Havana's Real-World Don Draper

January 09, 2014 | by brett sokol | Pursuits

Ricardo Arregui ad
An advertisement Ricardo Arregui’s firm created for the Materva soft drink company to promote the drink’s “Viagra-like” properties. (Havana, Cuba, circa 1950s)

“You have to know what the average person is thinking,” explains Ricardo Arregui, cofounder of Fergo-Arregui Advertising, one of Cuba’s largest ad agencies during its pre-revolutionary heyday. If that vintage milieu invokes a subtropical take on Mad Men, with sleekly suited executives behind the wheel of shark-finned Cadillacs, the truth isn’t far off.

Perusing Arregui’s business archives—now donated to and on display at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection—reveals photos of Arregui cutting a Don Draper-esque figure, all alongside artwork for eye-grabbing ad campaigns. However, the archive doesn’t end in 1959 with Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the subsequent end of nonstate advertising on the island. Resettling in Miami in 1961, Arregui and his brother launched Arregui International Advertising—South Florida’s first Latino-focused ad agency.

The methodology remained the same: “It doesn’t matter how good the creative department is if you haven’t done your research,” Arregui insists. Case in point: His ’50s Cuban campaign for Materva soda. Materva’s market share was plummeting and its execs came to Arregui in a panic. Arregui eventually discovered the reason by ordering a bottle of Materva himself: His bartender warned him that his drink of choice would put a serious crimp in his nighttime bedroom performance. Who knew how this urban legend started, but Arregui had the solution—a fresh ad that all but screamed of Materva’s Viagra-like properties, featuring a virile imbiber flanked by two of the Tropicana nightclub’s most alluring showgirls. The results? Gangbuster sales. “You have to listen to the street,” Arregui says proudly. The Ricardo Arregui archive is on display at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection. For more information, visit library.miami.edu/chc

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE CUBAN HERITAGE COLLECTION, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI LIBRARIES, CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA

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