Story by Margaret Connors
Each year, the University of Oregon’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation awards UO faculty researchers grants worth up to $5,500 to fund their research in the coming year.
After extensive review, this year’s 20 recipients were announced, and on that notable list is SOJC Assistant Professor Christopher Chávez, awarded for his research study titled “Branding the Revolution: Havana Club, Cuban Authenticity and Public Diplomacy.”
Chávez will use this grant to travel, conduct interviews with practitioners and organize participant observations regarding how advertising is used in Havana following the Cuban Revolution. He explained that in Cuba, there are no distinctions between-state owned and privately owned companies, meaning even the rum in Cuba is owned by the state. However, in the 1990s, as Cuba faced economic crisis, it entered a partnership with a large global liquor conglomerate, Pernot Ricard.
“Now there is kind of a hybrid of a socialist state,” explained Chávez. “Part of my research is going to focus on how Havana Club Marketing sells rum in order to sell Cuban identity abroad and then internally to its local audiences.”
Chávez hopes his research will help students think of advertising with a more global perspective. “Here in the U.S. we have a very mature advertising market,” said Chávez. “But in Cuba it’s a very different context, so advertising might have different meanings there.”
Minimal research has been conducted on Havana Club as it pertains to the revolution, and even less has been conducted on the advertising and public diplomacy portion of it, which is Chávez’s focus.
Recalling his visit to Havana in 2000, Chávez said he was fascinated by the use of advertising space for nonadvertising purposes. “You see billboard space and murals, things like that, but because it’s a socialist country the messages were very collectively oriented,” said Chávez. “So it’s a different political mentality than in the U.S., which is very ‘me’ focused.”
He’s eager to see the difference 17 years has had on the advertising world in Havana.
“One thing that’s really making me nervous,” Chávez added, “is the trade embargo.”
The U.S. consumes 40 percent of the world’s rum, which has given Havana Club an opportunity to sell to the U.S. market. However, under the Trump administration, there is an expectation that the U.S. will pull back and start imposing restrictions again, making it difficult for Havana Club to enter the market place right now.
“On a symbolic level, it’s really nice to be recognized for the research that you’re doing,” said Chávez. “I’m personally really excited to get down to Havana because I think it’s going to change a lot in the next few years as more markets are getting into it and they’re transitioning. They really got rid of the ad industry there after the revolution, so I think it hopefully will present a different understanding of how advertising works as a political system and a cultural system, and I’m really fascinated by what I’m going to find.”
Chávez will return to Havana this August for 10 days of research using funding from his UO grant.
Margaret Connors recently graduated from the SOJC with a bachelor’s degree in advertising with a concentration in photojournalism. Last summer, she worked as an intern for The Big Issue SA, for which she traveled around South Africa finding stories and learning about the industry. She is eager to create ethical, authentic and passionate work to share with the world. You can follow her on Instagram @margeconnors and view her work at margaret-connors.squarespace.com.