An Advertising Drive Born in Kremlin Politics

MTA Moscow metro billboard offering a fictitious product called American Salo, dreamed up by a Kremlin spin doctor during Ukraine's 2004 presidential vote.��
In the heat of Ukraine's presidential election in 2004, a Kremlin spin doctor pitched an idea for a smear campaign to the pro-Russia candidate.

The plan was to stock Ukrainian supermarket shelves with cans of a new product labeled "American Salo," thus sparking anti-American sentiment among voters by linking U.S. hegemony to the traditional Ukrainian dish of salted pork fat, the Kremlin spin doctor, Oleg Matveichev, told The Moscow Times.

The candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, jettisoned the idea, Matveichev said, and his rival, Viktor Yushchenko, went on to win the presidency in Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

Now with the next Ukrainian presidential election just a year away, American Salo has resurfaced in a mysterious billboard campaign in the Moscow metro that Matveichev, currently a Kremlin adviser on domestic politics, said he has nothing to do with.

The billboards, reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup artwork, feature cans of American Salo against the background of the U.S. flag. Among the types of salo advertised on the cans are "chocolate" and "spicy."

The billboards also carry the web site address for the group that designed the ad, an organization called Creative Warriors.

It is unclear what the billboards are meant to promote, leading to speculation that they are part of a guerilla marketing campaign for a new book or product or even a nationalist attack on Ukraine's pro-Western leadership.

Creative Warriors head Mikhail Kovalyov said the billboards for American Salo were designed on behalf of a client who asked for a memorable "political" ad and wished to remain anonymous.

"There is an idea to market such a product," Kovalyov told The Moscow Times.

Natalya Orekhova, a spokeswoman for the ad agency Olimp, which places ads in the Moscow metro, said she did not know the identity of the Creative Warriors' client because the ads had been purchased through several intermediaries.

Orekhova also said she could not reveal the number of billboards or the cost of the campaign because of nondisclosure terms in the contract.

Blogger Nikolai Danilov claimed on his LiveJournal page Wednesday that he had traced the campaign to the Eksmo publishing house, and suggested that the ads were meant to promote its book "Creative Warriors," published in October.

An Eksmo spokeswoman said the publishing house would not comment on the billboards until Friday. She gave no explanation for the delay.

An adjective-heavy description of the book on Eksmo's web site says, "The monstrous lies and double standards used by foreign 'war hawks' against Russia have caused the Russian creative front's cup of patience to overflow."

Reached on his cell phone Wednesday, Matveichev said he did not know who was using his American Salo idea and to what end. He said Yanukovych's deputy campaign chief, Sergei Larin, rejected the idea in May 2004, saying Yanukovych had a good chance of winning the election.

He did not say whether he had received compensation for the resurrection of his idea in the billboard campaign.

Matveichev explained the logic behind American Salo in a book that he wrote, excerpts of which are posted on Creative Warriors' web site. "Salo is Ukraine's unofficial symbol throughout the whole world," Matveichev writes. "The subconscious logic … is that American salo is just as impossible as an American Ukraine. If the campaign is allowed to be fully conducted on a national scale, Yushchenko simply has no chance to win."

Yushchenko's press office declined to comment on the billboards. Spokespeople for Yanukovych could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday.

Any company is allowed to purchase ad space in the Moscow metro as long as it does not violate advertising laws, Orekhova of Olimp said. The monthly cost of a 2-by-4-meter billboard in a metro tunnel ranges from 40,000 rubles ($1,110) to 52,000 ($1,442), according to the Olimp web site.

Alex Shifrin, head of ad agency The Creative Factory, said the American Salo billboards appeared to be part of a "teaser campaign" to prompt passers-by to visit the Creative Warriors' web site "and spread some word of mouth."

The campaign was clearly well thought out because "metro billboards are expensive and require planning well in advance," Shifrin said in e-mailed comments.

"Metro placements are a sought after media by many brands and generally require you to book them well in advance due to availability restrictions from the high demand," he said.

Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said the campaign was organized by a company connected to Russia's ruling elite, which would like to "divide Ukraine into two parts" and win sympathy among the country's pro-Russian eastern regions ahead of Ukraine's 2010 presidential election.

Also, Oreshkin noted, Mayor Yury Luzhkov might have some ''personal scores to settle'' with Ukrainian authorities, the analyst said. Luzhkov was barred from traveling to Ukraine in May after he made comments in Sevastopol that the city should be given back to Russia.

The Creative Warriors, however, issued a rebuke Wednesday on their web site to anyone suggesting that politics or book sales are behind the billboards.

"The American Salo campaign has nothing to do with parties, government structures and so forth," the group said. "We have been created for a new humanitarian mission and that we should spread throughout the entire world."