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Slovenia: Advertizers Of The 'New Europe' Mushroom

Ljubljana, 13 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Advertising has come a long way in Central and Eastern Europe since market reforms began.

From the days of boring television announcements with talking heads reading out lists of products available in the shops, the region now boasts one of the fastest growing advertising markets.

Home-grown agencies have mushroomed everywhere from the Baltic to the Black Sea, although multi-nationals still tend to dominate the market.

One country that differs is Slovenia. Its advertising industry was already growing up in the 1960's. Then, under Yugoslavia's more flexible brand of socialism, companies were allowed to set up so-called "economic propaganda departments." By the time the first independent agency, Studio Marketing, was born in Ljubljana in 1973, originally serving the whole of Yugoslavia, a relatively sophisticated advertising market already existed.

Other agencies were spawned, and when independence arrived in 1991, the industry was well-established. The small size of the market meant that pressure from foreign competitors was less intense than in other larger countries like the Czech Republic or Russia.

Today with domestic agencies leading the way, Slovenia's advertising industry is thriving with growth expected to continue at 15 to 20 percent a year.

Jure Apih, a founding member of Studio Marketing, felt that other countries in Central and Eastern Europe that were new to the business could benefit from Slovenia's experience. Three years ago he launched the Golden Drum Advertising Festival of the New Europe.

Held annually in Slovenia's coastal town of Portoroz, the festival brings together producers, directors and advertising managers from countries such as Lithuania, Hungary, Macedonia, Russia and Georgia.

"It is much more than just a festival," says Apih. "It is a school where people from different countries can meet to exchange their opinions and experience." He sees the domination of foreign advertising agencies that followed their clients into Central and Eastern Europe as a form of cultural imperialism.

"We don't want the development of Western advertising in the East," he says in an interview in his office. "What we want is for our own industry to develop."

Jiri Mikes, director of the Czech Association of Advertising Agencies and one of the festival's judges, is not so troubled by this.

"The multi-nationals have brought experience and know-how to our country which is being passed on to young people who are working there," he says in an interview in Prague. "In five or six years time those people will be able to use this experience to set up on their own agencies."

Interest in the festival, partly the result of intense promotional activities, has blossomed. At the first festival in 1994, there were 533 entries from 12 countries. This year, those figures have doubled with nearly a thousand entries from 29 countries. There are awards for television commercials, posters and promotional material which are divided according to subject matter. Toiletries, beauty products and financial services are just some of the categories judged by an international panel of experts.

Humor is a prominent feature of advertising in what festival organizers call the New Europe. Mikes says that, according to research, Czechs see humor as one of the most important ingredients in advertising. Similar trends have been noted elsewhere in the region.

One television commercial that has done well in competitions is for a Russian carmaker. In a parody of a local communist party meeting senior officials urge their comrades to buy one particular brand of car instead of another said to be "too bourgeois."

Although the joke may be lost on some Westerners, the hope is that through the festival new forms of expression and ideas in advertising such as these will be given wider recognition.

This is part three of a three-part series about Slovenia's transition economy.