The view from Greece

Dannos Tsakalos, Advertising Editor, Marketing Week

Issue 24 | September 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Wherever you look Direct Marketing is on the rise and clearly has a bright future because it’s all about relationships. But what about in Greece? How successful is Direct in the land of low budgets, safe decision-making and lost dreams?

Three prominent Greek creatives share their views with journalist and blogger Dannos Tsakalos.

Direct was, is and always will be the true essence of marketing”, says Gideon Amichay, Jury President of this year’s Cannes Direct Lions. He is a passionate advocate of Direct because he knows that it is a lot more than a medium or a discipline. It is a mentality that puts people at the centre of all that it does; a communication tool with a conscience which, if used properly, can build long-lasting relationships.

Such was the case with “Small Business Saturday”, the Grand Prix winner at Cannes in both Direct and Promo, which struck a chord with consumers, small business owners and employees.

Direct Marketing is indeed about building and prolonging relationships and, as Amichay adds, “relationships have the power to change the world.” 

Soaring numbers and the Greek case

Nowadays, we do not really know what is Direct and what isn’t any longer. What is crystal clear, though, is that Direct Marketing is becoming an increasingly vital component within the marketing mix. This year at Cannes, for instance, 2,357 entries were submitted from 72 countries, which means that, since 2009, the number of entries has risen by a startling 72.8%.

So, yes, Direct seems to be the new darling of marketers. But what’s the story in a debt-ridden country like Greece? Is it still treated as the leftovers of above-the-line? Or have shrinking budgets and the adverse economic environment changed perceptions and forced marketing decision-makers to take another look at it?

Obscure no more

In spite of the massive cuts in ATL budgets, nothing has changed in Greece. The advertising model remains the same. It is still focusing on how to maximize interruption through traditional media”, claims Dimitris Savvakos, Creative Director at OgilvyOne Athens, a creative powerhouse, which has won the last 4 Ermis Grand Prix in Direct.

(N.B. The Ermis Awards are the annual awards presented in Greece by the Hellenic Association of Communication Agencies.)

One of the shortcomings of the market is that “most brands are not aiming at building relationships with consumers”.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. Digital is clearly on the rise. According to the latest study by IAB Europe, Greece may be Western Europe’s smallest online advertising market but it is also the region’s fastest growing, at 19.7%. And, despite the fact that, “agencies and marketers are not trying to build one-to-one relationships with consumers”, there are definitely more and more worthwhile exceptions to the current norm.

Representing Day6, an independent agency that has won its fair share of accolades, Managing Director Panos Theokas is relatively optimistic. “The economic crisis has made clients more sceptical and hesitant,” he says. “ They continuously seek to invest their money in ways that will give back more direct and measurable effectiveness. That is why, along with the massive growth of new media, they think of Direct Marketing more than they used to”.

Similarly, Loukas Petrounias, Executive Director at Solid Communications and one of the most renowned Greek Direct Marketers, recalls that he has “Spent almost 15 years in the industry, working out that fascinating ‘direct’ point of view in advertising challenges.

It was always a fight, he says. You had those big, fat 30-second TV campaigns handled by relaxed agency colleagues happy with their big budgets. Then, way down in terms of importance there were us Direct, Promo, Digital and below-the-line line guys trying to execute some sort of Mission Impossible everyday, waiting for our 10 minutes in a two-hour agency presentation.

 But love conquers all: we were always looking for that big smile after sex. Get to know the consumer, seduce him, date and get back for more. Not just big advertising promises but relationships”.  

And they never gave up. So, nowadays, he thinks “...we’re pretty hot! Now, there’s less to spend, we are the people who know who clients should be talking to, when, where, and how to spend their money to get the job done. Direct Marketing is the new black in advertising”.

The Digital connection

How popular is Direct Marketing these days? Well, P. Theokas confirms: “Its popularity has increased compared to previous years”. An increase, though, that “may not apply to total numbers since there is a quite large reduction of total spending”. However, he is hoping that, despite a stagnant economic environment, “the rise of Direct Marketing will push forward the whole communications business in Greece”.

This may actually happen if spending does, indeed, boom in the years to come, especially if we add Digital to the equation.

As L. Petrounias points out: “By definition (since it is targeted, creates reactions and delivers measurable results) Digital is Direct and, as it goes, Direct is Digital. So, Direct/Digital spending is certainly rising in a market where traditional advertising budgets are falling”.

This is borne out by the evidence. For the first time, Greece has reported a triple-digit ad spend in online at just over 100 million euro in 2011.

So, how much of a client’s budget do Direct & Digital hoover up? “Around 20%, partly because in Greece TV still dominates the conversation. But it’s only a matter of time”, asserts Petrounias. “Take a look at the US. More than 51% of advertising spend now goes to Direct Marketing. It’s the big thing with online, mobile and social media platforms driving the market”.

