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Neon lights and vibrant marketing: the signs of the new Cuba

In the last five years, the Cuban government has allowed the expansion of the private sector in the island, thus enabling people to have more options for improving their life conditions. A myriad of initiatives and a very talented and active bunch of entrepreneurs has emerged in this context, and the development of marketing and advertising strategies is one of the most visible signals of the growth in Cuba's booming private sector.

Neon lights and vibrant marketing: the signs of the new Cuba

Cuba´s urban landscape has changed slightly in recent years with the development of the private sector, as new businesses start using diverse promotional strategies that go from putting up shiny signs on the streets to distributing videos and flyers to attract foreign and Cuban customers.

In an article entitled “Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream?” British news agency Reuters reflects on the fact that with the new governmental reforms that have boosted private entrepreneurship,

“Havana streets that used to be pitch dark at night are lit up by neon signs advertising restaurants or spare rooms in private homes”.

Public spaces in the Caribbean country -which is known around the world as one of the few communist regimes that survived the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s- used to be wrapped by communist and revolutionary propaganda. Posters and murals with the image of Che Guevara, one of the most important leaders in the early days of the Cuban Revolution, were very common in the streets, to the point that they were considered among the most relevant features of local urban landscapes.

But now, market-driven measures aimed at stimulating the Cuban economy and boosting the tourism industry in particular, have introduced some changes, as private restaurants, cafes, bars, barbershops, craft and design shops all flourish along some of the country’s most popular avenues and neighbourhoods. As a direct consequence of booming new businesses popping up everywhere, colourful and ingenious signs have started being displayed alongside them.

However, Reuters points out that international agencies in the advertising industry who are now in the preliminary stages of opening offices in the island are unlikely to make big money during this initial stage of the reforms, as businesses cannot (yet) use official media to promote their offers and most of the Cuban architecture remains free of billboards.

In the meantime, alternative and widely circulating media like "El Paquete" (a system for the distribution of pirated digital contents such as Latin soaps, films and TV shows using mobile technologies, e.g. hard drives) have introduced apps, videos and magazines containing advertisement designed mostly by young Cuban professionals who have found a source of alternative employment in the emerging private sector.

Reuters observes that marketing strategies are new for most of the Cuban entrepreneurs, who never before had to face the challenge of working in a competitive environment as the state-run businesses were predominant before the new reforms for developing the private capital were put in place.

According to Reuters the evolution of advertising in Cuba could provide new jobs for creative minds in the near future:

“Marketing may itself become a revenue earner in a country with a highly educated workforce and low salaries”.

Even though designers and big agencies face a myriad of challenges in the Cuban context such as considerable difficulties for accessing the internet, creativity will push forward a change towards more sophisticated promotional strategies and a stronger presence of advertisements in the public sphere. In the meantime, holidays in Cuba are an excellent opportunity to travel to an advertisement-free world.

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