After cruising to Alaska last year to sample some local color, MullenLowe’s series of short films for Royal Caribbean drops anchor in Cuba to present three poignant, highly personal stories showcasing the vibrant diversity of the island’s culture and people.
Here’s a brief teaser that previews the campaign’s different stories, which are told at length in separate, longer videos:
Shot documentary-style by director Clay Jeter of Chef’s Table fame, the 5-minute films use quiet storytelling and sweeping visuals to focus on Cubans striving to make their dreams real and, by extension, transform their communities in positive ways.
Such tales transcend the pretty pictures and sumptuous scenery frequently offered in travel campaigns. As you get to know these people, Cuba itself comes alive in meaningful, multifaceted ways.
First up, we meet gifted dance student Gabriela, who puts in grueling hours to fulfill her ambition of becoming the first black prima ballerina in the Cuban National Ballet:
Moving and inspirational, Gabriela’s story of pride, determination and sacrifice seems to crystalize in one line toward the end: “The only thing that’s holding me back is the color of my skin.”
That observation, so raw and real, speaks volumes. It’s the kind of comment few agencies or clients would have permitted in the final cut. Yet, its inclusion here elevates the proceedings, reflecting the complexities of Cuban society in a way most campaigns wouldn’t dare.
“We want to share authentic stories that celebrate the uniqueness of the people and each destination we sail to,” Kara Wallace, Royal Caribbean vice president of North America marketing, tells Adweek. “This was part of Gabriela’s story, it is what motivates and inspires her,” and the line was kept in the film to enhance its authenticity.
Next, we join Hubert and Manolo for dinner. Years ago, they were romantically involved, and now share an abiding friendship and business relationship running a paladar—or restaurant inside a private home, a business model that became popular when Cuba loosened its limitations on privately owned enterprise after the fall of the USSR:
Like Gabriela’s story, this installment touches on the intricacies of Cuban society and human relationships with ample grace and candor.
Note also the gritty shots of Havana. Its steamy streets and crumbling facades aren’t shown via traditional travel imagery, but they exude a haunting allure all their own.
“Cuba is a place that has been somewhat stuck in time,” notes MullenLowe associate creative director Erek Vinluan. “Everywhere you look, there is a feeling of nostalgia, from the cars and clothing to the decor and architecture. There were times, especially during the filming of The Host and The Chef episode, that we would watch playback and it would feel like we were watching a historical period piece. But that is Cuba—a place with its own unique set of challenges and beauty.”
Finally, we tag along with Enmanuel, a biologist and rock climber, as he explores Cuba’s towering, otherworldly limestone cliffs known as mogotes:
This episode is the most traditional of the three, but it’s still not your typical sunny-happy travelogue. Those craggy, vine-coved outcrops prove powerful symbols for Enmanuel’s deep feeling of connection to his native the land.
“I feel like I am part of the mogotes,” he says at one point, inviting us to share his passion.
Indeed, the whole campaign radiates such quality of spirit, beckoning us to travel—via Royal Caribbean, of course— and experience people and places that could forever change our lives.
“We chose Cuba because it enabled us to offer a glimpse into a country that many people still know little about, yet are captivated by,” Wallace says. “The spirit and the energy of this country is truly brought to life through the people, and Cuba provided no shortage of stories to tell.”
The ads drop at a pivotal time for Cuban tourism, with U.S. visits declining sharply as the Trump Administration, and other factors, lead to negative perceptions of the island.
Perhaps Royal Caribbean can turn the tide by presenting these real-life narratives told through highly relatable everyday Cubans.
“We chose their stories because they showed an unexpected side of Cuba that outsiders don’t normally see – a side that is authentic, and goes beyond the common stereotypes of vintage cars and cigars,” says Danny Streadbeck, associate creative director at MullenLowe. (Such elements do show up, but they’re far from cliches. In fact, they seem perfectly in tune with their surroundings, as if no autos made before the Revolution in 1959 could be truly fit to prowl the faded grandeur of Havana’s thoroughfares.)
In terms of media placement, last year’s Royal Caribbean Alaska push was essentially a test to drive viewership across YouTube and capitalize on binge viewing, says agency social media director Stacy Carpenter.
This time around, however, MullenLowe is visiting new digital ports of call.
“Now that more social platforms are allowing for longer form storytelling, we are distributing full videos directly to consumers within their native platform: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, versus funneling them from one experience to another and risking drop off,” Carpenter says. “We are also exploring newer ad units that lead to deeper viewing behavior, such as Instagram Stories.”
Client: Royal Caribbean
Campaign: The Local: Cuba (April 2018)
President and CEO: Michael Bayley
CMO: Jim Berra
VP, North America Marketing: Kara Wallace
Director of Social Media: Ana Sofia Ayala Valverde
Manager, Content Strategy: Nathalie Fernandez
Social Media Producer, Marketing: Jamal Smith
Agency: Mullen Lowe
SVP, Group Creative Director: John Kearse
SVP, Group Creative Director: Rob Kottkamp
Associate Creative Director: Danny Streadbeck
Associate Creative Director: Erek Vinluan
SVP, Group Account Director: Kay Pancheri
Account Director, Social: Stacy Carpenter
Account Supervisor, Social: Bridget Weiler
Strategist: Carol Cai
Senior Agency Producer: Kristin Childers
Production Company: Saville
Director: Clay Jeter
Line Producer: Daniela Huml
Director of Photography: Will Basanta
First AC: Ezra Riley
Music: Duncan Thum
Sound Post: William McGuigan
Editor: Jose Santos
Assistant Editor: Vishal Singh, David Zucker
Transcoding: Aaron Biller
Senior Colorist: Shane Reed
Head of 2D: Chris Noellert
Cuban Production Services: Vedado Films
Local Producer: Odalys Garcia
Location manager: Paola H. Larramendi
2nd Camera assist: Ariel Navarro
Grip: Igor Pintado
Gaffer: Dennis Brito
Grip / gaffer Operator: Lazaro Miranda
PA: Osmany Reyes
PA: Claudia Balmaseda
Translator : Irma González
Sound: Ricardo Perez (Tato)
David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek’s New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.