Scottish Marketing Association
The Rabbit terrorist in actionOkay, let’s remember ads are meant to sell things – so let’s not give out awards to commercials just because they are funny, or sexually gratuitous.”
So said Bob Garfield, Advertising Age star columnist and jury president of Kreatura, the Polish advertising awards.
It looked like a long day was in the offing. Little did I appreciate that later the chino clad Garfield, a campaigner against gratuitous sex in advertising, would vote for a mobile telephone character called the (woodland) Rabbit Terrorist. In fact the character – which was seen shagging a variety of things such as horses, spacemen and porcupines – would be better dubbed the rabbit rapist.
He got my vote too. The series of short films – which are meant to be viewed on mobile phones – were as fresh as the mobile medium itself.
But the trip to Warsaw certainly gave an insight into an emerging creative market, and also what opportunities Central Europe in general and Poland in particular might hold for independent agencies here in Scotland.
Basics first of all. Language is no barrier. Most Poles – the Poles that count anyway – speak English. In fact in advertising terms this is only a major problem when you are trying to judge Polish radio campaigns – which is perhaps why you won’t find many on the Kreatura nominations list.
According to our hosts, Media and Marketing Polska, the Polish version of The Drum, the market is worth around $1billion dollars.
In other words – give or take few tens of millions – it is roughly equivalent in size to the Scottish scene, despite having ten times the population.
There is still real room for growth in this market, regardless of the rapid development that has taken place since the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
For example, the Polish equivalent of Business Week is only published every fortnight. Meanwhile Axle Springer seems to sense an opportunity; rumours are rife that it plans to launch a new national daily, to compete with the current market leader which is still half owned by the government.
At the moment the marketing services industry is dominated by big networks such as JWT and Leo Burnett. Their offices sprung up as part of a land grab strategy – that was mostly fuelled by their worldwide clients – when the wall first came down.
Senior people were parachuted in, and for a while the scene was dominated by Americans. The problem however, was how to identify local staff.
One senior advertising director told me: “It was difficult to find people in these early days. At one point we were looking for a media director and just drew a blank. I and another director were looking out the window and he said, let’s hire that guy over there at the bus stop.
“So we went across the road, asked him if he spoke English and took him on. He actually became quite a successful media director until he went to prison for phoning in a bomb scare to a restaurant that refused to serve him.”
However, smaller agencies are in the ascendancy. And there are certainly some good clients in the scene such as Lech Premium Beer, Telekomunikacja, Nokia Poland, Nikon and TVP1, one of four national TV channels.
There is also some truly awful advertising. I endured a presentation from a building supplies company called Atlas, where they explained the branding ideas behind a heavy duty adhesive.
The line was ‘I love Poland’. And the advertising idea seemed to be a series of bird tables dotted around the country.
The tables shown at the presentation featured a stork standing in them. I thought that is an interesting idea – obviously they have slapped glue on the bird table in order to trap storks. Perhaps to make soup, where a good stork is always useful.
But no. It was actually a plastic stork; and every bird table had one. Even fluent Polish speakers would have been flummoxed.
So what’s the bottom line? My hunch is that this is a market, now part of the EU, that has real potential for Scottish companies. Independent client companies are now emerging that will want a more personalised service than the big networks can deliver. And that is where the opportunities might lie for strong independent agencies in Scotland.
One or two Scottish companies have already made some headway in the market. For example Glasgow-based Randak has a major Polish vodka brand in its portfolio.
So there you have it. I’ll sign off before resorting to obvious jokes about Eastern promise.