Anne Holland

What I Learned on Summer Vacation in Croatia: Advertising in Eastern Europe

June 6th, 2005

I just stumbled off a plane a few hours ago, so forgive me if this isn’t completely coherent. I left half my brain back on vacation in sunny Croatia (the coastal part of the former Yugoslavia).

English is rarely spoken there because most tourists are from Italy and Germany. Croatians all learned a little English in school, which they remember about as well as I recall high school French (not very).

This doesn’t stop English from being used frequently as a marketing device — as you would a dash of spice in soup. Toss a few English-language words into a store display poster or a brand name tag-line and consumers know your brand is youthful and cutting edge. Hence “Montana” brand sandwiches, and signs offering “free shit” at Internet cafes.

There are lots of Internet cafes, but few eretail sites as, like many Europeans, locals don’t use credit cards much (let alone trust them on the Web yet). So, the Web is largely an offline-traffic-driving device.

Out-of-home roadside advertising is huge, and creative often matches the ads playing on TV. Most towns are small and centralized enough that you can completely saturate (and dominate) everyone’s consciousness with your billboard campaign.

There’s a downside to this: creative has to be incredibly good because your ad is *so* noticeable and unceasingly noticed during the weeks it’s up. If consumers don’t like your ad, your brand may suffer a lot more than it would in the US where it’s hard to get any eyeball time, let alone saturation.

(I wonder if that’s what it was like sponsoring TV in the 1950s here.)

One hardy entrepreneur is trying to get a cafe bathroom stall advertising company going. The ads for the service are, naturally, posted in a few cafe restrooms. And, they show — honest to god — photos of actual people in stalls eagerly looking at ads as they … do their business. It’s not quite as horribly explicit as it sounds, but awfully funny.

My absolutely favorite cafe didn’t have the ads (yet anyway). If you’re in the ancient seaside city of Zadar, definitely stop in at The Garden, where you can lounge on white canvas sofas under gently rustling trees as the waiter brings you another round (

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