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The Promise of Cuba: Executive Summary

  2. J. Walter Thompson Intelligence has spent nine months interviewing economists, industry leaders and journalists about the evolution of the Cuban economy in the wake of relations with the United States being normalized. About This Report In January a team of five researchers spent 10 days on the island interviewing more than 40 Cubans about their lives, the economy and opportunities, as relations with the United States improve. Interviews were conducted both in English and Spanish, using translators when necessary. Researchers were able to move freely around the country without interference from government officials. Some participants, specifically those who work for state-run organizations, said they were required to get permission to talk to the agency team. At no time were any of the team’s notes, photos or videos reviewed by Cuban government officials. Some interviews were conducted under agreement of anonymity because the participants were sharing insights on activities that are politically sensitive in Cuba. “The Promise of Cuba” on video J. Walter Thompson filmed many of the interviews for this report, and has produced a three-part video exploring the Cuban economy, changes in tourism, and Cuban technology. Watch it at 2INTRODUCTION THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  3. Cuba as an open market has been the stuff of tempting dreams and what-ifs for many years—but now that possibility is looking closer than ever, especially as the US and Cuba enter a new chapter in their political dialogue. It’s this enticing promise that impelled The Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, with support from Mirum, J. Walter Thompson’s global digital agency, to set forth on an exploration of how that future picture of Cuba would look. The digital angle, and input from Mirum specifically, was not accidental. What we found compelling about Cuba was the huge white space for consumer technology and digital marketing there—see our Q&A with Michael Nelson, head of innovation at Mirum Reading, in the appendix to this report. There are, however, major infrastructural challenges to overcome before the opportunity can be realized. Few people, even the young entrepreneurs from our Cuban Upstart generation, have access to reliable phones or the internet. And yet there’s a huge appetite for access to digital platforms, entertainment, communication and tech products—as this report reveals. We also found the concept of the new Cuban consumer compelling. Are US brands considered aspirational? Does our usual generational segmentation of millennials and generation X apply? The circumstances and upbringing of equivalent age groups in Cuba are radically different from those in the US. What is the consumer attitude to packaged goods, US brands, and commercialization? What new hot product categories or staples might emerge as Cuba starts exporting? This study is as much an inside-out examination as outside-in, and explores how Cuba will evolve and flourish as a consumer market, as well as a tourist destination. I’d like to thank Mirum for partnering on this study. I’d like to thank Todd Copilevitz of J. Walter Thompson Atlanta for spearheading it. I’d also like to thank The Innovation Group team: Shepherd Laughlin, director of trend forecasting, and Emma Chiu, creative innovation director. opening letter Lucie Greene Worldwide director, The Innovation Group 3THE PROMISE OF CUBAOPENING LETTER
  4. CUBA
  6. Across Cuba there is a sense that a bold new future is imminent. It’s a future where trade with the United States reaches $13 billion almost overnight, and a new surge of Cuban entrepreneurialism finds a way to coexist with the country’s existing values. It’s all so close, if only … If only the United States will lift its 56-year-long embargo, more commonly referred to in the country as a blockade. The sanctions and Cuba’s response to them have created a unique country that superficially appears stuck in the past. If only Cuba’s aging revolutionary generation will agree to share control with a new generation of Cuban young adults who are determined to bring the country into the twenty-first century, and who envision a greater role for private enterprise in Cuba. 6INTRODUCTION THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  7. purchase $6 billion in goods and services from the United States annually, and send $7 billion in exports back the other way. Until the embargo ends, Cuba remains a market of 11 million people that is off limits to all but a few US industries, despite its location just 90 miles from Key West. Its economic infrastructure is far from ready to handle a tidal wave of American goods and services, let alone Western-style marketing—or, for that matter, the American tourists who are already streaming into the country at levels not seen since the 1950s. Cubans interviewed for this report, at all levels of society, said they are cautiously optimistic that the embargo is in its final stages. Their hopes got a major boost in December 2014, when the US president and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro announced a normalization of relations. A survey for the Washington Post last year found that 73% of Cubans were optimistic about their family’s future. “Sooner or later the embargo will be lifted,” says Rafael Hernández, who for 28 years was CEO of the Cuban government’s organization in charge of international trade. “I can’t even tell you how much will change. No one knows. But I know it will be amazing.” In Havana, there’s no escaping the fact that the urban landscape has been scarred by chronic material shortages. But, at the same time, everything about the city reflects the remarkable ingenuity of the Cuban people, from the Eisenhower-era Chevrolets and Cadillacs that are miraculously still in good working order to signs of an information economy that is emerging against incredible odds. The recent spike of interest in Cuba from abroad is undeniable. Barely a day passes without an