The Power of Advertising

The formula was easy: Find something the populace just loves and advertise it like crazy in a way that will generate a great deal of interest, have a huge opening ceremony, try to make amends. With that, the 2004 documentary, Czech Dream, by filmmakers, Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak, put a spotlight on a consumer culture that yearns for the next hypermarket (the Czech version of our big-box retailers), and the sheer power of advertising. You see, Czech Dream, the store they were promoting, never existed. It was all a hoax. 

The Rationale

“We were also loosely inspired by a happening by the theatre personality Petr Lorenc, who in 1997 distributed without paying a fee several hundred advertising posters for his fictitious hypermarket Gigadiga. The opening ceremony took place in an empty meadow, where Petr had placed a banner saying ‘Better to take a walk in the woods instead,’” said Remunda and Klusak. “Gigadiga opened at a time when hypermarkets became part of our lives. In the course of a mere five years, foreign investors built 126 of them. In Holland, a country the same size as the CzechRepublic, it took them quarter of a century. The Czechs started shopping in these hypermarkets more than people in the other post-socialist countries, and the new edition of the Czech dictionary of neologisms features words like hypermarketománie—a pathological addiction to shopping in hypermarkets, the worship of hypermarkets. We were mesmerised by Petr´s happening, because it didn’t strive to comprehend the problem intellectually but rather poetically. We resolved to undertake a subversive penetration into a world that an ordinary person usually doesn’t have a chance to enter, the playground of the CEOs of international corporations, marketing consultants, creative consultants, but also politicians—i.e. a group of people that has a serious impact on the environment we live in. We wanted the viewer to take a look backstage, where all those advertising images and these slogans full of freshness, joy and happiness are produced. We commissioned a campaign to promote nothing, for something nonexistent in reality, if you like, and we were curious to see what the advertising business was going to make of that challenge. Similarly as with judo, we used the strength of advertising so that its weight was used against its bearer.” 

The Campaign and Opening Day

“We were born in an advertisement free country, with Communist propaganda all over the place. And then it turned the other way around. Perhaps the author of the red slogan of the 1980’s, ‘Sovetský svaz, mírová hráz (Soviet Union, Dam of Peace)’ creates slogans for sanitary towels and detergent today,” said the filmmakers. “Our film does not present a simple thesis about the power of advertising, but tells a story about the people who collaborate with the advertising Moloch, who are paid for manipulating public opinion, our opinion, who look inside our heads in order to make their slogans penetrate even deeper. The attitudes of the ‘manipulators’ are confronted in the film with the opinions of the “manipulated“. Both camps are exposed through a seemingly absurd situation, and they are forced to define their attitude towards something that in reality doesn’t even exist.” 

The advertising campaign they ran to explore the psychology and manipulative power of consumerism was built on the “teaser” principle, the build-up of suspense and mystery. Designed by the multinational advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, The campaign reached covered all possible media including television and radio spots, 400 illuminated billboards, 200,000 flyers promoting Czech Dream brand products, an advertising song, a website, and print ads in newspapers and magazines. For two weeks, the streets of Prague were littered with ads promoting the fake hypermarket. The interesting thing about the ads is that they were so counter-intuitive, saying things like: Don't Go, Don't Rush, Don't Spend, Don’t Stand in Line—Opening May 31st at 10am!—Where, you’ll find out soon!.Prague. There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the barriers were opened, allowing the people to go to the brightly-colored hypermarket. However, when they got close, the crowd found only the dream hypermarket's 10m high and 100m wide façade. While the event itself went fairly well—the old women making their way across the field was a bit sad—the weeks leading up to it had their tough moments. In fact, they only released the address of the “Grand Opening” a couple of days before the event itself. Over 4,000 people showed up for the big day at a field in 

“We had to work with a renowned PR agency, which developed a ‘defensive strategy’ in case all hell broke out,” said Remunda. “At the time when two Czech dailies wrote that Czech Dream was a fraud, that it was owned by Czech Television and that the ad campaign cost hundreds of thousands of crowns, our PR agency issued a statement and forced the media to publish it. We claimed, for instance, that the campaign did not cost hundreds of thousands but millions, or that we were not owned by Czech TV. We learned by first hand experience that the ‘defensive strategy’ works.” 

The Bottom Line: Lessons of Czech Dream

As a showcase for the power and influence of advertising, Czech Dream certainly delivers. In fact, there are advertising lessons to be learned, so take some notes when you see it. It is also true that the adverting and PR executives involved knew it was all a hoax and that they gladly joined in, but what they didn’t get was that they were actually part of the joke. That the filmmakers refer to an “advertising Moloch,” that is a demon of advertising, sums up their feelings about advertising. All that is good and instructive, but the film also highlights something else that small businesses here in the US need to face; the possibility that the same hypermarketománie (hypermarketmania) that has become so common in the CzechRepublic will come here as well. 

That the Czech people would have identified and named this problem is easy to understand. With 126 new hypermarkets built over a five-year period in a country with a population comparable to Pennsylvania, there is obviously a demand for these things far greater than one would normally imagine. 

The advantage of the hypermarket is that it offers a wide selection of products so that consumers can do their marketing at a single store, rather than having to go from place to place. One reviewer for FutureMovies wrote, “…its horrifying to go on a tour of a Czech branch of Tescos [a European hypermarket chain] and realize that soon people will literally live their life out in hypermarkets: born in their hospitals, clothed and fed and housed by them, and finally buried by them.” Is this happening today? To an extent, yes it is. However, the odds of Wal-Mart or Target getting into the medical, wedding or funeral business is slight, but you can’t say the odds are zero. After all, in addition to movie theatres and restaurants, some Czech hypermarkets do offer chapels where weddings and other religious services can be performed. 

Here in the US today, price and convenience rather than entertainment and religious services work to the advantage of the big boxes, but that is all. What do you, the small business owner, have to compete? You have quality products and good customer service. The Czech hypermarkets have already realized this and are introducing more and more quality goods and services, but that lesson seems to be lost here in the US where price is king. True, your purchase volume may not give you the same discounts that the hypermarket has, but then the products these big players are buying are mostly cheap, bottom of the line or off-brand stuff. With them, it is all about price. For you it’s about quality. Those who appreciate quality will come to you. So will those who appreciate good customer service. One thing that is true of the big-box stores is that you need to know what you are looking for before you walk in. Why? You need to know what you want because the salespeople at most of these places are worse than useless. It isn’t necessarily their fault, either. With poor training, poor wages, poor benefits, low morale and chronic, purposeful understaffing; there is no wonder that the big-box customer experience is about as pleasant as a trip to the DMV to get new license plates. 

That is a gap you need to exploit, the fact that people only go to those stores for prices and convenience, not because the products are wonderful of that it is even a great place to shop. It is possible to compete and win if you advertise relentlessly within your market to create and build awareness, keep the quality of your goods high, the pricing competitive and concentrate on making the customer experience the best it can be. 

For more information on the film, Czech Dream, click here.