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The Man Who Created the Coors Light Silver Bullet Can: A Cuban Refugee

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 25, 2023 3:01 am

The Man Who Created the Coors Light Silver Bullet Can: A Cuban Refugee

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 25, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the story of Marc Barrios, a cuban refugee would make his mark on the American Advertising Industry

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Eligibility and terms at slash football terms. And we continue with our American stories. And as you know, we love telling immigrant stories, stories about folks who came here to get their piece of the American dream. And today our own Joey Cortez brings us a story of an immigrant who would make his mark on the American advertising industry. Here's Joey. Mark Barrios lives in Colorado, and he designed the arts for a product all of us know and many of us love. But before he became a successful commercial artist, his journey began somewhere far warmer than the Colorado Rockies.

Here's Mark. I was born in 1944 in Havana, Cuba, way before the revolution. My parents were divorced at an early age, but life in Cuba was like a regular teenage kid. I mean, we were raising a middle class.

I was able to go to a private school. We spent the time somewhere in the dish. And to me it was kind of paradise. And then I was 14 years old when Castro took power. And that's basically when my life completely changed.

Within weeks, he started nationalizing the industry, like the electrical industry, the sugar. After my grandfather had passed, he had left my grandmother like a total of six houses. And she lived in one, and she was renting the other five. Well, right away they confiscated those five houses. And they said, well, we're going to keep giving you the rent that you're collecting from the houses. But those houses now belong to the state. So I was not going to inherit the houses.

My mother and my uncle, those houses were taken by the state. A lot of the books were burned in some of the major streets, and they were introducing new books into the school system. My school was confiscated and turned into Friends of the Soviet Revolution. In every city block, they will have a committee of the revolution. So if you were to school, if you did the daily affair, they knew what you were doing. But let's say that you wanted to go and spend two days, like we used to do, spend some days in the beach.

You will have to let them know. They needed to know where you're going to be every single day of the week. And that's the way to control the people. Obviously, the freedom of the press, that right away, that's one of the first things that they took down. They took up freedom of religion.

I mean, my God, they confiscated private schools, especially those belong to the Catholic Church or any religious group like the one that I was attending to. I mean, all our freedoms are taken away. They took away our guns for the sake of the revolution. They took away your guns.

Sins that you take for granted are taken away. And then they will put people in the firing squad just for disagreeing with the revolution. Some people were put in the firing squad because they were trying to conspire against the...

But that's no reason to put them in the firing squad. They got rid of all of them. And Che Guevara, which wasn't even a cute one, and then here they... This guy, he was a voice for the people of all the criminals in Cuba.

He was probably the worst one. Originally, when Che was brought in, he was brought in as the treasurer of the country. After that, then he took over the tribunal to start processing the people that they have caught.

And that's when Sins got out of hand. He wanted to get rid of anybody that disagreed with, in any way, with the government. There was no... They were not taking anybody, leaving anybody alive. If they disagree, they can prove, or not even prove, if they had a hint that you were anti-government, you could end up in that firing squad. But they think that into the thousands and thousands, I was killed by Che. As a matter of fact, I think the only reason that Che Guevara left Cuba, I don't know really, obviously, what happened. I think Castro finally said, hey, go someplace else, because you're really...

If you continue in this path, you're going to kill the revolution. And that only has to do, and then take every Sin away, whether you have a house or you had a business, and then you put people in charge that were brought, people that were not qualified to run those businesses. So they took the whole economy, was the economy collapsed. It didn't make any difference whether Russia was buying the sugar from Cuba. It was basically a lot of the middle-class business owners started leaving Cuba, a million of them left, and then you start putting people that were not even trained or qualified to run the businesses. So the economy collapsed. Once the economy was collapsed, then they had full control. I mean, they relied on the government. They nationalized the banking industry, they nationalized the energy sector, the petroleum industry, and everything was controlled by the government, and still controlled by the government. And in Cuba nowadays, you make more money as a taxi driver of one of the old American cars than you are as a doctor or as a professional. So, man, those are very scary days back then.

And I was kind of lucky when I was told to put, when my uncle told me to, told my mother to, whatever it takes to get me out of there. It's because after the big, sure enough, Castro, the first scene after quenching the invasion, he started grabbing all the teenagers and send them to what he called help the farmers, but it was really basically send them to concentration camps to help with the sugar, to cut the sugar canes. But it was really basically a concentration camp to take them away from the families, at least for a period of time.

