New Europeans bang the drums

Emerging European nations are still learning the ad ropes, but show much promise.

The New Europe – a market of 400 million people – stretches from Prague to Samarkand and Tallinn to Tbilisi. But this month much of its advertising talent was concentrated at the pleasant Adriatic port of Portoroz.

The occasion was the third Golden Drum advertising festival, an event that has put the tiny republic of Slovenia, which hosts it, on the international map. By any measure, it was a success, with a record number of delegates attending.

However, for those judging the advertising competition, which is the festival’s raison d’être, the results were more equivocal. I know: I was on that panel of jurors. The quality of submissions displayed all that is best, and worst, about advertising creativity in the New Europe.

Let’s begin with the good news. In five or six years – and from a standing start – the best resourced companies have completely mastered Western production values. There is really very little to distinguish between a local Mars ad airing in Moscow these days and its counterpart in London.

Alas, creative ideas are another matter. There aren’t enough of them, for a start. More frustrating in a way, those that surfaced were, with a few exceptions, poorly developed or finished. Why? The New Europe may well be dynamic – with a number of countries experiencing growth in advertising spend considerably above 20 per cent a year – but it is also chaotic. Accelerated growth brings with it uncertainty and often poorly distributed resources.

Those familiar with the problems of the region point to other, more specific, enemies of promise. Poor pay, very long hours, anarchic media regulation and, most tellingly, a thriving breed of entrepreneurial but inexperienced clients, who put speed of turnaround several light years ahead of creativity, are all high on the list. Nascent market economies have, in any case, little need of sophisticated advertising; per capita income is low and consumers, for the moment, receptive to a relatively naive branding message.

But let’s look at some of the exceptions that prove the rule. The category-winning commercial for Epson printers, created by a Slovenian agency Luna, was as slick a piece of intelligent branding as you would find anywhere in the West. The overall film prize went to Slide Show, devised by DMB&B Prague, for a Pfizer over-the-counter anti-diarrhoea product. Not, you might say, the most promising category; and the film was clearly shot on a low budget. But its droll and effective use of humour could not be faulted.

Russia made a strong but uneven showing. Video International Advertising, which scored at Cannes recently, again picked up the honours for Rikk Bank and devised an interesting treatment for Lotus toilet paper which would leave the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre gasping.

Russia was also notable for being the only country that produced a convincingly creative print ad: Segodnya’s One for All anti-Aids campaign. Otherwise, print was a wasteland. Many of the ads were professionally finished, but they lacked sparkle. Lack of a serious print tradition may explain this dearth. Paradoxically, the newer medium of television has had better luck: it is able to draw on the well-developed, but now derelict, film industry found in much of the region.

Promotional material, however, made a very strong showing. Proof perhaps that New European agencies are developing a natural through-the-line culture. Undoubtedly that entrepreneurial vitality will make a more memorable creative mark in the future.

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