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MOSCOW-An elementary school child is asked to name the planets. He answers: "Mars. Snickers. ..."

A smart-aleck answer like this might come from a kid on any playground, perhaps, but in Russia it demonstrates just how successful Mars Inc. has been at penetrating this market.

Children are not alone in lining up to buy Mars, Snickers and all of the U.S. company's more than 20 brands for sale in Russian stores and kiosks. From candy to ice cream to Uncle Ben's rice, Mars has managed to rack up more sales and reach deeper into the consciousness of Russians than just about any other Western marketer.

Ask any Russian and he'll tell you: Snickers, priced at about 50 cents each, is a symbol of success, market reforms and the West.

Mars isn't the only candy in Russia. Cadbury, Jacobs Suchard and Russian chocolate, like that produced by the Krasny Oktyabr (Red October) factory, are all here. But they are distant competitors. Cadbury, for instance, has neither the advertising frequency nor a network of offices to match Mars', with eight regional centers from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev to the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok.

The secret of Mars' success is a combination of availability, being first in the market and aggressive marketing, with frequent TV spots and extensive outdoor ads. The company has invested millions of dollars to make sure its candies can be found on every street corner. A recent newspaper poll showed that only 15% of Russians have never sampled a Snickers bar.

"Our strategy was to grow sales fast enough to proceed to this next logical step-investment [in factories]," a Mars spokeswoman said.

Mars is now investing even more, building a $100 million-plus plant in the Moscow region to produce Mars and Snickers bars here. Until now, they have relied solely on importing, not only for candies but for other products, but there are plans for adjacent plants to manufacture Uncle Ben's rice and sauces, Pedigree and Whiskas pet foods.

This will make Mars one of the largest foreign investors in Russia. Overall, foreign investment in Russia in the first six months of this year was about $1 billion, according to Russian government officials, but much of that is considered passive, rather than direct.

It isn't manufacturing that has built sales for Mars here. Using D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, the marketer has advertised with both worldwide and locally-generated spots focusing on its products as symbols of a new consumer era.

Neither Mars nor DMB&B would provide sales or marketing budgets, but its ad campaign is widely believed to be the largest for a Western company.

Mars has filled the airwaves with so many ads, in fact, that Russians joke they are turning on the TV to watch Snickers spots rather than the programs. And jingles like Mars' "fat, fat layer of chocolate" made their way even into parliamentary debates as ultranationalist Eduard Limonov recently said Russians should "slap their children on the hand if they ask for Snickers bar rather than a domestic brand."

The numerous Mars ads-for the more than 20 brands including the chocolate bars as well as M&M's, Skittles and Bounty-are so popular that they have spawned jokes and new phrases in Russian, including off-color anecdotes about Twix's "sweet pair" reference to the chocolate and cookie combo and Bounty's advertised "heavenly enjoyment."

Other advertising does double duty by encouraging good deeds. One 45-second spot for Mars bars shows a boy offering to do shopping for an elderly woman. But when he returns with bags of groceries, he finds he can't use the elevator because a man is removing his piano from it. He eats a Mars bar and, full of energy, bolts up the stairs. After delivering the bags, he slides down the banister, while the elderly woman looks on with a smile. The tagline: "Mars helps you through the day."

Mars' success is surprising considering that Russians themselves produce a surfeit of treats from cakes to chocolate bars to sate their notorious sweet tooth. Adding to the surprise is Mars' hefty price since the average Russian monthly income still hovers around $100 a month.

Linked as a symbol of Western-style reforms, the humble Snickers bar is often dragged into political battles, with Communists accusing President Boris Yeltsin's reformers of trying to "snickerize" Russia with their capitalist views.

Meanwhile, the Mars and Snickers culture spreads. A tongue-in-cheek horoscope in a Moscow newspaper predicts this: "Next week watch for an influence of Mars...over Snickers."

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