Cuba: In 10 Photographs

Crowd DNA's Hollie Jones took a trip to Cuba, documenting her experiences via photojournalism. Here it is, through her eyes, in ten images...

Politically isolated since the 1950s, Cuba is one of the last bastions of communism and perhaps the least commercialized nation in the Americas. Having bypassed decades of international trade tourism, Cuba has managed to preserve a unique national identity, making it a fascinating country – lost in time. As travel and trade barriers have started to relax, we decided to take a trip to Cuba and use photojournalism as a way to journal the experience (photojournalism is a method we use in many of our projects, though we don’t generally get the chance to share client work, so this is a nice opportunity to present the approach!).

There are few basketball courts in the city of Havana and so street games are popular. Stores selling basketball clothing and merchandise are referred to as ‘basketball museums’, because people visit the stores just to look at products – prices are way beyond local affordability.

The biggest challenges to local businesses are supply and human resources. There is no wholesale system, so restaurants must source food from the same markets and street vendors like these pictured – the same that are open to consumers, and where quantities are very limited.

Tobacco has been grown in Cuba for hundreds of years and farmers have a huge wealth of experience to draw on. Many argue that Cuban cigars are the best in the world. The Communist government of Cuba exercises a firm hold over the cigar industry. While this means that strict quality controls are in place, it also allows officials in Havana to control supply and keep prices high.

Havana’s empty buildings, blank wall spaces, tourism and street traffic provide optimal conditions for street art and graffiti to flourish. Few murals representing Fidel Castro, Che Guevara or communist propaganda remain; instead Cuban street artists explore folk and political narratives through cartoons, graffiti and abstract themes.

Entrepreneurship was forbidden in Cuba until President Raul Castro eased restrictions and, before 2010, barber shops and beauty salons were state-run. With the legalization of self-employment across a number of categories – from home-based snack shops and restaurants, to beauticians and barbers – home businesses have also emerged, such as the porch run hair salon pictured.

Cowboy culture is vivid across Cuba. Agriculture and tourism are the most prominent means of income, with cowboy culture straddling both industries. The Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to many of Cuba’s tobacco farms. It is one of the last places in the world where traditional methods of tobacco growing have survived, and a hub for the cowboy way of life.

Trade restrictions imposed upon Cuba after the revolution meant a very limited import of cars. Access to the US automotive industry was cut off, and other countries manufacturing cars were just too far away. In spite of new, more lenient trade agreements, the roads of Cuba remain dominated by classic cars (and the people of Cuba have mechanical skills that are second to none). In the spirit of Cuban entrepreneurialism, classic car owners offer tours in their vehicles in a highly lucrative tourist experience.

 

Photojournalism is a powerful tool for building empathy with audiences and understanding the realities of life across the globe. Photojournalism is also part of how Crowd DNA provides culturally charged commercial advantage to the world’s most exciting brands. To find out more, contact us at hello@crowdDNA.com

 

Join Our Culture Club

We love the work we do and we're pretty lucky to get to do it. If cultural insights and strategy interests you too, applying for an internship at Crowd DNA is a great way to get started...

Internships have always been good at Crowd DNA, but they just got better. Culture Club is a carefully designed six week programme that brings more rigour and quality to what we can offer those seeking experience in insight and strategy work.

Shaped from observations, conversations and an ambition to truly meet with contemporary needs, Culture Club comes in four stages:

Culture Relevance: immersion in Crowd DNA’s training modules on what we mean by culture, how it manifests and why it matters to brands

How We Work With Culture: exploring the methods and frameworks that we use at Crowd DNA to get close to culture and then to derive strategic meaning from it

Practical Application: theory’s all good, but you learn so much from getting involved; at Culture Club you’ll get to work (in a meaningful fashion) on a number of projects, and at various point along the timeline

Culture Wrap: we don’t just wave you away with a thank you card. Concluding the programme, there’s a coaching session with a senior member of the Crowd DNA team, including recommendations on next steps, what to learn more about etc. We want you to leave us primed and excited for what’s next.

