Cuba's learning lessons in ad world

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[Buenos Aires] Dan Wieden may not know it, but he is now an icon in Cuba's ad industry. Most of the 20 Cuban delegates at the FIAP festival had never heard of Mr. Wieden or his agency before the event.

Mr. Wieden, attending FIAP with his grandson, seemed unaware that he was the object of so much attention. The agency president was invited to speak at FIAP after Wieden & Kennedy last year became the first non-Latin agency to win a FIAP Grand Prix, for commercials created for Nike in Latin America from the agency's Portland, Ore., headquarters.

Besides paying hungry attention to the Western ads shown at FIAP, the Cuban delegation organized an evening of Cuban music and food to promote a small but international Cuban-hosted ad conference Dec. 4-7 in Varadero, a beach town outside Havana.

Cuba has more than a dozen ad agencies-all owned by the government, which doles out public service and other accounts. Outdoor advertising in Cuba is limited to public service ads, but other media are less restrictive. Joint ventures in areas like tourism, food and cigarettes, mainly with European marketers including Nestle, British American Tobacco, and Spain's hotel and tourism companies, are helping Cubans become more marketing and advertising savvy.

For instance, BAT has a joint venture in Cuba with the government to produce cigarettes for export and to sell in Cuba. One new brand is rolling out in 15 countries, said a Cuban marketing manager for the joint venture who is working with a Costa Rican office of Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, one of BAT's global agencies, on a new international campaign.

One of BAT's innovations when it entered Cuba in the late '90s was to deliver cigarettes to retail outlets rather than making anyone who wanted to sell cigarettes fetch them from a central warehouse, a system others have copied.

"When you have a good marketing idea," the Cuban marketing manager said, "competitors will always be quick to copy you."

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