Brands ready to rumba after coming in from the Cuban cold

Brands ready to rumba after coming in from the Cuban cold

This may be sacrilege to some of my colleagues at Stripe, but I must confess that I’ve never watched Keeping up with the Kardishians.

To be honest, I’d sooner rub raw onions in my eyes. Yet the latest instalment of this hit US TV series has grabbed my attention due to the location it was filmed: Cuba – a country I visited back in May.

Dubbed the episode where Kim and Kanye ‘smoke cigars, eat rice and beans and take selfies’, it has drawn criticism for glamourising a country without showing the real problems.

While some of these concerns may be justified, I’d argue the glamourisation of Cuba to leverage brand awareness is a growing trend not confined to the Kardashians.

Out of exile

Under communist state rule, the country has remained a brand-free zone for more than 50 years.

That’s right…no Coca Cola, no McDonalds and no Starbucks.

It’s hard to believe in 2016 that free trade and commercial advertising remains prohibited on the island. But this may be about to change, after President Obama and Raul Castro signed an historic trade agreement earlier this year signalling an end to a stand-off between the two countries.

With Cuba ‘officially’ open for business it appears brands are looking to seize the opportunity of the moment to be part of a country on the verge of great social, political and economic change.

Back in vogue

Cuba has fast become the hottest place for brands to be associated with in 2016. The Rolling Stones performed to more than a million people in March, shortly followed by Chanel which launched its latest fashion collection with a catwalk through the iconic streets of Havana.

Havana Cuba - Rolling Stones 2016


Havana Cuba - Chanel 2016


But what value does Cuba offer to brands?

We’re always searching for compelling ways to tell stories which resonate with our client’s audiences. At a time when content remains king, Cuba is brimming with vibrant and dynamic narratives. It has a rich and colourful identity thanks to its passion, culture and history and these qualities offer brands lots of emotional hooks to connect and engage their audiences.

Rum brand, Havana Club, for example, is the latest to serve-up a slice of Cuba as it looks to connect consumers in London to its Caribbean roots. Billed as the ultimate pop-up, Casa Havana will use oculus-powered virtual reality to wow the UK capital with a full-sensory experience enabling visitors to get a unique feel of Cuban life, its environment and identity.

VR offers the ultimate gateway for brands to connect audiences to exotic and intriguing places like Cuba, and it will be interesting to see if there is a growing trend for using VR from travel brands in the future as more consumers look to try before they buy.

Kim and Kanye’s latest adventure certainly shines a spotlight on the growing appetite for Cuba as a future place to visit, invest and do business.

A thawing in US/Cuban relations has grabbed the world’s attention and while I’m not a fan, the latest episode of The Kardishians arguably helps to inadvertently raise awareness of the country’s less glamourous side by captivating new audiences to go and find out more about this enigmatic island.

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