September 17th, 2007

How Russians Are Learning to Live With Marketing Messages

By Rance Crain
Advertising Age

As it celebrates its 860th anniversary, Moscow wants advertising to be a neighbor, but not at the cost of obstructing views of the city—including stoplights.

So said the mayor of Russia’s capital city during last week’s Worldwide Advertising Forum, where advertising is suffering a credibility crisis. The sessions concerned themselves with broad, international advertising issues, but the discussion inevitably led back to Russia.

The event, including not only the International Advertising Association-sponsored session where Mayor Yury Luzhkov spoke but also the Red Apple ad festival and tradeshow, attracted more than 3,000 ad practitioners and academicians, foreigners and students.

Wish list
Participants in the half-day summit, held at City Hall, talked about the need for self-regulation, a continuing dialogue between advertising regulators and the industry, and “enrichment” of talent attracted to the advertising business, an effort to popularize advertising among young people, a booming economy and even more booming inflation.

Mayor Luzhkov also said advertisers’ desire to run as many TV spots as possible “contradicts our principles.” Russian authorities are reducing the number of minutes of TV commercials to eight from 12 an hour starting in January. He said frequent commercial interruptions affect “the consciousness and mood of the average person.”

One non-Russian participant in the round table said there was a need to “glamorize the ad business,” but a local academician countered, “There is enough glamour and entertainment” in the industry already. Instead, advertising in Russia needs to have more of a social conscience.

“Advertisers should view their audiences as people, not merely consumers,” said Tom Bernardin, CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide, Chicago, one of several speakers who shared their views on the ad industry in general. “We believe great communications begin with people, not the brands themselves. Instead of merely splitting people into demographic groups, we should focus on their needs, hopes and desires and find ways that our products and services can best meet them.”

‘Staying true’
Carolyn Carter, president-CEO of Grey Group Europe, Middle East and Africa, told her audience that the advertising business, whether it is in New York or Moscow, “is built on an understanding of brands and understanding of consumers and leveraging the power of ideas to create a bond between them. Companies that stay true to these roots will grow, endure—and win.”

In talking about the ad industry’s need to attract the brightest talent, Ms. Carter said ad agencies had “dropped the ball” in their recruiting efforts. They didn’t want to pay competitive starting salaries, forgetting that first salaries are always the cheapest salaries, she said.

The Grey executive added later that the major long-term opportunity in Russia is to build the media and distribution infrastructure to pursue consumers in areas outside the two main cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Boris Eremin, president of the Russian IAA chapter, cited a survey of 1,500 Russian consumers who felt that advertising is superfluous and expensive, that it doesn’t consider the consumer’s needs, and that it forces people to buy goods. He advanced the idea of conducting similar studies among consumers in various countries, using the same techniques to make them comparable.

The vice mayor of Moscow, Valery Vinogradov, floated the idea of an advertising olympics to “unify and define the best of the best in the business” every two or three years. Such an event would be a “true and undoubtable sign of leadership” initiated by the Moscow ad community and rotated from city to city around the world after first being staged in Russia. 


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