Study: Russians Quick to Embrace Ads

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MOSCOW-It's taken Russia less than five years to come to a conclusion reached after 50 years by the Western world: Advertising has a necessary and important role.

A study by Gallup International found that despite the sudden blitz of ads that only recently took Russia by storm, attitudes toward advertising are surprisingly comparable-or even more liberal-to markets where TV advertising has been around for half a century. And the concept, once considered decadent, is rapidly becoming accepted among consumers.

Fifty-one percent of Russians surveyed agreed that without advertising there would be fewer enjoyable programs on TV, compared with 50% in the U.K. and 45% in Germany.

Similarly, 83% of respondents said advertising plays an important role in the health of a modern economy, compared with 72% in the U.K. and 84% in Germany.

And 72% agreed that if a product is legal to sell, it should also be legal to advertise, compared with 71% in Britain and 82% in Germany.

"What this shows is that the Russian consumer is rapidly approaching Western attitudes in the space of three years," said Gordon Heald, managing director of London-based Gallup.

The study was commissioned by the International Advertising Association and its recently formed Russian chapter. It polled 1,000 respondents in European Russia and was carried out last December. The margin of error was plus or minus four.

The Russian portion is comparable to a similar survey of 22,000 people taken in 22 other countries last summer (AAI, Oct. 11).

The Russian panel is regularly used by Gallup's Russian Media Monitor, a joint-venture between Gallup International and BBDO Marketing, BBDO's Russian office.

The study may help dispel marketers' fears that advertising can hurt sales by offending the public or sending the wrong message.

"When we first started doing business here, there was this great belief that advertising could have a negative effect," said Bruce Macdonald, BBDO Marketing director general. "You know the argument: In a shortage society, you don't need to advertise."

But Mr. Macdonald said this "has proven to be absolutely wrong." Russians, with their high literacy rate and growing knack for surviving in a market economy, have "a higher interest in advertising than you'll find in most countries," he said.

Aided by advertising, Russians are becoming increasingly brand-aware, as evidenced by a quarterly unprompted brand awareness poll by Russian Media Monitor.

The survey asked 1,000 Russians which international brand names they could think of in certain product categories. Mars Inc.'s dominance of the confectionery category is clear: Six of seven brands cited are Mars products, with brand awareness in January 1994 ranging from 53% for Milky Way to 87% for Mars bars. The seventh brand, Cadbury's Wispa, was named by only 5%.

The advertising study reflects the growing rift in Russian society between the haves, who in Mr. Heald's words have "embraced this whole area of advertising and capitalist culture with less critical facility than in the West," and the have-nots, the low-income people who remain "very traditional and anti-advertising."

Although not a response to growing Russia ad regulation, the Gallup survey comes amid a flurry of attempts by various branches of government. Laws regulating commerce are in the early stages of development, creating a free-for-all business atmosphere (see story on Page I-6).

But BBDO's Mr. Macdonald said the Gallup study bodes well for tobacco and alcohol advertising, showing that most Russians, if not most lawmakers, show "common sense" on this point.

"If Moscow or Russia wishes to ban all cigarettes, let them do it, but if they do not, it should be permissible to sell them and to advertise them."

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