VILNIUS - A salty-looking sailor at the helm of a ship caught in stormy seas. A team of men pushing heavy stones up a jagged mountain face. A man speaking Lithuanian with an Estonian accent showing a group of Japanese tourists how scientists consult with fish to determine the water quality of Lithuanian rivers.
One needs no hallucinogenic substances to glimpse these scenes in Lithuania - only a television. The country's major breweries are bringing them to you, gratis, as part of the massive media campaigns they have launched this year.
In an industry where image means almost more than the product itself, beer has traditionally gobbled up more space in magazines and billboards and more airtime on television and radio than practically any other domestic product or service.
Yet 2004 has proven a banner year in beer advertising. As the natural effects of market maturation have conspired with adverse seasonal conditions to depress growth in the sector, prompting brewers are resorting to ever-zanier tactics to get their ales down Lithuanians' throats.
"There's definitely been an increase in advertising this year," says Audrius Vidzys, head of the Lithuanian Brewers' Association.
In his words, beer companies have embarked on the media blitz in order to prop up sales that have sagged due to the chilly summer weather. As producers depend on the hot summer months for their strongest sales, a cold and rainy May and June have depressed consumption enough to cause concern, if not alarm.
While the amount spent on advertising is a closely guarded secret, the brewers themselves admit they have gone on an ad-spending binge.
Kalnapilis, one of Lithuania's most popular beers, began a major campaign this March to introduce its new brands to consumers.
"We've been concentrating mostly on our new product launches. We saw that the market has been sleeping for the past two years, and we thought we had an obligation to develop it," says Stig Henriksen, Kalnapilis' marketing director.
Other market leaders, such as Svyturys-Utenos and Ragutis, have been drawn into an advertising war as a result of Kalnapilis' strong push over Lithuania's airwaves and newspaper pages.
Moreover, the onslaught of cheap imports, deluging the market after EU accession, and a recent spat between leading domestic brewers and retailing giant VP Market, have shaken the brewers' market share and prompted them to pump even more funds into advertising.
"Competition in the Lithuanian beer market is huge, and it just keeps getting bigger. Our competitors advertise a lot, and that means that we can't be caught lagging behind," says Dainius Smailys, press representative for Svyturys-Utenos.
Svyturys-Utenos is consistently among the top 10 advertisers in Lithuania, and according to Smailys, this year will most likely be no exception.
"We've hovered between number four and number six for the last five years. And because advertising is very active this year, I'm sure we'll be just about there again," he says.