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Slovak ads take on foreign markets

A snail races across miles of forest, burning a trail through the grass as it goes, and eventually finding what it's looking for - a gas station. It waits excitedly, in almost breathless anticipation, as a man fills the gas tank of his car. A tiny drop of petrol falls from the nozzle of the filling pump, and hits the snail's shell. The snail, refuelled, races off again, ready for many more miles of road. "OMV gives you an extra drop of energy", runs the slogan at the end of the advertisement for the Austrian refining giant.
The TV commercial created for OMV in 2000 - known as "the snail" - was designed by Slovak advertising agency Miškov-Uliený-Weber. It was awarded the best TV advertising spot in Slovakia this year by the Slovak Ad Awards Association, and in a development unusual for Slovak agencies, it found success abroad and was run in all seven European countries in which OMV has gas stations.
"It [the success] gave us great satisfaction," said Juraj Miškov, CEO at Miškov-Uliený-Weber. "It proved to us that we can produce a high-quality ad that can succeed outside Slovakia, and that we don't have to import finished [advertising] products from abroad."


The men behind Slovakia's most successful recent ad: Juraj Miškov, Ras?o Uliený and Róbert Weber.
photo: Courtesy Miškov-Uliený-Weber

A snail races across miles of forest, burning a trail through the grass as it goes, and eventually finding what it's looking for - a gas station. It waits excitedly, in almost breathless anticipation, as a man fills the gas tank of his car. A tiny drop of petrol falls from the nozzle of the filling pump, and hits the snail's shell. The snail, refuelled, races off again, ready for many more miles of road. "OMV gives you an extra drop of energy", runs the slogan at the end of the advertisement for the Austrian refining giant.

The TV commercial created for OMV in 2000 - known as "the snail" - was designed by Slovak advertising agency Miškov-Uliený-Weber. It was awarded the best TV advertising spot in Slovakia this year by the Slovak Ad Awards Association, and in a development unusual for Slovak agencies, it found success abroad and was run in all seven European countries in which OMV has gas stations.

"It [the success] gave us great satisfaction," said Juraj Miškov, CEO at Miškov-Uliený-Weber. "It proved to us that we can produce a high-quality ad that can succeed outside Slovakia, and that we don't have to import finished [advertising] products from abroad."

Miškov-Uliený-Weber is among the 10 most successful advertising agencies in Slovakia. Run by Juraj Miškov, Ras?o Uliený and Róbert Weber, the company has picked up plaudits for its work, and has been commissioned for a number of projects for foreign clients such as Bank Austria-Creditanstalt, Oracle, Wella and Diner's Club.

But besides the record of Miškov-Uliený-Weber, the number of ad campaigns produced by Slovak agencies that have broken onto foreign markets can be counted on one hand. According to the weekly business paper Trend, only three others from Slovakia's just over 30 ad agencies have seen their ads appear in foreign media: Publicis.Knut with an image spot for Coca-Cola in Zagreb in 1998, Foote, Cone & Belding, with a spot on sticky tape which ran in the Czech Republic, Hungary, France and Spain, and Juraj Vaculík/Creative Studio's spot on Panasonic products.

Few ads make the breakthrough, ad agencies say, because of the relative immaturity of the Slovak market. In existence for just over 10 years, the market lacks people with the creative skills and quality technical equipment needed to produce ads that can compete with western ad-makers. Agencies' directors complain also that the Slovak school system has failed to produce good art directors, and that those with any promise, potential or talent leave the country in an effort to realise their potential.


The company's 'snail' spot has made it onto foreign markets.
photo: Courtesy Miškov-Uliený-Weber

"The good ones leave the country. Some don't even get the chance to work in the industry," said Marek Knut, director at the Publicis.Knut agency.

"The country also lacks art directors because schools, especially the University of Fine Arts (VŠVU) in Bratislava, do not turn out good enough people," added Miškov. "When they leave school they have to begin all over again at the ad agencies."

But even with this handicap, some ad firms and the Association of Slovak Ad Agencies (Kras) argue that the industry is moving forward.

"It [the growth and success of the Slovak ad industry] needs time. We can compare it to a child who is learning how to walk. We cannot expect the child immediately to be able to run a marathon," said Knut.

Statistics show that the advertising market is growing. Total money spent on advertising this year is up on the comparable period in 2000. Results for July saw an increase of 14% on the same month last year to 620.32 million Slovak crowns. Ads for telecoms products make up 27.2% of all advertising.

The 'snail' ad, say its creators, got taken abroad because it had a simple concept - the paradox of an incredibly quick snail - and the technical quality that a lot of Slovak ads still lack.

"The simpler the idea, the more understandable it is," said Vaculík of the reasons behind the success of the few Slovak ads which make it abroad.

A European future?

Agencies are also looking forward to another important move for the Slovak industry: being absorbed into a pan-European market when the country joins the European Union, hoped for in 2004. However there are concerns that the move, while bringing increased opportunities for business in a larger market, may be a double-edged sword.

"Slovakia may be such an irrelevant market [compared to others in the EU] that everything will be just imported here. On the other hand, I think that there will be a greater chance [for Slovak ad firms] to succeed on the world market," said Miškov.

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