen.
If you’d been able to brief the competitors on their promotional campaigns, what top tips would you have given them?
Good question. I think the thing I would have said which I would have loved to see more of is – I have a simple theory of marketing: how do you tell familiar stories in in unfamiliar ways? How do you surprise people? How do you do a thing that’s going to make people pay attention? The thing I would I would have pushed them on if I was briefing them is, what’s going to be part of your idea that’s going to totally break the mould? What’s going to make people pay attention to your drink beyond all the stuff that I know you’re going to do anyway? Yes, you’re going to do the guest shifts and have your social media but why should I care? There are 10,000 drinks in the world, what’s the thing that’s going to make me go: “Holy f**k! I have to have this drink? What’s going to make me remember it?” I think that’s I always look for, the thing that I push people on.
Would you use that going forward?
Bacardi Legacy 2019 crew, you’ve heard it here first