Phony ad campaign for grand opening a film student project
By Petra Pasternak
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
(June 19, 2003)
A TV for 500 Kc ($19). Mineral water for 2.60 Kc. Sounds too good to be true? More than 1,000 people didn't think so. Lured by a massive ad campaign promising a surprise for everyone, they showed up with shopping bags at the grand opening of a new hypermarket, Cesky Sen ("Czech Dream").
It was a sunny Saturday, and the eager shoppers flooded the grassy plain in Letnany, making their way at a gallop toward the store. Except that there was no store. Instead, the shoppers came upon an 8-meter-high (26-foot) by 80-meter-wide scaffolding covered by a banner bearing the logo of the nonexistent hypermarket. The fabric billowed slightly in the wind.
When informed that there was no real hypermarket as promised in the ads, some people laughed; others shook their fists.
And that was the point: How would people react in the moment that their expectations, built up by advertising, collided with reality?
To explore the power of advertising, Film Academy (FAMU) students Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak set out to build the largest spoof ad campaign the country has ever seen. Ad spots were broadcast on Czech Television (CT) and on the radio for Cesky Sen, and the public transportation system displayed posters. Flyers were distributed to unsuspecting passersby.
The campaign is one part of a larger project. Klusak and Remunda are working on their senior thesis, a documentary film called Cesky Sen, starring duped shoppers, real advertisers, journalists and themselves. "There is a lack of media education here," Remunda said. "People don't verify information."
The Culture Ministry's board for the support and development of Czech cinematography approved a 1 million Kc ($38,500) loan for the project in May 2001. The money, said spokesman Jan Bernard, didn't come from taxes but from revenue from the sale of broadcast rights of older Czech films. "Scientific studies of media and advertising effects also enjoy public funding support," Bernard said. "This is support for an artistic inquiry."
FAMU, as co-producers, supported the project with 938,000 Kc in technology and materials. Czech Television, also a co-producer, contributed less than 500,000 Kc, according to CT's documentary and publicity center chief producer Damian Kausitz.
The film students were inspired by a 2002 Incoma Research hypermarket study that reported 30 percent of Czechs shop mainly at hypermarkets, Remunda said. "This isn't a joke," said the 30-year-old. "We're taking this very seriously."
The film students even took on the real-life roles of businessmen. Remunda and Klusak negotiated with ad agency Mark/BBDO and with PR agency Protocol Services for advertising and publicity. With the agencies' help, previously nonexistent products came to life, even if only in the form of packaging, sporting the brand name "Cesky Sen." The products included cameras, banana nectar and light and dark beer. The duo consulted attorneys and mob-mentality experts. "If there is a lawsuit, we will be sued," Remunda said, "not someone else. We take full responsibility."
Pavel Brabec, president of the Association of Ad Agencies, estimated the value of the two-week campaign to be somewhere around 10 million Kc. Though difficult to measure, the Czech Republic boasts a fairly sophisticated 50 billion to 80 billion Kc advertising industry. This figure includes unmeasurable below-the-line (BTL) advertising, such as offers of free samples, packaging and direct-marketing communications as opposed to the measurable radio, television, movie theater and billboard ads. Above-the-line communications still make up the vast majority of ads in the country, unlike in the United States, where 60 percent of money flows into BTL activities.
As far as advertising goes, Cesky Sen wasn't a very successful campaign, according to Brabec. If the effect of the fairly large campaign is measured by how many turned up at the opening of the "hypermarket," 1,000 people isn't a lot, he said.
The advertising sector, though slowing down, is a healthy business in the Czech Republic. Powered mainly by mobile-network providers such as T-Mobile and Eurotel, it's been keeping up with, and in some cases surpassing, output in Western Europe, where advertising is in a slump. Despite a decline in consumer spending and weak economic growth, 15.7 billion Kc flowed into media advertising last year, for a 4.2 percent increase over 2001. Television spots attracted more than half this amount. Second to TV was print advertising. ARBOmedia predicts growth in 2003 to further slow to 3.9 percent, except for television spending, which should grow 5.7 percent. Commercial television can be credited for being the fuel behind this trend. The Internet is proving a powerful new draw, expected to attract some 230 million Kc in 2003. The next new hypermarket campaign will be more direct and transparent, said Tereza Urbankova, marketing director at the Flora Plaza shopping mall. "And there will be actual construction," she added, "so I don't believe future hypermarket campaigns will be compromised by Cesky Sen."
The irony of the phantom store's grand-opening day permeated a June 6 Cesky Sen press conference. A theme song, written by actor Tomas Hanak and ad-jingle writer Hynek Schneider, was played, while a staff member put dream products, one by one, out of sight into a covered shopping cart. Like a magic trick, the stack of goods subsequently disappeared. Reporters and other members of the media found themselves a live part of the experiment.
Cesky Sen, the film, is expected to address the questions Remunda and Klusak raised. It is due in movie theaters in February 2004.
Petra Pasternak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org