announcement that a major US brand is taking an interest in Cuba, whether it’s JetBlue, Google or Airbnb. The eighth installment of the Fast and Furious film franchise is due to shoot in Cuba, and the Showtime comedy House of Lies filmed there in January 2016. Even Karl Lagerfeld is due to touch down to show Chanel’s cruise 2017 collection in May. Most significantly of all, President Obama visits Cuba in March 2016, the first sitting US president to do so since the 1920s. But what lies beyond the hype? Is Cuba really set to take off? So much depends on the embargo. In June 2015, experts from the US-based Peterson Institute for International Economics testified before the United States International Trade Commission that, if allowed, Cuba was likely to 7INTRODUCTION THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  8. Havana Centro, Cuba. Photography by Robin Thom. Image courtesy of Sail Cuba 8INTRODUCTION THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  9. Michael Nelson visited Cuba as part of our research team, representing the global digital agency Mirum, part of the J. Walter Thompson Company. We spoke to him about his impressions of the country and the takeaways for digital marketing and advertising. Visiting Cuba for the first time, what were your initial impressions of technology in the country? Even though I knew they didn’t have much internet access, I guess it was still quite shocking to be there and to experience that first hand. I myself got online for about five minutes during the two weeks that I was there, so that was quite a shock, I suppose. Talking to people, I was really impressed by the way they use technology in building websites and apps to solve problems that are specific to Cuba: we saw a lot of apps that were built to work entirely offline, such as versions of Wikipedia, Yelp, mapping, and so forth. For many people, Cuba seems “stuck in the past,” which by definition suggests a lack of innovation. But did you see innovation in Cuba? It really felt like innovation has been a part of Cuban history and culture for the last 60 years. It’s not a new thing—obviously innovation in software is a fairly new thing, but they’ve had to innovate in other ways for as long as the embargo has been in existence. Look at things like maintaining all the old American cars and Harley-Davidsons with whatever parts they can find, and making wifi boosters out of Pringles cans: there’s a real history of innovation, and now we’re seeing the younger generation apply that same kind of innovative thinking to software, websites and apps. Would you compare this kind of activity with hacker or maker culture in other countries? It’s not the same as what we have when we use the words “hacker” and “maker.” With those terms, we immediately think of people programming on devices like Arduino and Raspberry Pi—very accessible, fairly cheap bits of kit that can be combined with sensors and motors to make something cool. They don’t have any of that, really. The things they’re hacking and making are out of necessity—like transport, phones and wifi boosters. I’d be very keen to see what would happen if and when they do get access to all that stuff that we take for granted, because hacking in a broader sense definitely seems to be a feature of the culture and the mindset there.   Q&A: Michael Nelson HEAD OF INNOVATION, MIRUM READING 9THE PROMISE OF CUBAQ&A
  10. How could you see a digital agency like Mirum benefiting from Cuban innovation in the future? If and when Cubans are able to access the technology that the developed world takes for granted, then I think it’s quite feasible that Cuba could become the next hotspot for driving advances in technology, because of their in-built culture of innovation and their free access to high-level education. There are lots of engineers in the country, and companies like Mirum should pay close attention to this, because we want to be involved in those new advances and innovations. So if and when the embargo gets lifted, it’s going to be really interesting to apply their skills and knowledge to the things we’re trying to build, and to give them the tools that we’re using and see what they can come up with. I’m sure we’d see some pretty special things. How would you characterize the attitude of Cuban youth toward technology and toward entrepreneurship? For young people who can actually afford tech, it isn’t all that different from the young people in the UK and United States—they seem to have very high expectations in terms of performance and ubiquity of technology, and they all want the latest devices. They don’t really think that their connectivity problems should inhibit them from accessing technology. The people who are making the websites and apps recognize that; that’s what’s driving them to come up with all these unique offline solutions. In terms of entrepreneurship, we spoke to several people in their mid-twenties who were entrepreneurs. They came up these great ideas and had enough capital to put a small business together, hire a few people, and all of a sudden they’re not just computer science graduates any more, they’re entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. We spoke to a lot of people who are doing that kind of thing, so there definitely seems to be a strong entrepreneurial mindset among young people in Cuba. Michael Nelson, Mirum Reading Q&A: Michael Nelson HEAD OF INNOVATION, MIRUM READING 10THE PROMISE OF CUBAQ&A
