Duma Election Ads Turn to Hate Campaigns

For advertising agencies, the difference between this year's State Duma elections and the last polls in 1995 is impossible to miss. Instead of the politics of love - running campaigns designed to excite voters' admiration for one party or another - parties are following the politics of hate, trying to incite voters to loathe the competition so much that they will vote instead for their rivals.

Instead of television spots with Ivan Rybkin's kindly little bull or Viktor Chernomyrdin's "home" of steepled fingers, we are being regaled with snide reminders of Yevgeny Primakov's hip replacement joints.

And the ad war is not merely dirty, it is full of subterfuge; many parties are attempting to camouflage their advertising campaigns using PR techniques.

"Most campaign headquarters are directed mostly at PR and not straight advertising," said Sergei Vasilyev, general director of Mediaservice-Video International, the biggest seller of television advertising. "Causes for information are created, events are arranged. There are PR firms that do these things for money."

In Russia's current conditions, discrediting your opponent is more effective campaigning than trying to wax lyrical about your own merits, said Dimitry Levchenko, who helped organize a recent round-table discussion at the INDEM fund.

Just about everyone participating in the elections has been hit by such attacks.

"In one publication, we were accused of being a group that was founded by the Khachilayev brothers, the leaders of Dagestan's Wahhabist movement. The charges were so absurd that we didn't even answer them," said Yevgeny Zuenko, deputy press secretary of the Unity bloc, which is led by Sergei Shoigu.

Worse is yet to come, Levchenko warned.

"We will be amazed by the amount of negative material: legal, illegal, paid for or not," he predicted. "Right now, we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg."

While he expects the volume of straight political advertising to rise in the near future, Vasilyev said the level of such advertising will still fall below that of past elections. November and December will not see more than $10 million being spent on political advertising spots on the central television stations, he estimated. That figure is about the same as the yearly advertising budget for well-known brands of coffee or shampoo.

Experts chalked up the victory of public relations over straight advertising in the struggle for campaign budgets to a strict new election law restricting expenditures on advertising. In order to give all parties an equal chance, election funds are restricted to 500,000 minimum wages, or about $1.6 million. Ads paid for by other sources are grounds for disqualification.

Nobody doubts that every faction leader spends more than this. However, experts said only Vladimir Zhirinovsky's party has so far exceeded this limit. According to data from Gallup Adfact, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia had already spent $4.5 million prior to an August warning issued by the Central Election Committee. Of course, since then, the party's list has been banned, with Zhirinovsky registering an eponymous bloc in its place.


Advertising Expenditure (in thousands of dollars)

Party/bloc June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. For Entire Overall

Period Total

LDPR, TV ads 0 2,684.4 1,803.2 0 0 0 4,487.8

Zhirinovsky Bloc Print ads 0 0 0 0 1.4 n/a 1.4 4,489.2

Yabloko TV ads 712.8 0 0 0 0 390.2 1,102.9 1,102.9

Pensioners' Party TV ads 205.9 319.4 337.0 0 0 0 862.3

Print Ads 0 0 1.5 0 0 n/a 1.5 863.8

Fatherland- TV ads 0 0 219.6* 0 71.2 64.8 355.5

All Russia Outdoor ads 79.7 244.9 77.2 39.9 43.7 n/a 485.6 841.1

Pravoye Delo TV ads 0 0 0 0 40.1 293.5 333.6

Outdoor ads** 50.0 29.2 112.0 58.7 33.8 n/a 283.9 617.5

Russian Socialist TV ads 201.9 326.4 0 0 0 0 528.3

Party Outdoor ads** 0 0 0 2.6 2.6 n/a 5.2 533.6

Our Home Is Russia TV ads 0 0 219.0 0 0 0 219.0 219.0

Kedr TV ads 0 79.3 0 0 0 0 79.3

Outdoor ads** 0 27.3 81.6 5.2 0.6 n/a 114.7 194.0

* Vsya Rossiya advertising; ** Moscow area only.

Note: TV ad expenditure does not take into account any special discounts, premiums or taxation that might have been granted/incurred.

Source: Gallup Adfact