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Cuba's next step on capitalist road: advertising

June 16, 2012 • Business


In this June 9, 2012 photo, employee Claudia Montano opens a logo-covered window to the kitchen at the private cafeteria “La Pachanga” in Havana. For decades, Communist-run Cuba has essentially been free of commercial advertising. But it’s a knotty problem for thousands of budding entrepreneurs who have embraced President Raul Castro’s push for limited free-market reform. So they’re turning to guerrilla marketing. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

HAVANA (AP) — For decades there’s been no such thing as a commercial radio or TV spot in Cuba. Ditto for billboards, website banner ads, and newspaper classifieds.

It can be a refreshing change from the global marketing onslaught, but the lack of traditional advertising opportunities creates a problem for the thousands of budding entrepreneurs who have embraced President Raul Castro’s push for limited free-market reform.

It’s one thing to open your own business, but how to let potential customers know you exist? True to Cuba’s famous knack for making do, the island’s small-business owners have turned to low-cost, unconventional advertising — a flurry of guerrilla marketing in a Marxist society whose founder, Fidel Castro, once denounced advertising as “alienating and noxious.”

Getting the word out is “a nightmare,” said Cedric Fernando, operator of Bollywood, the Island’s only Indian restaurant, which opened in December. “We’re running a race with one leg.”

Fernando, a Londoner of Sri Lankan descent who is married to a Cuban, emblazoned both doors of his 1955 MG roadster convertible with the Bollywood logo, converting it into a rolling conversation-starter. Some people have snapped pictures with cell phones, called and made reservations.

He also recently paid someone $10 a day to slap coupons for two free drinks onto windshields around Havana, taking advantage of Cuba’s color-coded license plate system to target a select clientele: Blue-plated tour vans, the black-and-white of diplomatic vehicles, bright orange for the foreign company employees paid in hard currency rather than the anemic Cuban peso. A thousand fliers lured about 50 dining parties to Bollywood in just two weeks.

“We put one on the ambassador of Login to read more

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