The Worldwide Advertising Forum in Moscow was an attempt to tackle many of the Russian ad industry's problems.
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The Forum, which brought me to Russia, is as ambitious as its name. Its five days of nonstop lectures and social and cultural events are designed to show that Russian advertising can play on a worldwide stage. Government ad authorities were also on prominent display, and one local adman told me the authorities were there to be educated as much as to educate.
Advertising in Russia is under assault on all sides. The government is cutting back the number of minutes allowed for TV commercials to eight per hour from 12. Advertising people are embarrassed that Russian entries have never won at Cannes, and a reporter for the leading ad publication in Russia told me that "people hate advertising."
Many Russian ad people feel there is too much advertising, and much of it isn't very effective. Vladimir Makarov, chairman of Moscow's committee on advertising, information and design, told me that "if advertising is more creative, you need less" of it.
Part of the problem, I assume, is that advertising education is behind the times. One ad professor said there isn't much interaction between schools (140 institutions throughout Russia have ad departments) and the industry. Most ad teachers have little or no experience working in the business. And that also goes for the 70 people working on Mr. Makarov's committee, he told an audience. (He himself once headed a PR firm.)
Sergey Gorlov, president of the International Institute of Advertising in Moscow, said teachers with the "old background" were the main obstacle to training more-proficient ad students.
Russians, he said, like to use the richness of their language "to break taboos." If they do it in a way that is "not too rough," it is "very cool," but if it goes over the line -- as it often does -- it "is not so cool." He complained that "a lot of Russian commercials are just the same," and added that much of Russian advertising is considered by consumers as a lie or a fraud.
I was astounded that press coverage was so vociferous. At the exhibit on the history of advertising in Russia, at the Russian State Library, a phalanx of TV cameras faced the podium where dignitaries (including the vice mayor of Moscow) extolled about 200 Russian and foreign advertising books and more than 30 posters of early Russian ads. One book, "The Big Sell" in English, translated into Russian as "The Big Lie."
We even did a Russian radio show. When my turn came, my interpreter, Aglaya Makarova, told me what was being said and I gave my usual cogent commentary, which she translated. There was a lively discussion (so Aglaya told me) on product image, and it was agreed that most consumers bought the image without thinking about a product's more tangible benefits.
One of our panelists, Elena Zaretskaya, from the academy of the National Economy, said most ad communications "don't tell the whole thing. If you tell everything, the communication won't be successful." Sort of like a child not telling his parents about a bad mark, said Mr. Eremin.
The panelists also questioned whether the consumer is prepared to properly evaluate advertising.
Russians of today are influenced by two great traditions, the czars of the 18th century and communism, Mr. Eremin said. They both operated under the assumption that "your confusion is my victory," and so yes is no and white is black.
"The evil is not [a bad product]" he said, "but advertising that gives the opportunity to choose bad things."