The Marketing of Money

For all of the emotionally charged debate about Europe’s single currency, the marketing countdown to the Jan. 1 debut of the euro is surprisingly apolitical and understated. Rather than winning hearts with impassioned rhetoric, the European Central Bank is using hard information to battle apathy among the 302 million Eurozone citizens who have put off confronting the inevitable switch. The long-awaited fourth-quarter communications strategy, from Publicis Groupe, sets the stage for the biggest monetary conversion in history.

Given the difficulties of selling trust across varying national levels of euro acceptance, the ECB’s emphasis on information is a practical solution to a formidable marketing problem. The sheer dimensions of the communications target are staggering. The campaign must speak in one voice to Europeans of all ages and all income and educational levels. Some of these consumers are deaf, blind, illiterate, homeless. All of them must be made to feel comfortable with an unknown entity that will be essential to their grocery bills, mortgages, pensions and life savings.

Publicis has been working on the launch for two years. “None of us has been involved with anything on this scale before,” says Joanna Baldwin, Publicis’ British-born worldwide head of new business, who led the pitch for the assignment. While the agency’s primary charge from the ECB is logistical, its campaign aims to combat consumer indifference while explaining product attributes.

Just 44 days from now, some 15 billion banknotes and 56 billion coins will be shipped to the 12-country Eurozone, which reaches from the Arctic boundaries of Finland to the sunny shores of Crete. Dual currencies will be in effect for a brief period as banks, retailers, ATMs and vending machines retool; most of the Euro pean Mon etary Union’s participating countries will eliminate their native currencies by March 1.

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of the euro are concerned about the potential for chaos and confusion. Thus, getting across the Pan-European message in the $70 million (euro 80 million) pitch for the ECB is crucial. While bank assets and consumer goods have been marked in both native denominations and euros since January 1999, most consumers have treated the currency’s imminent arrival with a ready-or-not shrug.

“The discussion [among Europeans] is not about the acceptance of the euro in general but about, ‘How do I familiarize myself with it?’ ” says Barbara Lutz, head of Publicis Euroboro, the agency team mobilized for the rollout. “We found there was no correlation between how positive Europeans felt about it and how much they knew about it. Our task was independent from the level of acceptance. Our task was to inform.”

In September 2000, research by the ECB showed 46 percent of Eurozone citizens didn’t know the euro becomes legal tender on New Year’s Day 2002. By this September, only 8 percent of those affected didn’t know the exact date that the euro banknotes and coins will be introduced. Progress, to be sure, but while Euro pean consumers are better aware of the euro, they’re not necessarily more accepting of it at this point.

As a product, the euro has existed only as a virtual entity, with Europeans’ negative perceptions fueled by the currency’s well-publicized decline in value against the dollar. Europeans are still grumbling over the loss of their long-familiar national currencies. They still think companies will round up newly converted euro prices. They fear the price of a liter of milk will shift along with the value of the euro against the dollar. The French are predicting a 15 percent rise in the price of a baguette. Italians gripe they’ll need larger wallets to make room for euro notes and coins. Irish priests are voicing concern about a dropoff in the collection plate. It may take more than marketing to win over many Europeans. The skeptics want to see the system working before they support the conversion.

Publicis’ advertising blitz kicked off in mid-September, using the terse statement, “The EURO. OUR money.” TV and print ads stick to the facts, introducing the new notes and coins and explaining their security features, since counterfeiting has been a major concern. (For that reason, Eurozone banks and retailers only began receiving the currency Sept. 1. The money was under such tight security during Publicis’ shoot for the TV spots that armed guards manned the set. Only an essential group was allowed in, and not even company CEO Maurice Lévy was granted access.)

TV advertising was created to run in two phases. Initial spots, which aired in September and October, repeatedly told 300 million Europeans, of different cultures, dreams and expectations, that they would share a single currency starting Jan. 1. While touting the launch date, the spots underscored the euro’s importance to Europeans’ lives. Playing off the range and scale of the launch, the ads featured generic images that would be understood in various countries. Footage included a violinist and a flutist playing in the ruins of a Greek temple, a woman and a boy performing a dance in a dusty Mediterranean square, a young boy buying apples from a farmer and clubbers at a disco.

The second round, airing this month and next, provides more specific information about currency denominations and security precautions to protect against forgery. The TV spots use voiceovers rather than dialogue, thus avoiding badly matched dubbing into the campaign’s 11 European languages. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Europeans will see the ads at least two or three times.

“We started on Sept. 17 with the launch of advertising that set the tone and emotion of the campaign,” Publicis’ Lutz says of the campaign. “First you reach the heart, then you speak to the mind.”

Print is designed to provide more details than broadcast. The ads feature Europeans having fun—at soccer games and at the seaside, on vacation and while shopping. Presumably, it’s fun made easier by a common currency.

“This is a product-driven campaign, focusing on product features,” says Joao de Almeida, the ECB’s project manager for the euro 2002 campaign. “It doesn’t address attitudes about being in favor of monetary union or not. That is better left up to individual ministries of finance in member countries.”

Lutz defends the pitch’s formulaicexecution, which could easily work to position any consumer brand. She cites the enormity of the target: more than 300 million “cash handlers.”

“Pan-European advertising works because it uses one key idea across markets,” she argues. “When we looked at the size of the changeover, we had a breakthrough in how to reach 300 million people: We’ll all have the same currency. We needed that key insight—the euro is shared across Europe—to explain about a product that people don’t have in hand yet.”

Lutz’s Euro boro unit, located near the ECB in Frank furt, Germany, is composed of 27 specialists from 13 countries who direct Publicis’ euro teams across Europe, focusing on advertising, direct marketing, public relations, business-to-business initiatives and the Web.

