Israeli, Russian-born copywriter Arkadi Mazin discusses the state of advertising in Russia in comparison with her former Soviet neighbours.
What makes it so bad?
Russia is a huge developing market and it's experiencing a consumer boom. Nearly all international brands have already jumped in. Visit Moscow - and you will easily feel this rush, this flow of free money everywhere. Advertising budgets are enormous; salaries in the industry may exceed those in UK. One can expect to see some decent advertising. But the fact is it can hardly be found in today's Russia.
You don't have to believe me, there's plenty of proof around. Firstly, Russia's collection of Cannes Lions and other prestigious awards is almost non-existent. Secondly, local creatives themselves never miss a chance to criticize the overall level of Russian advertising at their Internet communities and forums www.adme.ru, www.sostav.ru and www.advertka.ru being the "big three") and to ask for a thousandth times a rhetorical question: "When we'll start making such ads here?" (referring, of course, to new Western campaigns).
Everyone, naturally, has someone to blame, be it bosses, clients or TA. Thirdly, the site AdMe www.adme.ru regularly invites prominent Western professionals to express their opinion on Russian advertising. Believe me, you don't want to be a Russian creative reading one of these reviews.
It took me a while to understand why things are so bad for Russian ad industry. I came to a conclusion not before I spent thousands of hours creating ads for this market, talking to clients, tracking numerous campaigns - and not before I looked around Russia, at Belarus, Ukraine, Baltic States. It allowed me to see a clear division: Russian and Belarusian advertising is awful, Ukrainian is much better and the three small Baltic States simply rock. Can the exact match with the politics be a coincidence? I mean, Russia and Belarus are experiencing a rollback to the totalitarian rule - and it happened before the westernization in these countries made any considerable progress. Ukraine had stumbled not once on this rocky road, but today its advance seems fast and secured. Baltic States had long ago become truly European.
There's this fundamental division: Western individualism and humanism against totalitarian collectivism. In the West we put an individual in the center in every sense. We make it our idol. In my opinion, that's where the roots of modern Western advertising are. We cherish the individual and thus we are eager to learn his psychology, to understand his true needs, which, as we know, are more emotional than rational. Western advertising makes its progress constantly looking for even more subtle and advanced emotional insights and techniques. This is our path.
But it is clearly not the case in Russia. They are just unwilling to dig deep enough. Talking to Russian creatives, I often sense their disregard or even contempt for that guy, the average consumer. You can't make good advertising that way. Of course, clients are plagued with the same problem. At the end we have ads that are coarse, arrogant and overall weird for the Western eye. Nothing alike the subtlety, warmth and wit that we see in today's Western advertising.
Another problem is the consumer himself is not ready yet for the different advertising. It takes two to tango towards Western cultural codes. So in the choice an international advertiser willing to enter Russian market would face - to just adapt the copy or to create a standalone Russian campaign with one of the local agencies - none of the alternatives seems perfect to me. Probably, the right thing to do would be to somehow make two agencies, the Western and the Russian, to work together - and to hope for the best.
Arkadi Mazin - Russian-speaking copywriter living in Israel.