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Marketing biz matures with savvy ads

During communism, marketing was a virtually unknown phenomenon; producers made what the government required, and people bought what they found on store shelves - with no competition and no variety of products expected, firms had no worries.
But that all changed in 1989, as domestic producers suddenly had to compete on the open market with foreign manufacturers, and as consumers began to move away from drab domestic produce to the flashier and better presented imports. The battle of domestic companies to woo back consumers - and the marketing strategies they have adopted to help them - has brought marketing in this country from the cradle to a sophisticated industry.
Progressive tactics adopted from the developed West have gradually been replacing simplistic and direct advertising styles. Modern Slovak marketing campaigns often rely on 'image' advertising and are geared mainly toward young consumers who want to express their individuality, who are open to new ideas and more apt to embrace change - and whose future purchasing power is an attractive lure.


Slovak advertisement experts are now learning the benefits of targeting specific markets. EuroTel Bratislava, for example, has launched a campaign aimed at attracting younger clients to their "in" technology.
photo: Martin Janoško

During communism, marketing was a virtually unknown phenomenon; producers made what the government required, and people bought what they found on store shelves - with no competition and no variety of products expected, firms had no worries.

But that all changed in 1989, as domestic producers suddenly had to compete on the open market with foreign manufacturers, and as consumers began to move away from drab domestic produce to the flashier and better presented imports. The battle of domestic companies to woo back consumers - and the marketing strategies they have adopted to help them - has brought marketing in this country from the cradle to a sophisticated industry.

Progressive tactics adopted from the developed West have gradually been replacing simplistic and direct advertising styles. Modern Slovak marketing campaigns often rely on 'image' advertising and are geared mainly toward young consumers who want to express their individuality, who are open to new ideas and more apt to embrace change - and whose future purchasing power is an attractive lure.

Radovan Grohol, managing director for the local branch of the global Mayer/McCann-Erickson marketing firm, said that 40 years of communism had translated into a consumer mindset that was resistant to change, and an advertising industry with some serious catching up to do.

"In the U.S., marketing has gone on uninterrupted for about 100 years. It's natural that a lot of experts in marketing and advertising have evolved in the United States. Countries like Slovakia are still trying to catch up, and must seek advice from western counterparts," Grohol said.

Tatiana Hrivnáková, general manager of the Slovak branch office of the New York-based Ogilvy and Mather marketing firm, said that price and tradition continued to be the most influential factors affecting the purchasing decisions of Slovak consumers. But change was at hand, she added, as concepts such as 'exclusivity' - which gives consumers the feeling that they have purchased something special - quality and durability began to win converts among the buying public.

Hrivnáková also mentioned image - what a product 'says' about the consumer - as becoming particularly significant as consumer purchasing power increased.

"Within the last several years, the image of a product has become a really important factor, and I think that image will be the most important factor in the future of advertising and marketing here in Slovakia," Hrivnáková said.

"Image can differentiate a brand and give it 'personality', 'individuality' and a strong position against the competition. The greater the purchasing power of consumers, the more important the marketing of an image. Price can't be the only factor, because many other products can have lower prices, but if something claims to be worth consuming [these days in Slovakia], it has to have a strong image."

Hrivnáková added that advertising tactics such as direct comparisons between products and simple demonstrations (the Brand X laundry detergent 'winning' trials against Brand Y to the astonishment of a TV housewife) were becoming obsolete in Slovak advertising. Taking the place of such primitive appeals, she said, were more subtle marketing methods developed in countries such as England, Germany and the United States. Hrivnáková said the western methods used public relations and promotional style tactics - such as associating a product with an event or activity that represents a certain lifestyle - to attract consumers and to set a product apart from its competition.

The western influence has recently become clearly visible. In its latest campaign, Slovak mobile phone company Eurotel uses young people, stylish settings and a touch of humour to make its Easy Card attractive to young Slovak consumers. In one commercial, a young woman is repeatedly saying "No, no, no," into the mirror; the camera pans back to reveal her as a bride on her wedding day. In another, a young woman being embraced by a young man stops him from moving his hand under her blouse. These images, say the company, are meant to reflect the easy going nature of the product for the 14 to 35 age group.

"Our focus was that the Easy Card had to be a campaign that's about image, and that the product has to be clear in the advertising spot," said Zuzana Dlugopolská, marketing communication manager for Eurotel. "Image is important because the product itself is stylish. Mobile communication in general was something that not too long ago was used only for work purposes, but now it's becoming more fashionable. It's not only for work, but it's for a certain lifestyle. We want to show that the card is something that is 'in'."

Dlugopolská said that Easy Card marketing was most prevalent in high schools, secondary schools and universities in order to grab the attention of the young audience.

On other occasions, western-based firms have simply imported advertising concepts used in other markets and adapted them to the Slovak market. To market the soft drink Sprite, the Coca-Cola company has taken its "Image is nothing - obey your thirst" slogan famous around the world and has run it here in conjunction with youth sports events popular in Slovakia such as streetball and snowboarding. In the U.S., this same slogan is tied to NBA basketball.

Ironically, the 'image is nothing' slogan in itself creates an image for the product, as Coca-Cola strives to attract young, non-conformist types to the drink. "We target the teenager, and the product represents [the idea of] going and finding your own identity, your own personality. This is also why we focus on individual sports," said Radovan Pekník, manager for external affairs for Coca-Cola Slovakia. "Young people find themselves connected with Sprite because many of them are trying to discover their own ways and identities."

The attraction of focusing on youth, Pekník said, was that it was difficult to change the habits of people over 40. "Young people are still developing their own beliefs and values and have a lot of potential for future purchasing power," he said. Hrivnáková agreed: "It's easier to educate young consumers than to change the habits of older people," she said.

But for now, no matter how appealing a product's image may be, money remains a major consideration for the Slovak consumer, and marketing agencies continue to capitalize on this fact.

Mayer/McCann-Erickson's Grohol said that image and flashy ads are a good way to catch someone's eye, but did not necessarily translate into sales. Using the example of rollerblades and bicycles, he said that goods which may be commonplace in the West may be seen as luxury items in Slovakia due to their high price. Thus, his company highlights the affordability of such products by emphasizing purchasing plans like leasing and other alternatives.

"It's not enough to show a product and explain how good it is," he said. "The central task remains giving the consumer a reason why they should pay more for one product over another."

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