VYING FOR RUSSIAN VOTERS;SEX STARS IN 1 PARTY'S CAMPAIGN, BUT MOST OFFER PATRIOTIC APPEAL

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MOSCOW-A pouty-lipped vamp clad in a black leather suit steps onto the floodlit stage to sing the praises of Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist Russian lawmaker who's hoping a lively ad campaign will boost his Liberal Democratic Party's power after the Dec. 17 Duma elections.

"Without you, life would be colorless; without you, life would be boring," she sings of Mr. Zhirinovsky.

Without Mr. Zhirinovsky, the campaign for seats in the lower house of Parliament would indeed be less colorful. At the end of the TV spot, the singer unzips her tunic to reveal a hint of bare breast and the creative idea behind the Zhirinovsky campaign created in-house by his party: Sex sells.

But advertising is comparatively tame for the other 41 parties vying in the second Russian parliamentary elections since the Soviet Union's collapse.

The parties aren't disclosing ad budgets, but Western analysts said slightly more than $2 million was spent on TV ads alone in the first half of the four-week campaign. Of this, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia Party spent more than half of that amount.

Most of the paid spots show surprisingly little professionalism or creativity, largely due to a lack of funds. That problem isn't shared by Mr. Zhirinovsky, whose party won 23% of the vote in '93. Election officials say the Liberal Democratic Party has topped the list of campaign contributions with $3 million.

Money appears to be even less of an object for Our Home and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, believed to be one of the richest men in Russia.

Without touching the $17,000 provided to each party by the state in an anemic bid to create a level playing field, Our Home Is Russia has unfurled a massive advertising and marketing campaign. The effort ranges from outdoor boards to a "cultural program" with party-sponsored concerts held nearly nightly in dozens of cities. The shows feature rapper Hammer, Donna Summer and a host of other fading Western stars.

The Our Home campaign is masterminded by DMB&B Russia Managing Director Sergei Koptev, who appears to be repeating the strategy that made the agency's Russia campaign for Mars Inc. a smashing success: saturation.

But critics have warned that the campaign's touting of Our Home as the ruling party may backfire and hurt the group. The party is expected to exceed the 5% of the vote needed to win a place in Parliament, but place well behind the Communists, favored by Russians disgruntled with the the current order, and the nationalist Congress of Russian Communities.

"Trying to sell themselves as the party in power is a surprising repeat of the mistake" made by the Russia's Democratic Choice Party in 1993. "Each advertisement will lose them votes," said Yevgeny Kiselev, an anchorman and political analyst for NTV, an independent TV network.

The campaign's sheer size may also be a turnoff. Much of DMB&B's herculean efforts for Mars made the company's Snickers bar not just a top seller but also a negative symbol of Russia's Westernization.

A backlash against the flow of Western goods and ideas into Russia has made patriotism the chief refuge of most parties.

While Our Home and other blocs spend their money on ads and public relations, the Communist Party has shied away from paid TV time on the theory that, with living standards plummeting and some 40% of Russians living below the poverty line, reality is the best advertisement against Mr. Chernomyrdin and for the Communists.

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