One of the most frequent statements spoken about Cuba is the fact that there are no advertisements anywhere. Well, we all need to get over this fact because local cubans are walking bilboards. If you’ve ever walked down a street in bustling Havana, you’d get propositioned instantly by locals with private restaurants in their homes. “Are you hungry?” they ask with a smile. “Come to a great paladar I know of”. After making a new friend, within 10 minutes, you’ll get the next line of vocal advertising. “Do you need a place to say?”, is another commonly asked question. “I know of a great house to rent” at which point they describe the rooms, the air conditioning, the safes, and meals included. Sometimes these locals are not even pushing their own homes. If they refer a tourist to their friends, they could very well make a handsome commission, thereby making every Cuban, a veritable walking billboard. Earlier this year, after Raul Castro granted at least 200,000 new business licenses for Cubans to own small businesses, foreigners saw more alternative forms of advertisements around the island — flyers on car windows (“Need to Fix Your Tire?”), hand painted street signs (“Beers are 2 for 1”), etc.
This month is a new chapter in Cuban Advertising. In December 2011, the Cuban government has allowed its first official sign of advertising. The state-run phone directory (aka the Cuban Yellow Pages) will invite small businesses to print private advertisements. This is Raul Castro’s latest move to a more open economy. He is said to be encouraging more private initiative and reducing the role and size of the state in some sectors.
Most major cities in the world have already bid farewell to the cumbersome Yellow Pages opting for smart phones or iPhones to search listings — movie theaters, pubs, whatever. My personal favorite is Google Text for listings. Other cities like Tokyo and New York have officially reached the cinematic future with moving image billboards just as Bladerunner predicted. As Cuban private entrepreneurs struggle to build businesses, the move to spur Yellow Pages advertising seems as antiquated as the old 1950’s car. Cuba is just a bit, um behind. But at least they are in the game now!
As I like to say on this blog (and I say it alot)… small reform is better than no reform.
Here’s how it will work. State telephone monopoly Etecsa will charge $10 for a listing in a basic registry that includes a firm’s name, address, and up to two phone numbers, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said Thursday. That’s not cheap in Cuba, a country where government salaries average $20 a month. It’s more than what some independent workers like gardeners pay for their monthly license fees, and Granma said the fee is to be paid in Cuba’s more valuable convertible pesos, known as CUC.
Cuba has a unique dual-currency system in which most salaries are paid in national pesos while the convertible pesos are used to pay for many imports, high-ticket items and tourist activities.
Etecsa will also let small-business owners purchase larger ads for unspecified but presumably much higher prices, calculated at 20 percent of the rates currently being charged. Up until now the yellow pages have been of limited utility in the Communist-run nation, as they list only state-run concerns and mixed government-private companies.
But with hundreds of thousands of people having taken out private business licenses since last year, what today is just 68 pages of yellow for the entire city of Havana (population 2 million), stands to fatten considerably.
Propaganda Billboards, step aside, now there’s a new Advertisement in town… Let Your Fingers do the Walking!