So yeah, those were very sad, sad days. Arriving on a student visa, Mark and his mom managed to escape the sadness for a place of hope, the United States. He and his mother made Colorado their home while maintaining a full-time job . Mark attended the University of Boulder as a full-time student.

And although his mother and uncles who lived in the States wanted him to become an accountant, Mark had a different vision. He had a passion for art. My major was in fine art and anthropology, which, you know, I don't know how you either become a starving artist or a teacher. So a friend of mine told me about a school called Colorado Institute of Art, which was more of a commercial art advertising. And that was really fascinating to me.

I mean, what a way to communicate with people visually. So I started attending there. I found a job at the hospital, at a hospital working in the x-ray department from Friday to Sunday, 40 hours. So it was great. I didn't have a life, I didn't have a life, but at least I have a full-time job, but I was able to go to school at the same time.

So I graduated in 1966 from the Colorado Institute of Art. And you're listening to the story of Mark Barrios and what a story he tells about Cuba. And we've had several other remarkable stories told about Cuba before Castro and then after. They took freedom of the press away, freedom of religion. They took away our guns, the things that you take for granted.

They were all taken away. The economy collapsed, he noted, because all the middle-class business owners left and the people unqualified to run the businesses handouts from the Castro government. Well, they ran them into the ground and the economy got run into the ground. He noted that you can make more money as a cabbie than you could as a professional or a doctor. All the incentives of work and moving up were just taken away and stripped for the greater good, for the revolution.

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Once again, that's 855-933-5252. And we're back with our American stories and with Mark Barrios' story. Mark was born in Havana, Cuba, escaped the Castro regime, and moved to Colorado with his mom, where he graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art.

Let's return to Mark with the rest of his story. After spending a couple of, spending about a year working for some smaller agency, I was approached by Coors. They had an opening in their art department. So I took that job.

I was also married at the time, previous marriage. And so I figured that that might be a more secure job to have at Coors. And then in 1975, Coors' biggest competitor, the Miller Brewing Company, took the industry by storm with their release of a light beer, Miller Lite.

That changed the whole industry. Miller Lite started taking a lot of chairs away from Coors. Coors already had a hot product, the banquet beer, which they marketed as America's finest light beer, not based on calories, but flavor. But with Miller Lite's success, some folks in the company began to question, maybe we should make an even lighter beer to compete. The management of the company, they felt that Miller Lite was going to be a fad, that light beer was not going to be around for a long time.

Well, obviously they were wrong. But at the same time, the company had brought a new guy into the picture, one of the family's son, and that was Peter Coors. And he was in charge of the marketing department at the time. So Peter took over and he felt that we needed to introduce a light beer. And I guess during the right time at the right place, they have created a light product before, but he was too close to our existing Coors banquet.

So basically not only Miller Lite was taking business away from Coors, then here we are, this new Coors Lite package was so similar, and Luke was so similar, and advertiser was so similar to the existing Coors, that that brand was cannibalizing our own brand, the banquet brand. So I'm sitting one day in my desk during lunchtime having my lunch, and Peter approached me and he said, what do I thought of the product? And I told him, basically it's just too close to the original Coors, and I didn't care too much for it. So he told me, I would like you to start designing a new package. Well, so I was pretty excited.

And after my boss got back that afternoon for lunch, I told him, I said, man, Peter was here. He was really asking me to design a new package. Well, because he had designed the previous package, he didn't want anything to do with it. And he basically told me, no, I don't want you to do it. And I said, well, I cannot be in the middle.

You're going to have to. To make the story short, Peter came back and he basically told him, no, Mark is going to design this. He's going to work on this package. So I started working on it. And one of the packages I was designing was playing with the using the silver. I thought that the light category, they were used for both whites and Miller was used in the white. And to me it was too medicinal. So when I was playing around with the colors, I noticed that this silver, because it was really attracting, it was very clean, was very fresh, very contemporary.

It reflects in these shells. So I ended up kind of pushing for that color as a background color. And the brand supported me on this. They took it to focus group. And they liked the product, but they didn't think it looked like beer.

