Our Take

Saluting the Captain, on What Probably Is Not His Birthday

Bryan Dent
Written by Bryan Dent

Captain Morgan (the liquor company) claims that Captain Morgan (the real 17th-century pirate) was born on May 15th. At least that’s what they said in 2010, when the company launched an elaborate advertising campaign encouraging drinkers to celebrate the Captain’s “375-ish birthday.” How they pinpointed the month and date of his birth when even the year is uncertain remains a mystery.

What is known for sure is that Captain Morgan Rum was launched in 1944 as a division of Seagram’s. For the next 40 years it limped along, barely surviving, until it was reborn in 1983 as a so-called “spiced rum,” the first ever of its kind. The “spice” added was vanilla, which was chosen for no better reason than that it worked well as a mixer. (Writer Arthur Shapiro, who was a marketer for Seagram’s at the time, tells the whole story here.)

Spiced rum is just flavored rum by another name, but that simple word change made the product sound exotic. The marketing geniuses also came up with the idea of a traveling roadshow: an actor in a pirate outfit to portray Captain Morgan, and a group of scantily-clad “Morganette” girls, to promote the product at live events. A star was born: Captain Morgan took off, challenging stodgy old Bacardi for rum supremacy in North America. In 2014 it finally surpassed Bacardi as the top U.S. rum in retail sales.

But the spiced rum market is now a crowded field, and the aging pirate is constantly hunted by nautically-named knockoffs. Admiral Nelson and Lieutenant Dan undercut the Captain on price. At the higher end, The Kraken and Sailor Jerry have growing followings.

In response, just this year the Captain released, not a kraken, but… a trio of tropical flavored rums: Captain Morgan Coconut, Grapefruit, and Pineapple.

Uh, what? I fear the Captain is sailing in troubled waters here. His whole image rests on being fierce and dangerous, images not usually associated with fruits and coconuts.

Well, Captain, Happy Birthday anyway. May 15th seems like as good a day to salute you as any. But if you want many more happy returns, probably better to stick with what got you here.



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Bryan Dent

Bryan Dent

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