An alien spaceship hovers over a dusty, recession-hit Spanish town and is confronted by a young man looking up: “Now that we’re down in the dumps you think you can conquer us?”
It’s a beer advert, one of a string of new TV commercials that tackle the downturn head-on, trying to lure hard-hit buyers by appealing to Spanish values of friendship, family, and proud resistance.
In the alien attack — an advert for Mahou beer — the hero, gradually surrounded by gathering friends and family, warns the invaders: “You don’t know us.”
He boasts of friends who are like brothers, supportive grandparents, watching the town football team, the attraction of the local bar, and finding thrills in anything, even scoring a goal.
“So, you’d better go back where you came from,” says the defiant Earthling as the spaceship gives up and shoots off to find easier prey.
Carlos Murillo, head of the Mahou account at Spanish advertising agency Sra Rushmore, said the aim was to lift viewers’ spirits.
“It is true this is a difficult time, it is true the news is not so good but I think we all have a lot of other reasons to find a bit of optimism, a bit of happiness, really that is the message,” he said.
Even bottled water brand Font Vella sells itself with a message of defiance in a nation suffering a 24.4-percent jobless rate and where retail sales plummeted a record 9.8 percent in April.
Its commercial toasts all those who “thirst to carry on fighting despite everything,” as a restaurant owner is filmed opening up the shutters of his business in the morning.
Advertisers are latching on to a powerful theme of resistance in Spanish society going back to the Napoleonic occupation, said Antoni Gutierrez Rubi, author, political consultant and communications advisor.
“In this sense resisting the crisis or resisting the malignant agents of the crisis, resisting adversity, has prestige. Resistance has that heroic touch that makes it patriotic,” he said.
Family links, too, were essential to resisting the economic crisis, with many Spaniards returning to their parents’ or even grandparents’ homes to survive hardship.
“The structure of practical and natural solidarity in the extended family is very important in Spain,” Rubi said.
In a starker campaign ahead of Spain’s Euro 2012 football campaign, a Coca-Cola advert shows rioters in burning streets, aggressive opposing fans waving their fists, one player kicking another in the chest.
News headlines flash on the screen: “Five million jobless”; “Europe mistrusts Spain”; and “Corruption drowns Spain”. One image shows the shell of a half-finished apartment block. An English-speaking television news presenter asks: “Please tell us, just how black is the future of the Spanish economy?”
A Spain fan then takes a business newspaper with the headline “Freefall”, tears it into pieces and throws it like confetti over a crowd of cheering fellow supporters in the stadium.
To rousing music, a series of glowing text and video messages follows about Spain’s charity work, a rescuer comforting a child in the quake-struck southern town of Lorca, and Spaniards’ record as donors of organs and blood.
“We will show Europe what we are capable of when we’re together,” the advert concludes with the Coke sign-off: “Open Happiness”.
Fernando Cano Cadiz, editor in chief of PR Noticias, said brands were reaching out to the “human feeling and traditional values” of Spaniards.
Football helped advertisers to tap into national sentiment, despite each of the country’s 17 powerful regions having its own history and culture.
“The Spanish team has captured those values, but that is also largely because of its success,” he said.
A tracking survey by market researcher TNS published this week by PR Noticias showed one in three Spaniards could spontaneously link a brand with sponsorship of the Spanish football team.
Big brands thus understand the value of attaching their names to the sport, he said.
Far from appealing to the excitement of football, the financial sector crisis in Spain inspired one bank, Banesto, to advertise the benefits of its boring reliability.
Banesto boasts of the fact that it does not have ultra-modern offices; it is not a “happy” bank; it does not have branches in exotic countries; and does not take risks.
“We are Banesto, the bank that learned to do things differently and today, thanks to that, does everything a good bank should do; manage your money in a responsible, solvent way,” says its TV ad, as a bank manager is shown slowly sharpening a pencil.
“And we understand that today more than ever this is the kind of bank we all need.”
It is a message tailored for a country where the banking sector is tottering on a massive pile of bad loans after a property boom went bust in 2008.