ADS TAKE HIT IN RUSSIAN FUND'S COLLAPSE

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MOSCOW-It was the biggest, funniest, most popular campaign in the wild young history of post-Soviet Russian advertising.

The TV, newspaper and magazine ads began in February 1993, starring a character named Lyonya Golubkov, a diminutive, working-class devotee of vodka and salt herring.

Thanks to his purchase on a whim of MMM shares, Mr. Golubkov went from buying his wife a pair of boots last February to a house in Paris and a San Francisco World Cup trip in June.

The in-house created campaign reportedly cost the MMM investment fund $4.8 million a week.

Millions of Russians followed Mr. Golubkov and a cast of other engaging characters as their fortunes grew with the price of a share, which rose from about 1,000 rubles in February to more than 100,000 in July. Then on July 29 the whole thing collapsed, and by Aug. 5, MMM President Sergei Mavroid was being held pending arrest and MMM shut its doors.

MMM was one of many investment funds in Russia promising Western-style returns. But after collecting a reported $2 million a day, the fund announced its share price had shrunk more than 100 times, leaving many shareholders clutching suddenly worthless scraps of purple and green paper.

The government's Anti-Monopoly Committee told MMM to stop advertising but took no further action. MMM's ads have reportedly been paid for through next January, so the media have ignored the warning and even after Mr. Mavroid's detention Mr. Golubkov haunts Russian airwaves and publications still.

The committee also issued warnings last week to about a half-dozen other funds, such as Hermes and Telemarket.

The MMM ads approval rating sank just as fast as the company. In a March survey by the Market Research Co., MMM's ads were considered the best in Russia by 13% of Muscovites, even beating out Mars Inc.'s omnipresent Snickers campaign by 5 percentage points.

But in a July 28 poll of Muscovites taken by the Parliamentary Institute of Sociology when MMM's demise was expected, 58% had a negative opinion of Mr. Golubkov and only 12% a positive one.

"I liked the ads, but now I see they were false," said Galina Bessmertnykh, who lost about $1,000 in the crash.

Government officials have put much of the blame on advertising, citing a June decree from President Boris Yeltsin ordering investment funds to tone down their sky's-the-limit claims.

"When [MMM] hammered it into the heads of their audiences that MMM had no problems, people believed it," said Vladimir Shumeiko, chairman of Parliament's upper house and a Yeltsin ally.

Like many government officials, Mr. Shumeiko did not limit his ire to securities ads, calling all advertising "unscrupulous" and singling out foreign cigarette ads.

In fact, a draft law was proposed to limit all ad time in newspapers and on TV early in 1994. But it hasn't yet been passed by Parliament's lower house. Both houses are in recess until late September.

Observers feel the scandal will have little effect on advertising in general.

"Certainly, it will hurt other funds; it will affect all advertising of financial institutions," said Galina Savina, director of client services for the Friedmann & Rose ad agency. "But on the consumer side, I don't think it will have an impact."

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