In fact, we don’t necessarily want you to leave us. We offer permanent roles to circa 25% of those who come on board for an internship at Crowd DNA. And even when we’re not able to offer this, the vast majority of those who spend time with us end up some place very exciting, in fields such as insight, advertising, media and beyond.

No intern is left just making coffee at Crowd DNA. We encourage cultural curiosity and the opportunity to experience myriad aspects of our work. On a practical level, we’re mindful to fit around other commitments (work-related or otherwise) that people may have. Importantly, we also hope to imprint on those who join us the importance of adaptability (one of our values is Everything Is Changing, after all) in the future workplace.

We absolutely do not require you to come to Culture Club armed with a degree (though they’re of course good, too!), nor to be the loudest person in the room – but we do expect to see evidence that, in your own way, you have an active interest in culture and brands, and where they intersect (we can teach you the insight and strategy bits).

To find out more about Culture Club, get in touch with Crowd DNA’s Salome Van Leuven. She’ll be able to share more details, find out what’s important to you, and discuss opportunities.

Crowd Numbers

We're pleased to present a new look to our quant and analytics offer. Oh yeah, and a new director to run things, too!

Bringing new dimensions to our mission of creating culturally charged commercial advantage, we’re rebranding our quant and analytics offer as Crowd Numbers. This is about giving data and quantitative work a louder voice in our business. Additionally, under the new banner, as well as continuing to provide online survey solutions, we will venture further into areas such as passive tracking, data synthesis, social listening and machine learning.



We already have a first-rate team and high quality case studies to build on with Crowd Numbers. And now we also have an exciting new addition to our line up of directors to run this part of the business. David Power, formerly a director at RDSi and client side at Hachette and Future Publishing, joins in November.

He’ll be leading Crowd Number, with teams in London and Leeds, and directing all services that they provide across the Crowd DNA’s global offices.

“As a long term admirer of Crowd DNA, I am thrilled to be joining an agency at the forefront of understanding people, culture and the implications for brands,” says David. “Quantitative research is evolving rapidly – you need to be open to incorporating alternative data sources, telling engaging stories and embracing cultural context to drive change.”

We’re excited by this news and hope you are too. To find out more about Crowd Numbers, do get in touch.

Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer examines the ways in which film and TV teen narratives must evolve to resonate with the complex identities of Gen Z...

Today’s teens draw from an array of influences that weren’t available to generations before them. Consider the effects of teenhood played out alongside the internet, versus an analogue adolescence of decades gone by: the worldwide web alone provides inspiration and opinions, outlets for creative expression and peer pressure in equal measure. As the challenges and motivations of teens have changed drastically over time, media responses have shifted to reflect this complexity.

Here, we challenge film to stray from the traditional and highly stereotyped coming-of-age story – as portrayed in high school classics like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Mean Girls (2004) to speak more authentically to Gen Zers. 

Smashing stereotypes

In the early 2000s, film began to sympathetically make light of the awkward teenage years, rather than mocking them. Recall the lead in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) getting too drunk at a party and dancing on the table, or American Pie’s (1999) lead unknowingly doing a strip tease on a livestream for the whole school. These embarrassing moments of 90s film read as negative.

Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You
Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You

The early 2000s instead celebrated the sheer embarrassment of being a teenager and told us not to take it too seriously. Those who were previously labeled outcasts or geeks now reigned as sarcastic, witty leads. For example, in Superbad (2007), the protagonists were nerdy boys striving to impress girls they’ve always crushed on, while in Easy A (2010) our bookish lead hilariously conquered the double standard against high school girls and sexuality.

Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in <em>Easy A</em>
Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in Easy A

Meanwhile, outside of the US, millennial teens got an even more raw narrative on the teenage experience. Humour was a vehicle to tackle teen challenges often viewed as taboo – from sex, drugs, bullying and teenage pregnancy. In Canada, Degrassi (2001) allowed teens to fumble through mistakes without neatly tying episodes up with a moral message (as was done in the 90s). In the UK, Skins (2007) showed awkward struggles, with taboo teenage moments served with a side of surrealism. But while these dramas were seen to be more gritty and ‘real’, they were also criticized for glamorizing teenage rebellion. 