  11. Biographies of selected interviewees Margarita Alarcon A media analyst and contributor to the Huffington Post, Alarcon was born in Havana to parents who fought in the revolution. She grew up in New York, where her father was Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations. She has lived in Cuba since the early 1980s. Miguel Coyula An expert in architecture, urban planning, social services and Cuban history, Coyula was a professor at the University of Havana and a visiting professor at Harvard and NYU. Tracey Eaton A journalist and an assistant professor at Flagler College, Eaton was Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News from 2000 through 2005. Since then, he has traveled to Cuba more than 100 times as a reporter. Cristina Figueroa Cristina Figueroa is curator at Estudio Figueroa-Vives, a studio and gallery founded by her father in the family apartment. One of the first private venues for art to emerge in socialist Cuba, the studio has played a vital role in Havana’s cultural life for 20 years.   Yondainer Gutiérrez Trained as a usability expert, Gutiérrez launched one of Cuba’s most successful mobile apps, AlaMesa, which provides listings and reviews of the nation’s growing base of restaurants. José Fuster Fuster is an artist who specializes in ceramics and paintings. He is best known for more than 80 locations throughout Cuba that he has renovated and decorated, including playgrounds, entire neighborhoods and medical clinics. Marlys Fuego and William Pérez Marlys Fuego and William Pérez are artists who, together, form Studio Alcázar, which occupies a mixed-use building that the artists have renovated with support from the Cuban government. Fuego’s work deals with themes of gender identity and eroticism, while Pérez uses locally sourced materials to comment on working-class life in Cuba. 11BIOGRAPHIES THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  12. Biographies of selected interviewees Rafael Hernández Hernandez is an economist and former head of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Commerce. He was born in New York City and his parents emigrated to Cuba shortly after Castro came to power. He is still a proud New York Yankees fan. Javier Ernesto Matos Soto Along with three friends, Matos Soto has created one of the most successful chains of cell phone repair stores in Cuba. They also install apps on customers’ phones and create new apps. MasterCopy (alias) A distributor of El Paquete Semanal, MasterCopy spoke on the condition of anonymity. He has done “a variety of jobs on the streets” prior to his current job distributing Cuba’s “offline internet.” Nigel Hunt Hunt, a British citizen, founded the Cubaism travel agency. He resides in Havana, is an avid collector of Cuban Americana, and also runs the site, a curated list of events in Cuba. Yilien Hernandez A software engineer, Hernandez has launched her own business teaching Cuban businesses how to market themselves on social media. Pedro Pablo Oropesa Oropesa is chef at Habana 61, a popular Cuban restaurant in Old Havana. He has worked in private restaurants in Cuba since 2000. Enrique Núñez del Valle Núñez del Valle is the founder of La Guarida, a high-end restaurant in Havana and one of the first paladars, or private restaurants, to open in Cuba in the 1990s. La Guarida’s location was featured in the Oscar-nominated Cuban film Fresa y chocolate, and the restaurant is popular with distinguished foreign visitors. 12BIOGRAPHIES THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  13. Biographies of selected interviewees Claudia Paredes Plasencia An instructor at the University of Havana specializing in artificial intelligence, Paredes has started a hybrid ecommerce site where Cubans can sell used clothes. Her team won first place at Havana Startup Weekend 2015, Cuba’s first hackathon. Robin Pedraja Pedraja is creative director of Vistar magazine, a digital publication that chronicles Cuba’s underground urban cultural scene and the first independent magazine to emerge in Cuba in 50 years. Manuel Yepe A lawyer, economist, journalist, and professor of international relations, Yepe has served as Cuba’s ambassador to Romania, general director of the Prensa Latina news agency, and Fidel Castro’s first chief of protocol. Ricardo Torres Pérez Torres Pérez is a Cuban economist and development expert at the Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, University of Havana. He contributes to Americas Quarterly, the Brookings Institution think tank, and Harvard International Review. Pedro Tejeda Torres Tejeda Torres is co-owner of Ajiaco Café, a Cuban restaurant in the seaside town of Cojímar, outside Havana. He has worked in tourism for 32 years at restaurants including La Floridita, La Bodeguita del Medio, and the Hotel Presidente. Luis Perez Perez is an economist and travel industry consultant in Havana. 13BIOGRAPHIES THE PROMISE OF CUBA
  14. Contact: Lucie Greene Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group J. Walter Thompson Intelligence Editors Todd Copilevitz, J. Walter Thompson Atlanta Shepherd Laughlin, the Innovation Group Visual editor Emma Chiu, the Innovation Group Photography by Todd Copilevitz About the Innovation Group The Innovation Group is J. Walter Thompson’s futurism, research and innovation unit. It charts emerging and future global trends, consumer change, and innovation patterns—translating these into insight for brands. It offers a suite of consultancy services, including bespoke research, presentations, co-branded reports and workshops. It is also active in innovation, partnering with brands to activate future trends within their framework and execute new products and concepts. It is led by Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group. About J. Walter Thompson Intelligence The Innovation Group is part of J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, a platform for global research, innovation and data analytics at J. Walter Thompson Company, housing three key in-house practices: SONAR™, Analytics and the Innovation Group. SONAR™ is J. Walter Thompson’s research unit that develops and exploits new quantitative and qualitative research techniques to understand cultures, brands and consumer motivation around the world. It is led by Mark Truss, Worldwide Director of Brand Intelligence. Analytics focuses on the innovative application of data and technology to inform and inspire new marketing solutions. It offers a suite of bespoke analytics tools and is led by Amy Avery, Head of Analytics, North America. The full version of The Promise of Cuba contains more than 50 additional pages of analysis and interviews on Cuba's economy, tourism, technology and the new Cuban consumer. Download it at: #futurecuba