|By: Alejandro Barreras-Creative Director|
Written in response to The Miami Herald's June 6th article on Cuba's next step on the capitalist road: http://goo.gl/1jDTP , our own Alejandro Barreras offers his personal insight into how Cubans are adopting the advertising methods we take for granted to improve their lives and businesses.
When I lived in Cuba, plain paper bags lined the shelves, with barely legible scribblings to mark whether they contained sugar, rice, or beans. Oil and vinegar – even beer and rum – were dispensed in unlabeled generic brown bottles. Toothpaste came in bare aluminum tubes, and you had to bring your own carefully preserved cartons for eggs.
Magazines and newspapers carried no ads, TV and radio were uninterrupted by commercial breaks, and outdoor boards and posters, were used mostly for political propaganda. Niches such as publishing and movie posters while justly renowned as innovative, were the only oasis in an otherwise bleak and anodyne graphic landscape.
That was the reality of Cuba as I was growing up. One of the most vivid impressions I have of my first few days outside the island was enjoying the graphic and aural onslaught of advertising. For a graphic designer, it was an amazing demonstration of the ubiquity of our craft. Everywhere I looked there were images and messages, written, photographed, art directed and designed. And this was Cancun –imagine if I had landed in Times Square!
So reading this news coming out of Havana, I can't help but marvel at how Cubans are once again pushing the envelope of economic reforms with inexorable capitalist logic. You want customers, you want your business to grow, you need marketing. Cuban entrepreneurs have quickly realized it's not just about setting up anonymous businesses, but creating differentiated and stand-out brands, and communicating compelling messages.
And it works! When I went to Cuba last year, after 18 years, the presence of incipient advertising and marketing efforts for the nascent private economy was one of the biggest contrasts with the island I remembered. I visited one of the private restaurants mentioned in the article, Cafe Laurent –great cuisine and exquisite service– precisely because I was handed a flyer on the street. I saw the banners and t-shirts, and spoke with designer friends about their desire to do more, to exploit the ability of our profession to help all Cubans improve their lives.
Ads in the yellow pages, private business printing banners, web and mobile commercials, entrepreneurs setting up pseudo-legal marketing agencies, all grown organically in a country that not long ago banned with disdain those "relics from the past." Advertising, despite its detractors, is an economic engine, fueling growth and providing jobs. I'm delighted to see my countrymen adopting it into their new reality with such gusto.