But anyway, Peter decided to roll with it because the other package was not doing any good. And obviously the rest is history. Coors Light became, grew very rapidly. There was college kids that started calling Coors Light the silver bullet.

So what a better place? We were probably smart enough at the time to accept that phrase. Sometimes you spend years and years trying to develop a slogan. This one was created by the consumer.

So Coors Light became the silver bullet. I was promoted to the head of the department. So basically I was in charge of all the advertising, all the promotion, the point of sale, the packaging for the different brands. So little by little, I would be able to build an art department to a creative services department of over 36 people, including creative directors, copywriters, art directors, production people, multimedia people. So we probably became one of the largest in-house creative services. I tell you what, if I had to give credit to somebody who changed my, that changed my life basically, and in a very unexpected way, it was Peter.

Mark went on to open his own business and landed promotional jobs with several blockbuster hits like Batman, Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, and Space Jam. He has truly lived the American dream. Even an immigrant with a thick Cuban accent can be successful in the American advertising industry. Sometimes you talk to an accent, people don't listen to you too well. And that's human nature.

I'm not throwing anything there other than human nature. So this visual scene I was able to do was very, to me, became, it solved a problem. It's a way for me to be able to communicate to communicate visually. I'm creating a look and then there are people accepting and I don't even have to talk to them one-on-one. They're accepting me or a product of me.

They don't even know me. I think that was done in Jurassic Park. It was done in Coors Light, obviously very successful. So yes, when I go by, I miss changes that are taking place in Coors. Some of them have been good. Believe it or not, I think they have done a very good job in protecting the essence of what my vision was. Now the package today is so much different than the package that was done in 1978. It's almost like day and night.

But that essence, that feeling, that crispness that I envisioned is still there. Mark is now retired and married to a spouse he dearly loves. They have three children together who now, as adults, wish to further connect with their Cuban roots. At the end of 2019, Audrey and Alex and Christopher, my middle son, they said, hey dad, you know, they want to go to Cuba. I said, you guys should go to Cuba. I said, well, we're not going to Cuba without you because we want to, you know, we want to see our roots and you have to come along. And I really didn't want to.

I said, you know, I just don't want to go and be depressed because I've seen pictures of my high school, places I used to live, places I used to visit, you know, and I really wasn't, I don't want to go to that, to that place. But then I said to them, you know what, let's, let's go ahead. I will do it.

Just because of you guys, I will do it. So we were all excited to start making the plant. At the last minute, my, my wife, um, mother, she's, you know, 81 years old, she can hardly walk. She decided she wanted to come and we felt that wasn't, you know, that wasn't really, so we're going back and forth about, because if we go to Cuba, she won't be able to move around.

There's nobody there left. So we, and then soon the COVID hit and, uh, we did cancel the trip because obviously we were not going to go there. So that happened at the beginning of, at the beginning of, we were scheduled to leave from March.

Uh, and that's when, you know, as a matter of fact, we had, uh, as plane tickets already and that's when COVID hit. So we never got to visit Cuba. So I still don't know if, you know, I'm getting older and I'm still in good, fairly good shape or, you know, no fart, but, um, I will do it for them.

I won't do it for myself. I find myself very, very lucky that, um, you know, that I was be able to come here with $5 in my pocket, exchange of clothes and, you know, have a wonderful over time, have to be able to raise a wonderful family and give that family the freedom to be living in this country. Because obviously if I would have had the family could have been the same family could have been in Cuba. So at least the family here be able to have the freedom that, uh, that they can, that they have by living in this country. And now I have a next generation family.

The grandkids are growing up and, and be able to see them grow. And it's just, just, just very gratifying. I know that you're interviewing me, but man, how many, oh my God, have millions of stories probably like mine.

I'm only one of those stories in the naked city. I mean, I'm sure that there's a, you know, and I, I think that's the beauty of a country like ours, man. It's just so many opportunities for anybody to have a passion that are willing to do since a little bit different, um, opportunities are there. And my goodness, there's just so much here and it's so beautiful. He comes to this country in the end with $5 in his pocket and a change of clothes, but as he put it best, he was given the gift by his mom of freedom and he's passed that freedom gift along to his kids. Mark Barrios' story here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-25 04:20:32 / 2023-01-25 04:29:47 / 9

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