Romanian brands survive capitalist transition through reinvention

Newsroom 25/10/2010 | 15:21

Communism gave Romanians little in the way of consumer choice. With the arrival of capitalism and the extension of product ranges, one might have expected many of the old brands to just disappear, victims of their more colorful Western counterparts. Yet today, many of these brands offer a survival story. BR takes a behind-the-scenes look at their local and sometimes international success.

Corina Dumitrescu


Romania was one of the few countries in the Eastern Bloc to have the opportunity of constructing its very own national and affordable vehicle, similar to Germany’s car of the people, the Volkswagen. Carmaker Dacia was founded in 1966 near Pitesti. The Dacia 1100 was the first model released by the Romanian auto manufacturer in 1968, under a Renault 8 license. The carmaker was state-owned until 1999, when it was privatized and became part of Renault Group.

And that is the key moment when Dacia’s fortunes changed. From 2000, regular communication campaigns were rolled out, turning Dacia into more of an international brand than a local name. Models of latter years, such as the Solenza, Logan, Sandero and Duster, have notched up impressive sales not only within Romania’s borders, but outside – figures that the communist regime could only have dreamed of presenting through propagandistic, self-aggrandizing messages.

In the first semester of 2010, Dacia sold over 181,000 vehicles, according to official information from the group, an increase of 18.2 percent compared to 2009. In Western Europe, over 123,000 automobiles were sold in the first semester of 2010.

Sorin Psatta, integrated communication director at the local branch of Graffiti BBDO, the agency that has been managing the Dacia account since 2000, attributes the local brand’s success to its association with Renault. “Old Dacia 1300 models are in fact Renault 112 vehicles. Romanians have never had the tradition or the expertise to construct vehicles, unlike the French producer, therefore the experience and warranty that Renault Group brings is more than welcome and represents a ‘reason why’, as advertisers put it, which is very important in the decision to purchase a vehicle produced in Mioveni.”

Image-wise, in Romania it may seem Dacia has been constantly struggling to escape the inheritance of its forebears’ reputation as barely functional communist vehicles. However, in the last ten years, the brand has focused on functionality, comfort and affordability, with no emphasis on nationality. The Dacia Solenza, for example, was presented in 2003 as a surprising vehicle, that one should try before judging. The carmaker’s slogan back then was “Dacia, on the right road”. When the Logan was released in late 2004, it was the promised EUR 5,000 car, and, like its forerunner, had nothing Romanian about its message. Through ads such as “The Wedding”, “The Car Chase” and “Bad Boy” (for Logan Diesel), the Dacia has been depicted as an adventurous and highly sought after vehicle, with a younger and more fun-oriented target audience, and parallels with action films such as James Bond.

Interestingly, associations with communism are not at all controversial in Western countries when it comes to the Dacia. In the German spot “Revolution”, for example, some of the world’s most infamous communist leaders, along with other keynote personalities in recent history, are gathered together in the same location presenting Dacia as the invention for the people that they had all been looking for.

In Romania, however, no such associations are made. The younger audience, less and less connected with communism, is now a very important target for the brand. A new campaign will start for the Dacia Sandero on October 25, with a very important online component, promoting a model that has a smartphone incorporated, “in order to serve the urban audience’s needs”, Graffiti BBDO officials explain.

Rom Tricolor was the first Romanian chocolate bar, created in 1964 by the Excelent company, which under capitalism became Kandia Excelent and was later taken over by Kraft. Unlike in the case of Dacia, which chose not to make associations with its history through its communication campaigns, Rom has constantly used ironic messages related to its Romanian past and identity.

Rom has focused its communication strategy on consistency. The chocolate’s packaging, logo and taste have not changed significantly over the years. In 2005, Rom Tricolor took its communication to the next level. McCann Erickson Romania, the brand’s advertising agency, started a campaign under the slogan “Strong sensations since 1964”, in which communist realities like propaganda and censorship were presented ironically, as a bittersweet ingredient that one might associate with the chocolate bar and acknowledge as part of his or her past and identity.

More recently, however, Rom took its controversial tactics even further. In a time of economic, social and political turmoil, Romanians seem to no longer take pride in their nationality and it is no secret that emigrating has been on the majority’s lips these days. According to sources quoted by McCann Erickson, 80 percent of young Romanians want to leave the country and only 12 percent regard themselves as patriots. Romanians seem to have a special relationship with foreigners and practice some form of “reactive patriotism”.

Therefore, at the start of October, the Rom chocolate bar was released in new packaging, bearing the American flag, as well as a new slogan, “The taste of coolness”. Luckily, the teasing stage of this new campaign only lasted for a week, and soon resulted in Rom’s return to its Romanian roots, as requested by the public through the reactive patriotism mentioned above. The brand is now focused on proud Romanian messages, with allusions to the national anthem and local sayings and a return to the “strong Romanian sensations” slogan.

Rom’s temporary American rebranding saw Facebook groups, online petitions and short films from young consumers calling for a return to the old Rom. Some 12,000 people joined forces against the brand’s new image and in just one hour and in one store, the American Rom sold 200 chocolate bars, data from McCann Erickson shows.

Some iconic Romanian brands predate communism, with one example being CEC Bank. The CEC brand’s story began almost 150 years ago, when it was founded by Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. A milestone in the bank’s history came in 1948, when CEC renounced its status of the central bank of Romania and again became the only savings bank and credit institution. In 1996, CEC began its modernization process and became a bank-stock company, having the Romanian state as its sole shareholder.

In 2008, however, at the decision of the bank’s new CEO, Radu-Gratian Ghetea, a rebranding process was started, both through internal and external communication. CEC had to change the perception inherited from communism as the people’s only option to stash their cash to a full-service modern bank. Although CEC had become functional as a bank earlier, only in 2008 did the message become clear, especially through the addition of the word bank in CEC’s official title.

A new logo was created for the bank’s 1,404 agencies across Romania. A yellow-and-green oak leaf, a symbol of tradition and resistance, replaced the former sign that showed a moneybox into which a coin was being inserted. Several advertising spots were created by Papaya advertising agency, highlighting the brand’s proud and nostalgic association with tradition, as well as its rebirth from the ashes. So far, CEC’s rebranding process has resulted in an increase in the bank’s market share from 4 percent in 2008 to 6 percent in 2010 and several national and international awards for the branding process created with the aid of Brandient agency.

Tarom, the Romanian Air Transport company, a brand that has existed on the Romanian market for 56 years, but with roots that go even further back into history, is another example of a local company seeking a more coherent brand message. This year marks the company’s first image campaign in its history, started after research showing the brand’s current perception in Romania. Romanians associate the name with “a traditional and trustworthy airline”, “convenient flight times”, as well as “a familiar brand”. Although the research reveals that Tarom has values that make Romanians proud, it is still perceived as an old-fashioned brand.

Though the budget for the company’s image campaign is small to medium, reaching around 0.3 percent of the total turnover, hopes are that it will have a strong impact, whose results will be measured at the end of the campaign in December, in order to decide a long and medium-term communication strategy, says Ruxandra Brutaru, Tarom’s GM. The new campaign was developed with the aid of Ogilvy advertising agency and through its most recent TV spot focuses on the message that “In order to be someone, you have to get somewhere”. In its new communication campaign, Tarom also highlights its membership of the Sky Team alliance, a brand of international resonance, the second-largest airline alliance in the world.

The journeys of these brands seem to suggest that the secret of success lies in reinvention to reflect the transition from communism to consumerism. Joining the names above are Farmec cosmetics, Dero detergents and Arctic refrigerators and others, all with the stories of adapting to the brave new business world.

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