This morning, NPR ran an interesting story entitled Entrepreneurs Emerge As Cuba Loosens Control (thanks to Elizabeth Hipps for pointing it out), highlighting the rapid expansion of small, privately owned businesses in Cuba as part of Raul Castro’s broad economic reforms.
According to the story, business is booming: brightly-painted storefronts, prices that significantly undercut those at official state-owned businesses, more choices than Cuban consumers have ever seen before.
Yet at least one thing remains heavily restricted: advertising.
From the article:
“It’s not clear how big Cuban authorities will let these new businesses get as they try to build their brands and open new locations. The government’s political messages and propaganda must now compete with more and more commercial signage, but advertising is still essentially banned.”
Oh no! How can these businesses succeed without advertising? Are they doomed to fail?
Turns out they are doing just fine. Without being able to resort to advertising, some have developed more creative, albeit somewhat rudimentary brand strategies. For example, one Havana snack bar featured in the story seems to be building a budding community of fans of the local baseball team by making every item on the menu baseball-themed. While this may not seem like much, it is definitely a start toward differentiation in a country where sameness has long ruled and choice has been scarce for decades.
As Cuba begins the next stage in its entrepreneurial adventure, I wonder whether there is a chance that the current restrictions on advertising might have the interesting side effect of helping Cuban businesses build successful ad-free brands, meaning brands that are built using a community-based approach rather than an advertising-based approach.
Over the long term, will Cuba be able to leap past the advertising age in much the same way that Africa leaped past the age of land-line based telephones?
It’ll certainly be interesting to watch.