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Nafta Gbely privatizer tries to cure sore image

Seems like a job for Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, in the film "Eraser", he had to delete the identity of a fragile woman. Here, the task is a bit more difficult, since the reputation of an entire company needs to be erased, especially when that company is the one that privatized Nafta Gbely.
A massive promotional campaign by Druhá Obchodná a.s., the company that last year privatized Nafta Gbely, a family jewel of the Slovak economy, angered some, amused others, but succeeded in full by drawing new attention to this mysterious and notorious firm.
The apparent contrast between the ads presenting Druhá Obchodná as a serious enterprise that prefers professionalism to connections, and its public perception as a cover-up created to allow certain leading political figures to privatize Nafta, left many stunned. "I just can't believe this," said one manager employed in the government sector who requested anonymity. "They have no shame."

Seems like a job for Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, in the film "Eraser", he had to delete the identity of a fragile woman. Here, the task is a bit more difficult, since the reputation of an entire company needs to be erased, especially when that company is the one that privatized Nafta Gbely.

A massive promotional campaign by Druhá Obchodná a.s., the company that last year privatized Nafta Gbely, a family jewel of the Slovak economy, angered some, amused others, but succeeded in full by drawing new attention to this mysterious and notorious firm.

The apparent contrast between the ads presenting Druhá Obchodná as a serious enterprise that prefers professionalism to connections, and its public perception as a cover-up created to allow certain leading political figures to privatize Nafta, left many stunned. "I just can't believe this," said one manager employed in the government sector who requested anonymity. "They have no shame."

Druhá Obchodná bought more than 40% of Nafta for Sk 500 million from the National Property Fund (FNM) in August 1996, even though the stock market value of the shares at the time was Sk 3.2 billion. When journalists tried to find out more about the company, they found its registered place of office to be a deserted house with a mailbox attached to it.

Since then, Druhá Obchodná acquired respectable offices, but became a symbol of privatization fraud and corruption, with speculations implicating various government figures as the real owners paramount. Many opposition leaders tried to profit from the notoriety of the case, with the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia chairman, Jaroslav Volf, repeatedly raising the issue of the sale's legality and the Christian Democratic Movement vicechairman Mikuláš Dzurinda telling a crowd of supporters in April that "the boys will have to return Nafta".

Deploying an eraser, Druhá Obchodná launched the campaign in May using Onyx, a new agency founded by the former GGK Bratislava head, Slavomír Magál. "It is an image campaign to profile [Druhá Obchodná] as a modern and competent company that takes care of enterprises under its clout," Magál. said. "It is running in May and June, but there is going to be a second wave. It consists of three elements: TV commercials, billboards and sponsorship campaign."

The TV commercial, aired nearly every day in prime time before evening news, is perhaps the most inflammatory, particularly the part showing a bulky man in suit representing the typical noveaux riches of Slovakia, with the voice-over saying: "Then came those who thought they knew it all." Subsequently, the man is replaced by a lean, intelligent-looking young fellow with a notebook computer and the voice continues: "It is finally time for people to be judged on their abilities. Druhá Obchodná (Second Commercial): First where it matters."

The billboards with the last two sentences scattered all around Slovakia seem to seize popular attention as well.

The irony of a company with the reputation of Druhá Obchodná campaigning for values of professionalism and against networking is not lost to creators of the commercial. "The aim was to provoke," Magál said. "Druhá Obchodná went through several agencies, but neither could satisfy them. Then they approached us and we warned them we're wild and don't stick to conventional. They said that was exactly what they wanted."

On the other hand, Dušan Říha, the Chairman of Druhá Obchodná's Board of Directors, denied the campaign would want to be anything but serious. "We did not mean to provoke," he said. "I don't think provocative is the best word to use. [People] here are torn by passions and half-truths. We wanted to open their eyes, to present an idea of professionalism and objectivity in an understandable and concise way. This idea is accepted in the whole developed world and I think it should finally begin to be accepted here."

The audience doesn't seem to get the point. "I am amazed that they dare make a commercial like this after all we have gotten to know about them. They got the shares in a dirty way, at a fraction of its market price and the [real] owners remain anonymous to this day," said the above-quoted manager. "[The sentence]'The first when necessary' applies only to the fact that they were first at the FNM to steal Nafta," the source added. "When I saw it for the first time, it really freaked me,"a housewife said. "I knew only vaguely who these guys were and I still don't understand why they should have a nationwide campaign. What is the point?"

Nevertheless, Říha is happy about the way the campaign came out at the time he considers crucial for the future development of Druhá Obchodná. "We are starting several new projects both in Slovakia and abroad," he said. "We would like to create a positive perception of our company."

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