Embracing the messiness of teendom

Moving on from the Skins and Degrassi’s kids breaking the rules, recent depictions have looked at the more everyday struggles of Gen Z – from online bullying to FOMO. 

While remaining extremely innocent, Eighth Grade (2018) used actual kids (acne and all) to make each painful moment of being 13 palpable, coupling awkwardness with the complexities of being a teenager in the age of social media. Similarly, Lady Bird (2017) shone a light on the tension-ridden mother-daughter relationship, making its angsty, precocious protagonist relatable. These kinds of ‘everygirl’ leading ladies would both have previously been sidelined in teen film, but now their limelight gives teens someone strong, yet familiarly flawed and smart, yet naive, to relate to. 

<em>Eighth Grade</em> - growing up online
Eighth Grade - growing up online

This summer, Booksmart (2019) graced us with something perhaps more akin to the ‘regular’ high school experience. Like Superbad, the story follows two hard-working girls who feel they’ve missed out on the classic high school experience. As they seize their opportunity on the night before graduation, going to a party and kissing the boys and girls they like, they interact with a range of different teenage characters along the way. This film sourced its relatability through letting the audience know that everyone lives out high school in their own way, and that’s okay. 

Complex and hybrid

While Booksmart successfully captures relatable high schoolers, each character is still fairly one dimensional, defined by a single characteristic: nerdy, stoner, slutty, etc. For Gen Zers, identity is defined by several factors existing alongside each other – race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, political views, social justice involvement – the list goes on. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed or defined by a singular trait. 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) weaves the lead’s Asian heritage into the storyline, making it a celebratory narrative. Euphoria (2019) plays on the typical teen archetypes, but muddies them with complexity. We still have jocks and popular girls, but each sits on a spectrum of gender identity and sexuality, insecurity and confidence. In Big Little Lies (2018), a child suffers a panic attack because of her overwhelming anxiety about climate change. Both in Euphoria and 13 Reasons Why (2017), toxic masculinity (used to conceal one’s sexuality) has an extremely detrimental impact on said character and those around them. Of all the titles mentioned above, only one (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) has a rating that would even allow teen viewing. 

Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before

There’s still room for progress

There’s evidence that film is beginning to consider the multidimensional, contradictory nature of Gen Zers, but more can be done to make characters feel authentic to teens in a setting that’s PG enough for them to watch themselves. Diversity also remains an issue, with Zendaya becoming one of the first black, teen female leads in a major channel show, and Hunter Schaffer the first trans actor (Euphoria). 

However, tension will forever lie in the contrasting needs to achieve both entertainment and realism. Film is meant to help us escape our own realities, so run of the mill house parties are unlikely to ever be featured on screen. But where is the happy medium between truly relatable and glamourized? Continuing to build on representing a range of teenage voices seems a good place to start.

There are currently more than 2.5billion Gen Zers worldwide. For more thinking on how to speak to this generation and its duality, check out our work on the Hybrid States Of Gen Z

In a new original content series, Crowd DNA New York zooms in on the unique character of New York City neighborhoods, through the lens of those born and raised there...

We’ve set ourselves a mission of exploring the communities of New York City, looking at what’s changing and what’s holding firm. In our first installment, we dive into Manhattan’s Lower East Side (LES). Culturally diverse, ever-changing, and steeped in artistic heritage, the LES encapsulates New York’s broader challenge to maintain authentic community while undergoing rapid development. 

We speak with locals Sergio, Garnett, Veronica, Emily and Megan to hear how the LES has changed – for good and bad. They recount stories of a neighborhood flush with culture but dogged by drugs; of high rises emerging and a revolving door of new bars. But they also share the tenacious nature of the neighborhood and its residents to adapt and innovate, and what they’re doing to preserve and advance the community. 

Hear their stories in this video.

Stay tuned to learn more about the neighborhood’s development in our feature article and a set of  images that capture the LES.

