Ads Pushing Products With 'Crisis' Creativity

MTAn "anti-crisis" offer for Lada cars hanging above Ulitsa Bolshaya Dmitrovka.
"Why would you want to buy an apartment now?" a woman's voice grumbles in an ad running on Ekho Moskvy radio. "Look what's going on in the world."

A male voice then chimes in, reassuring the woman that buying real estate is a "really stable" investment.

While state-run television may be shying away from coverage of the financial crisis, many companies are seizing on economic uncertainty in their advertising campaigns. Most of the ads are offering discounts on major purchases, such as apartments or cars, but the crisis also crops up in ads for business lunches, cartoons and winter coats.

Experts diverged on the effectiveness of crisis-related advertising. Some say it can come across as honest and direct, while others warn that consumers will be turned off by campaigns that play on their fears.

The radio ad for Glavmosstroi-Nedvizhimost, which has run regularly over the last week on Ekho Moskvy, offers a discount on apartments until Nov. 30. A spokeswoman for the agency said the management had instructed staff not to give any comments related to the financial crisis.

Another real estate ad in the business daily Kommersant promotes luxury housing next to a yacht marina with a quote from former U.S. President John F. Kennedy: "When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity."

The ads with the Kennedy quote began appearing in October in business newspapers and weekly magazines, Anna Shadrina, advertising director for the company, Capital Group, said in e-mailed comments.

"The word 'crisis' appears in the ad in the context of a brilliant saying by a famous personality," Shadrina said. "The advertising campaign is based around the deep meaning of the whole phrase. The accent is not on the crisis but on how our attitude to the situation depends upon ourselves.

"It's stupid to deny that what's happening is real, and as is well-known, you can't change reality, but you can change your attitude to it," Shadrina said.

One advertising expert was more blunt about the real estate ads. "It makes sense that real estate brands are doing anti-crisis ads," said Alex Shifrin, head of ad agency The Creative Factory. "They're desperate."

He said he hadn't seen the Capital Group ads, but called it "a bit silly and naive" to use the Kennedy quote in a campaign aimed at wealthy investors who understand the financial situation. "It's just in denial more than anything," he said.

But another expert praised the idea of ads talking about the crisis. "This means advertisers are talking honestly, they are talking openly," said Vladimir Yevstafyev, president of IMA-Press ad agency and vice president of the Association of Communication Agencies in Russia

He singled out billboard and radio advertising and ads in business-oriented newspapers as the most effective.

Nevertheless, campaigns should use the word "crisis" with care, Yevstafyev said. "If it's a very chic or high-society item, I would not recommend my clients to use this exact word."

As customers tighten their belts, mass-market car companies are also running anti-crisis campaigns persuading customers to spend by offering discounts.

Opel has an ad on Ekho Moskvy featuring people cheering and shouting, "Hurrah! Crisis!" It turns out that they're celebrating a sale that runs to Dec. 31.

Opel has asked the German government for some 1 billion euros in credit guarantees as its parent company, General Motors, struggles to survive the crisis.

Russia's largest carmaker, AvtoVAZ, has a banner campaign around Moscow offering an "anti-crisis deal" on Lada Kalina cars. The discount of 15,000 rubles ($544) lasts through the end of the year.

The ads have appeared on television and the Internet since September and resulted in a rise in sales in October, the AvtoVAZ press office said an e-mailed statement.

When the Lada ad campaign appeared on television in September, the text didn't mention the crisis but simply promoted an "autumn discount," said Anton Charkin, group communications director at Video International, which places ads on channels including Channel One and Rossia television.

Major fast food and consumer brands generally aren't doing crisis campaigns, Shifrin said. "What I've seen are small, localized types of business using the word crisis as a way to push seasonal promotions," he said.

Ads for winter clothing chain Mir Kozhi and Mekha show a blonde woman modeling a fur hat with ear muffs and a fur coat. The slogan is "Anti-Crisis Warming."

The ad has run in Sem Dnei magazine, on Kommersant's web site and on the Odnoklassniki social networking site over the last month, company spokeswoman Yana Getman said. "I wouldn't call [using the word crisis] a fashion, but at the moment, it's the most current topic."

A beer restaurant in central Moscow, Bakhus, advertises an "anti-crisis lunch deal" with a poster on the door. The discount began earlier this month, said a staff member who only gave her name as Tatyana. "It will continue at least until New Year's, and then we'll see," she said.

Another company hopes to profit from the national taste for strong drink in times of trouble and has registered the brand Anti-crisis Vodka.

The drink will go on sale around Russia next month and will cost around 150 rubles ($5) per bottle, putting it firmly in the budget sector, a spokeswoman for the alcohol distribution company Recolte said.

Natalya Ignatyeva, head of communications at Nielsen Russia, said she had noticed ads using the crisis theme. "Of course, all the negative news immediately attracts attention, but there is also a risk here that the brand and the company will be associated with the crisis," she warned.

Shifrin of The Creative Factory also warned against overusing the word "crisis" in ads. "I think consumers will get cynical," he said. "It seems like opportunism."

Nevertheless, some brands are dipping into the pessimistic mood for humorous promotions.

In parodic ads for the U.S. animated series "The Simpsons," cartoon network 2x2 does a low-budget remake of the show's famous opening sequence using Lego figures moved around by hand.

"It's the reaction of our television channel to the financial crisis," network spokeswoman Maria Teleshyova said. "There's a bit of joke in every joke."

In October, the upscale Wall Street Bar held a crisis-themed Halloween party with fake ruble notes covering the floor, barmen dressed as bankers and waiters dressed as vagrants. The bar also held a party called an "Evening of Confidence" in September.

"It looks like we will have to do another party, because nothing is changing and the crisis is still going on," said Seyran Gevorkyan, a partner in the bar.

Trendy nightclub The Most, owned by billionaire Alexander Mamut, held a crisis party in September with the theme, "In loving memory of Lehman Brothers," art director Rita Mitrofanova said.

"We were the first to do this in an ironic kind of way," Mitrofanova said. "I think there were people from the stock exchange, banking people, it was a bit different from the normal clubbing people."

The club had a centerpiece made of dollar bills and a "stabilization fund" stage with 20 beautiful girls.

"It was interesting, but now everyone's doing it," Mitrofanova said, adding that the club isn't planning a repeat event. "At the moment, the crisis is just at the beginning. I think when the real troubles start, it won't be funny any more."