Advertising is just a small part of Publicis’ larger communications effort for the ECB. An eight-page leaflet called “Getting Ready for the Euro” is being sent to every European household, 200 million copies in all. European in-flight spots and airport ads alert EU and non-EU travelers alike about the pending change. Publicis has also signed up 2,600 corporate partners, including Nestlé, British Airways, IBM and McDonald’s, to set up their own internal educational efforts.

The Euroboro’s centralized team is said to have been structured to mirror client ECB’s bureau cratic operations. “These [ECB] people are working for a new organization and are not born communicators,” says a source. “It’s been a challenge at times.”

Not surprising, since the nearly 3-year-old ECB—whose function is analogous to that of the Federal Reserve in the U.S.—represents all 12 Euro pean Union countries that have chosen to mothball their currencies: Germany, Belgium, Lux em bourg, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, France, Ireland, Por tu gal, Austria and Finland. The euro was first named by the heads of state of the Euro pean Union at the Madrid Summit in 1995 and adopted by most of the member states in Jan uary 1999. (Three EU members, the U.K., Swe den and Denmark, are not currently switching to the euro. Sweden doesn’t meet currency-stability criteria yet, and Denmark rejected membership in a referendum last year. In Britain, pro-euro Prime Min i ster Tony Blair has indicated he may call a referendum, but the country so far has resisted retiring the pound.)

The ECB’s Almeida, who led the national euro campaign for the ministry of finance in his home country of Portugal, explains that Publicis’ current information-driven efforts work in tandem with the more emotionally focused communications developed by the individual ministries of finance in Eurozone countries.

The attitude-driven campaigns were started back in 1996 by countries adopting the euro, along with the European Commission and Parliament. “They have had more of a role in increasing acceptance,” Almeida says.

Those efforts have been handled by various marketing-services companies on a country-by-country basis. Spain, Italy, the Nether lands, Germany and France have all been running their own campaigns, for instance. In addition to the ECB’s Pan-European strategy, Publicis handles national campaigns in France and Ger many. Those campaigns underscore the need for efforts apart from the ECB’s Pan-European strategy.

“Each of the 12 countries has different issues,” says Lévy. “In Germany, for instance, losing the mark is very painful. After the collapse of the old mark led to the ruin of the German economy and the rise of Hitler, the new D-mark was developed into a very strong currency and the reflection of a strong postwar economy. It became a bit like a flag, a very proud, respected thing.

“In France, it’s a different situation because the French have no tears in the eye about losing the franc. But it’s complicated. It takes 6.55957 francs to get one euro. Even if you’re good in math, it’s a complex process.”

In response to that difficulty, the agency introduced Lise, a fresh-faced French schoolgirl, suggesting that if she can translate francs into euros, anyone can. She takes viewers through sign-posted tunnels that represent the major steps leading to the introduction of the euro. The campaign uses the tag, “The euro. Together, it’ll be easier.”

In Spain, TBWA, Madrid, developed the plasticine Los Garcia family to help introduce “cents” to a country used to pesetas. The family’s pet parrot, for example, begins dreaming in cents. The well-received campaign, with the theme “Euro. Yes, start to count with it,” also serves to show consumers a new, more accessible side of their government.

“Never before has a ministry in Spain communicated with the population in a nonofficial tone like this,” says Emma Herranz, account services director at TBWA, Madrid. “This is very unusual here. They were nervous, but now they see we are 30 percent above the rest in awareness, so they are fine.”

The Netherlands set up the National Forum for the Introduction of the Euro in 1999. Befitting Holl and’s inclusive social culture, the Dutch strategy has targeted groups ranging from the blind, deaf and elderly to ethnic minorities and entrepreneurs. For the country’s homeless, Hol land created informational place mats for shelters and kitchens that provide free meals. The Netherlands was among the first to put a heavy emphasis on educating children about the euro.

“If you want to develop a communications program for younger people—which we think is extremely important—schools are the place you want to be,” says Marcel Goossens, a principal at Amsterdam public relations firm Bureau DST, which works for the Dutch ministry of finance. “Almost 60 percent of the schools in the Netherlands work with euro materials, and younger children receive 150 minutes of euro education each year.”

Children are crucial to the educational pitch. In July 2000, the European Parliament cited youth organizations as playing “a very important role in acting as multipliers and disseminating information” and acknowledged the “important role children and young people can play in passing on [single currency] information to older generations.” Kids will be the first to use the new euro without recollection of national currencies.

In a national effort in Italy, children have read about the adventures of a cartoon duck who tries to replace 937 types of money on the planet Bazar with a common currency.

In Ger many, a children’s book, Die Euro Kids, follows a troupe of 15 children as they travel around Europe to find out whether people really want the new money.

Publicis’ Pan-European cam paign also places importance on kids. “Children are excellent communicators. They talk to their mothers, fathers, grandparents,” says Lutz. “They’re our future as well.”

The agency created a contest for children ages 8-12, encouraging entrants to become a “euro superstar” by answering five multiple-choice questions about euro banknotes and coins. Two winners from each country will be the first to receive euro banknotes and coins when they become legal tender.

Given their lack of political baggage and their willingness to adapt, young Europeans are an easy sell for the continent’s new single currency. Getting the attention of their parents and grandparents may prove even more difficult in the wake of recent world events. The imminent changeover, billed as Europe’s biggest economic shift since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been somewhat eclipsed by the terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“Our job has become more difficult since Sept. 11,” Almeida admits. “Everyone is in shock, and everyone in the streets, cafes, with family at home, talks about war. That affects the environment for our communications task. But our message has positive aspects, reminding people of what they have in common, and that’s no bad thing now.”