The good, the bad and the crisis

People say that great ideas are often born in times of crisis. Is it wishful thinking? Things we keep saying in order to boost our confidence and get going in turbulent times? Ali Ali, Founder of Elephant Cairo and a 3-time Grand Prix winner at the Dubai Lynx Festival, is adamant that “Bad times are great times for doing good ads”. Likewise, Geoffrey Hantson, Executive Creative Director at Duval Guillaume Modem and winner of 14 Lions this year in Cannes, insists that “We should see crisis as a huge opportunity for creativity”.

Here is his way of thinking: “In a crisis, budgets are smaller, yes. But the good thing is that small must always outsmart. i.e. smaller budgets need bigger ideas. And nowadays, advertisers are willing to take a bit more risk.” Because, deep down, they know that the biggest risk is not taking any risks at all.

What do Greek creatives believe? Has the long recession shackled their creativity or has it been, in fact, beneficial? And, in general, how satisfied are they with the overall quality of local Direct Marketing?

In recent years, we have seen innovative campaigns that could stand out in any competition”, says L. Petrounias, before admitting that “There are certain areas, like field promotions, events and sponsorship activations which, because of the tough economic crisis we’re facing, have not been everything they might have been.” However, every coin has two sides. And the Executive Director at Solid Communications makes clear that “I’m more excited today with the work I see than I was five years ago”.

Answering the same question, P. Theokas agrees.

“There are some projects that really stand out and show that these hard times can have a positive effect on creativity.” And, to illustrate the point he mentions the Day6 idea “Shoot ‘em down”, which is “A project with almost no budget but with great creative implementation. Using plain stationery we designed and constructed a battery of fully operational weapons to fight high prices. It is an idea inspired by the crisis and which has clinched awards in Greece and abroad”.

D. Savvakos rates the overall quality of Greek campaigns as ‘average’. “Agencies and brands should see people not as consumers but as real people. And they should create campaigns which can offer problem-solving tools and solutions and make people’s everyday lives more interesting. Let’s run projects that celebrate and collaborate with the innovative side of society”.

The evolutionary road

It seems to be a unanimous belief that the standard of work in Greece can improve. The question is, however, what does Greek Direct Marketing need to do in order to evolve?

For instance, should agencies and clients be trying to make more of the vast potential of new technologies?

P. Theokas thinks that “This is exactly what has to be done. We have to make the most out of the new technologies and take advantage of clients’ positive reaction. And, of course, we have to persuade them that Direct Marketing is the medium with the most measurable results”.

D. Savvakos, on the other hand, agrees that “Technology offers agencies the right tools to build relationships”, but maintains that technology should not be the backbone of Direct and Digital communications. Rather this needs to be the desire “to create honest and engaging connections with people”. The same applies to campaign results, which, according to the OgilvyOne Creative Director, should not be used only as proof of a campaign’s success but also as tools that help form new connections between the brand and people.

In terms of embracing technology, L. Petrounias believes the market is right on track. “When you look at our local advertising awards, every year you see nominations where technology is part of the campaign DNA”. That said, he believes Direct Marketing in Greece needs two more things: Firstly, “The market’s vote of confidence. We need our clients to understand how every single piece of their brand’s dialogue puzzle has changed. Direct is not a channel anymore. It’s how things work. It’s the customer speaking. We need to let go in a unified, innovative way so we can start selling brands again by co-creating. What else do we need? Data is more relevant that ever. Therefore, we need the people, the talent and the methods to transform all that amazing info-feed so it becomes relevant and meaningful to marketing”.

A drama with a happy ending?

So, what do these experts predict for the future of Direct Marketing in a country where words like ‘bailout’ and ‘bankruptcy’ are daily vocabulary? Could recession actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise?

D. Savvakos is confident. “This might be the right time to experience a renaissance of Direct Marketing. Unfortunately, Greek advertising seems to be stuck in the same old model of previous decades. The emergence of Digital and the impact of the economic crisis have instilled a small change, but real transformation will occur only if it includes the whole society and consumer behaviour.”

Speaking about the future, P. Theokas declares that “The future will be difficult not only for Direct Marketing, but for Greece.” But then again, “We have to be optimistic. We owe it to ourselves. Let’s turn the difficulties into opportunities, let’s try harder and hope that, as a country, as a part of the communication industry and as Direct Marketers, we will make it work!

Lastly, L. Petrounias confirms that “This crisis is a big one” and suggests it’s about time “to regulate our market, leave the good guys standing and focus again on what is most important. And results are important, sales are important, human behaviour is important. In that way, Direct Marketing could benefit. Not because you don’t have the money for a big TV push but because you realize that things have changed.

Take a look at Cannes this year: small businesses get their own official day and Fuelband is not Direct, Digital, it’s neither above or below, it is simply the way to work today.

Co-create the users’ experience, bring business to life, and enjoy the ride. Is that advertising? Well, it’s certainly Direct Marketing”.

As was evident once again this year in Cannes and may become the norm in Greece, advertising can be a charming, efficient and fascinating way to infuse purpose and heart into the DNA of a brand and to amplify its positive impact on people’s lives.

Submit Your Work

Send us your work for the next issue of Directory using our submissions form


Inspiration monthly via Email

Sign Up

Current Issue

Issue 62