New Hedonism

As we live through the self care boom and a time of peak wellness, where does pleasure-seeking fit in? Download the full report on New Hedonism for how we’re letting our hair down in 2019 and beyond...

New Hedonism – download it here.

When you think of hedonism, you most likely imagine sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. But in a world where meditation apps are the new way to escape the daily humdrum, and bars are stocking drinks sans alcohol, it’s time to think about what fun, partying and indulgence mean in a more socially-conscious society. 

Earlier in the heady heat of summer (and early in the not so heady morning) associate director Berny McManus and director Dunstan Kornicki redefined hedonism for our Rise breakfast attendees. They took us on a whistle stop tour of hedonism’s evolution from illegal raves in warehouses, to the kind that feature yoga mats and smoothies. 

Does this shift mean we’re witnessing the arrival of the most sensible generation yet? Well, the ways we get our kicks are still driven by the same four elements of pleasure-seeking: sense, ideals, social interaction and intellectual engagement, but the narrow Western definition of hedonism is being left behind as we see a more global, inclusive version open up that no longer hinges on pure excess. This change in how we express our pursuit of pleasure is a direct reflection of the cultural landscape altering around us. 

As this generation operates with a newfound sense of restraint, they’re also rejecting the rulebook  – on sexuality, sensorial quirks and partying with a more conscious mindset. So, it’s not quite time to forget sex, drugs and rock’n’roll altogether, it just might be time to look at them a little bit differently.

Our New Hedonism report dives into those elemental needs for pleasure and a range of cultural examples to take you through thrill-seeking’s change in identity – download it here.

City Limits: The Night Issue

In our fifth issue of City Limits, we’re staying up late and watching the urban experience change after dark...

City Limits Volume Five – download it here.

So far in our City Limits series – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – we’ve looked at city living, youth culture, mobility, and the solutions changing things for the better. Now, we’re examining our cities in a whole new (artificial) light: during night time.  

Transgressive, chaotic, ominous; urban nights have long been seen as something to be corralled into order. But as we tread towards a 24 hour, always-on economy, we’re thinking about our city’s after hours in a more nuanced way. Night mayors (or Czars, depending on your persuasion) are popping up all over the globe, highlighting the night’s untapped potential in areas such as the arts, the economy and community-making.

This issue of City Limits goes in search of some of these new nocturnal occasions. We touch base with our KIN network to hear how night culture is changing in Lagos, Cape Town and Seoul; we also challenge the lockout laws restricting Sydney’s drinking scene; dip into the $76 billion ‘sleeponomics’ industry; and take a look at the sober curious wave on social media. Elsewhere, we decipher the semiotics of the night and how brands use the codes to speak to their audiences – at any time of day. 

City Limits Volume Five is available to download here.

Rise: Inside China

Join Crowd DNA Asia’s managing director Emma Gage at our next London Rise event, as we move from stereotypes to nuance in our five step guide to brand building in China, the market on every 2020 strategy...

Date: Sept 19

Time: 8.15-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU

China is an essential strategic pillar for most international brands. The opportunity is clear; it represents high value, the world’s biggest economy in terms of purchasing power, and a middle class emerging at scale. Everyone is rushing to get involved – but it’s not easy. Quick wins are rare, and the failures far outnumber the success stories.

What’s more, if you always think about China ‘vs the West’ (like many Western audiences tend to), the trends and movements often feel extreme and hard to empathise with. Information isn’t difficult to come by, but it’s tough to piece together and understand the everyday reality.  

So what are the new values shaping modern China, and what do they mean for international brands and businesses in search of new opportunities? 

Join us at our first Rise event after the summer hiatus as we help bridge this gap. Building on work conducted in categories such as apparel, finance and alcohol, we’ll bring a rich and tangible sense of China’s changing values; as well as mapping five cultural shifts relevant to Chinese audiences of all ages. 

For coffee, croissants and a ‘how-to’ guide to China, please fill out this form or contact rise@crowdDNA.com for an invite.