Some would probably argue one of the first word of mouth marketing campaigns in Haiti occurred in 1791 when the maroon slaves whistled in the conch shells to to signal the the slave rebellion. That might be a stretch, but oh well.
Marketing, advertising and public relations have been important in Haiti, as with any other country.
When Haiti was getting bad press after the slave revolution, when King Henri Christophe was made the subject of laughter, men like Baron de Vastey, King Henri Christophe’s private secretary and Jacques of all trades wrote books to counteract Haiti’s bad publicity.
In the 1820s, Haiti’s then-president Jean-Pierre Boyer financed an intense marketing and public relations campaign to attract black Americans to come live to Haiti. The publicity campaign, complete with branding ambassadors (Boyer called them agents, but they would be called branding ambassadors today!), pamphlets went viral, especially in Northern United States. Boyer’s campaign went viral, attracting black Americans especially from Philadelphia to come live in Haiti.
Below is the advertisement page in Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s longest running newspaper in 1899.
At this point, the paper was a 4-pager, and apparently the advertising staff cluttered all the ads they could muster on this page! The ads mostly herald local service businesses.
In the 1910s, ads in the newspapers were exclusively in French, and a lot of the ads for clothing seem to always emphasize a store’s European or U.S.-imported products. But then, there were a great many (like this one) that were travel-related, emphasizing mercantilism, and mobility of the Haitian upper class, and their penchant for European voyages.
As one examines the history of advertising, public relations and marketing in Haiti, one sees a pattern: word to mouth, then signs, followed by radio and print, ending with television. Although all these different forms are being used throughout the history of the marketing arts, social media has gained tremendous footing, though television and radio (not to mention print), can still compete!
Here is a series of print ads that appeared in Haiti in April 1913. The first boasts the offerings of a clothing store, while the second enumerates the charm of a Ford automobile, and the third advertises the services of a local tailor.
The tourism ads for Haiti are aplenty, starting from the 1920s, and practically exist in flood-volume in the 1940s. This ad from 1948 appeared in US publications and in tour pamphlets targeting US tourists. Haiti’s weather, it’s mountain top amenities, and its cuisine are highlighted aspects.
A print ad for Fruit Kola Citadelle, a soda homegrown in Haiti in the 1950s. Wonder what became of it, since it no longer exists on the Haitian market!
Let us, however, turn our attention to the fine-bodied athlete featured in the ad. Males are obviously the prime targets for the ad. Drink Fruit Kola Citadelle and be a winner, is the subliminal message. Let’s not forget that the 1950s was also the decade in which Joe Gaetjens made that upset goal for the US soccer team!
What’s with the obsession with cars? Maybe because a car was still a status symbol in 1965 Haiti (and still is, as is the case with other societies). Here, a contest has Toyotas as the main prizes of a drawing, in addition to several cash prizes.
This is a commercial by Haiti’s premier spirits company Barbancourt. Barbancourt, the oldest standing firm in Haiti, having been established in the late 1700s, broadcasted this commercial sometime in the 1980s or early 1990s. The company uses celebrity to reinforce their brand, as the commercial features Haitian celebrities as Emeline Michel, Jacqueline Denis, Mushi Widmaier, and Master Dji. [Anyone care to identify the other people for us?]
Haiti is naturally the backdrop for the commercial. Le Rhum qui bouge…the rum that rocks…must have been the current slogan!
This commercial from the mid-2000s, also from Barbancourt, is interesting for several reasons. It shows a shift in Barbancourt’s marketing strategy, in identifying its brand with not the tropics and unspoiled paradise as the background, but with a modernized, glitz-filled set. The bright tropical colors are in tact, as a tribute to the origins of Barbancourt.
Overall, this commercial is the brand’s call to the youthful generation, as seen by its recruiting of Haiti’s biggest young stars BelO, Tifane, and Mika Benjamin.
La Rebelle movie actress Nathalie Ambroise is the star of this commercial for BNC, a financial institution.
This public health campaign billboard which spread the word on the importance of children’s vaccination hung on a busy street in Haiti in 1994. The billboard is written in Creole, and though the figures featured are illustrated, it does make use of local “flavor”.
Lots of commercials targeting Haiti’s populace on the radio and on television and other platforms are for foreign products. In those cases, local celebrities are used to initiate the product with the audience, and give the product instant recognition with viewers.
Digicel, a telecommunications brand founded by Denis O’Brien, an Irishman, made a big splash in Haiti in the early 2000s. Here is a still from a billboard used in the countryside for it’s mobile money campaign.
Here is a print ad targeting Haiti’s youth with ringtone offerings.
Digicel Haiti tapped the spending power of Haitians living overseas by starting programs where relatives abroad could add cellular minutes to mobile plans for their loved ones back home in Haiti, a rather clever move. And adding extra incentives like prizes and contests.
A print ad for Haiti’s Prestige Bière, Haiti’s primary beer. No words needed. The subliminal messages are plenty, however. Water! Rebirth. Coolness! Relaxation…fun!
Here is a television commercial for Prestige with the World Cup tied in.
Never one to shun the tie-in game, Barbancourt produced this commercial tie-in for the 2012 carnival.
Prestige has been known for its risqué ads, even one in the mid-2000’s that earned it wagging fingers from Ms. Magazine.
Advertisers, marketers, and publicists take every opportunity to spread the word. Note these street banners that are all over the streets of Haiti. When they’re not used to make public service announcements (like this one above), they are used to announce album releases, and dance parties.
Another Graphcity creation! This time a commercial for PureGuard.
This is a commercial for furniture and electronics store chain Valério Canèz, featuring Daniel “Tonton Bicha” Fils-Aimé. Tonton Bicha’s zany persona receives an expansion. Here he is ostentatiously dressed in outlandish attire for good laughs. But the message is clear: if you’re not at Valério Canèz to grab the latest, you’re missing out.
The use of celebrity to push products and services are almost unparalleled.
Here Haitian comedian Kako Bourjolly and rapper Eud are the characters for this commercial for Voila, a mobile phone service provider. Kako has Voila, whereas Eud has another phone company, and well, her incompetent provider doesn’t send text messages on time, and of course she misses the best moment of a happening party!
Here comedian Fernel “Jesifra” Valcourt is the comedic foil of Antonio “Don Kato” Cheramy for this commercial for Voila.
As much celebrity is a big factor in commercials out of Haiti, the use of everyday situations with normal folks is not exactly eschewed as seen by this commercial made by the firm GraphCity for Bongu. But wait, we spoke to soon! See the last couple of seconds of the commercial!
Commercials from Haiti can also be controversial. Here is a commercial for Protecta, a life insurance company in Haiti. The commercial received airplay in stations in the USA as well, including IslandTV. Many questioned the appropriateness of the commercial in relation to the death of a loved one. The commercial did its job of bringing publicity to Protecta, but the positioning was certainly questionable, especially for the subject of the commercial. There is nothing laughable about death.
Theatre is a big deal in Haiti. An ad for a theatrical production of a theatre group puts its young cast at the forefront.