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05/31/2008

Red Ink

Slavoj Žižek quotes an old Eastern European joke in the introduction to his book Welcome to the Desert of the Real . The  joke goes like this: A Czech (or East German or Polish) worker is transferred to Siberia. He know that when he will write letters from Siberia to his friends at home they  will be read by the censors and so he tells his friends : "Let's establish a code: if a letter you receive from me is written in normal blue ink, it's true; if it is written in red ink, it's false." After a month, his friends receive a letter written in blue ink: "Everything is great here in Siberia: the shops are full, there is plenty of food, there are great and beautiful apartments, you can see all the latest Western films in the cinema and there are beautiful girls ready to go out with you - the only thing that you cannot get here is red ink."

These days, our shops are finally full in Eastern Europe (at least in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) and there are all the Western movies in the cinemas.  And advertising is wetting our appetite for more.  Advertising in Eastern Europe is shouting loud, celebrating products and services, assuming that people will keep their love affairs with brands that are pushing their primitive messages through TV.

Most of the manufacturers (both local and international) have bought into the cliche that, unlike  Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans must be treated with simple "push" advertising that "really sells."  These ads, packed with product benefits, might be good  for short-term sales but they don't  build an emotional connection between a brand and people.  The people featured in these ads have usually very little to do with the lives of people in the CEE region: they are just mannequins or people who are being used as metaphors for the products in the ads (or their  specific features). It is interesting how this approach has been used to tell the world about ourselves:

If there is ever a contest for ads packed with the most cliches about Prague, this ad must be a winner: blondes, alcohol, nice servants in wigs (is the servant standing for a reformed Czech taxi driver who is no longer stealing or beating his customers?) and Mozart (to signify culture). Has this ad been created to attract  more young English guys to Prague? Those that are stumbling out of their EasyJet planes and barfing before they reach passport control? Probably yes and the ad might do the job there - the guys might be encouraged to come to Prague on Friday evening, get drunk and get laid (if they overcome their shyness and need to do everything in a group ranging from 6 to 10), and then leave Prague Sunday evening, spending there $300 each. Is this ad going to attract to Prague the people that I have met in London - smart and affluent professionals? I doubt it - the ad might take away their  illusions about the creative potential of the people in Prague and Prague's genius loci

Our shops are overflowing with goods and we are getting fatter. The only thing that we are lacking is the red ink - to tell bits of truth about ourselves in an interesting way, as this (I believe) is the only way to build stronger brands - including the brand called the Czech Republic.