Letter From Paris: Operation Euro

Money has been on the minds of almost everyone frequenting the newsstand across from my apartment. The topic isn’t an unusual one for this working-class Parisian neighborhood. The worry isn’t how many francs it costs to buy a baguette at the boulangerie next door, but the coming of the Euro, the common European currency that debuts Jan. 1. Next year, European businesses will begin using both the Euro and the local currency. The changeover to the Euro is scheduled to be completed in 2002.
Why the concern? Neither French nor European authorities have credibly explained why adopting the Euro is a good move. “I have the feeling the middle class is going to be strangled by this,” laments one distressed woman at the newsstand.
With 11 countries now formally committed to using the Euro, the French are not alone in their apprehension. Recent poll data suggest that while generally supportive of the Euro, a significant majority in France is worried about the difficulties the transition will create. The Germans, meanwhile, harbor even more negative sentiments toward the Euro.
These collective worries have not gone unnoticed by four of Europe’s most prominent advertising executives, who hope to create a single Pan-European campaign that will help people use the new currency.
Jacques Seguela of Havas Advertising in France, Maurice Saatchi of M&C Saatchi in the U.K., Marco Testa of Italy’s Armando Testa and Konstantin Jacoby of Springer & Jacoby in Germany are trying to convince European authorities in Brussels that “ad men are required to help develop a campaign for the Euro,” explains Aldo Arroni, the European Parliament deputy leading the lobbying effort.
To date, only one meeting of the group, which also includes Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the European Union’s commissioner for monetary affairs, has been held. Though no actual creative work has been proposed, Seguela insists “the campaign shouldn’t be about the Euro itself, which is a very technical thing, but about Europe, which is the most beautiful idea of the 21st century.”
Jacoby adds that participants decided not to focus on using the Euro, since “you find information in the media every day. We considered that if you’re going to invest in such a project, it makes sense to develop a more emotional approach.”
For his part, Testa envisions a campaign that would discuss the Euro in vague terms. “The notion of Europe is not just about money but about ideals,” he says. “Creative work of this sort must strive to define these ideals.”
Despite such enthusiasm, none of these insights will materialize if the bureaucrats and elected officials in Brussels deny the need for a Pan-European approach to selling the new currency.
The good news? Seguela was encouraged by a European Parliament decision last November to consider Arroni’s proposal. “For the first time, parliament recognized the need to communicate information about the Euro. It voted for imagination,” Seguela says.
The next step, according to Arroni, would be to reassemble the four advertising chiefs for a hearing in Brussels. “We need ad people to explain why this project is important. If it works, the government will realize that we need a budget.”
If the project is approved, it will tentatively begin in January, although budgets have yet to be discussed. The Euro campaign would be open to any agency interested in pitching the account. Surprisingly, both Testa and Jacoby say they would not submit bids. “The four of us were asked to guide the project, not produce the spots ourselves,” Jacoby explains, while Testa calls their involvement “a contribution we would like to make to Europe.”
While the four ad leaders concentrate on prodding Brussels into action, efforts to educate the public about the Euro on a country-by-country basis are under way. In Italy, BGS DMB&B was asked by the government to develop domestic advertising, while Publicis has been assigned the same task in the Netherlands.
Since last year, French Finance and Economics Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been working with DDB & Co., the corporate communication subsidiary of DDB France. The annual budget for the Euro project, funded by the French government and the European Union, surpasses $6.5 million. DDB produced a 30-second spot and a brochure L’Euro et Moi (The Euro and me) last November. It was “just hard-core information about the new currency,” says Pierre Siquier, vice-chairman of DDB France. A new print campaign broke last week which is scheduled to run all year. It carries the tagline, “L’Euro fait la force” (The Euro is strength).
Still, some French critics charge that the government has been negligent in providing adequate information about the Euro. Siquier takes issue with this accusation, saying studies indicate that 60 percent of the French populace have seen part of last year’s campaign, and one-in-four people say they have read the brochure. But at the same time, he admits there is much more to be done to adequately educate the public.
To this end, Michel Le Clainche, communications director at the French Ministry, says the domestic advertising and communication program would kick into a high gear this year and continue at least into 2002. He says DDB will introduce a new print ad for the French daily press in early May and produce a new Euro TV spot before year’s end.
Le Clainche adds that the agency has been working with the minister to produce a three-pronged marketing approach for the Euro. “We have already augmented information for small and medium businesses here and will shortly introduce a program developed to educate children in schools throughout France,” he explains. The ministry, together with DDB, is also considering programs that target the less affluent as well as seniors.
While Le Clainche agrees that future work, especially television, needs to create a more emotional attachment to the Euro, he doesn’t believe, like Arroni, that such a plan will succeed at the European level. “The best way to give the Euro a soul is on a country-by-country basis, since the problems, vis-ˆ-vis the new money, are so different.”
Siquier seconds this notion. “A commercial in Spain or Italy, where people are enthusiastic about the Euro, would not work in Germany, where most people are against it,” he insists. “There could be misinterpretations; at worst, it could even be seen as some sort of joke.” For his part, Testa acknowledges the need to continue producing national campaigns, whether or not a Pan-European program is implemented. “Every country will have to solve its own problems,” he notes.
Though he dismisses the feasibility of a supranational advertising effort, Siquier recognizes the considerable challenges DDB faces in trying to ensure success for the project. “The most difficult aspect of the assignment is removing the fear for the French, while also creating a sense of enthusiasm for the Euro.”
Siquier, however, remains confident. He is certain DDB will succeed in explaining everything the public needs to know about the Euro. “But I’m still not sure how successful we’ll be in convincing everybody that the Euro is a good thing,” he admits. Just ask the people at the newsstand.
–Daniel Tilles can be reached at 100442.1706 compuserve.com

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