'Buy Russian' Drive Taps Consumer Patriotism

Yefim Ostrovsky started out by burning giant effigies of Snickers bars and handing out Russian candies to the masses gathered to see the spectacle.

Since those heady days back in 1993, the pioneer in the battle to get Russian consumers to buy domestically produced goods has moved on to more effective, if less visually impressive, methods.

"Things quickly got to a point where we could curtail the radicalism," Ostrovsky said. "It was clear that such a severe approach was pointless. We decided to get our idea across by using government agencies, mainly the Kremlin."

Ostrovsky says he "was directly involved" in the president's April 15, 1997, radio broadcast, when Yeltsin declared: "I want our people to give preference to Russian products, to wear suits and shoes made in Russian factories, to buy Russian refrigerators and Russian furniture. ... Is Russian chocolate worse than imports? No. It's better. Sausage? Dairy products? Beer? I won't even talk about vodka."

Many had already become convinced that "Russian means better" even before the president's address. In St. Petersburg, for example, nine large businesses founded the citywide movement "Made In Petersburg" in September 1996. The Samson meat combine, the Petmol dairy plant, the Baltika and Stepan Razin beer breweries, the Panna pasta factory, the Khlebny Dom bread bakery, the Pishchevik fish combine, the Krupsky candy factory and the Polyustrovo frozen foods plant each donated $25,000 to the movement and put together a unified public-relations campaign.

Sergei Pilatov, chairman of the Petersburg Community Advertising Committee and one of the movement's organizers, says posters with the Made In Petersburg emblem and logos from the nine business sponsors were hung on 1,000 streetlights throughout the city for a one-year period.

Three-hundred thousand copies of a newspaper with articles describing the movement's business sponsors were printed, along with 10,000 copies of a booklet for wholesalers and retailers. For 2 1/2 months, TV Channel 5 broadcast weekly 20-minute episodes of the Korzina show, a program dedicated entirely to the Made In Petersburg campaign. Radio programs about the movement were broadcast weekly throughout the city, and information about the movement was included in the Europa Plus radio station's news block.

A number of national programs have also begun to follow on the heels of regional projects such as this.

One of them, the Made In Russia project, is in its launching stage. Sergei Mironenko, general director of the Made In Russia advertising agency, says the 12-man program has a budget in the millions of dollars.

"Our task is to promote and provide support for Russian brands not only with lobbying, but with innovative, new methods," he said. "[Our efforts] will be multifaceted with a stylish design and advertising, public relations, events, exhibitions and so forth. We want to introduce a new ideology, to make [Russian consumer goods] fashionable."

Mironenko said goods bearing the "Made In Russia" logo will be promoted in a single powerful campaign. But they will have to meet the demanding criteria of "new Russian quality."

Another program to support Russian products is being developed by the Premier SV advertising agency. Called "Time To Live In Russia," the program's first concrete action was to hold last year's Nizhny Novgorod fair, which had the new program's name as its slogan. Konstantin Lekutov, a department head at Premier SV, said that several hundred individuals and organizations participated in the expo.

He said that in the very near future, the agency is planning to launch a large-scale image campaign using the Time To Live In Russia slogan. That campaign will include billboard advertising as well as television and radio spots, he said. Premier SV is using its own capital to fund the program, although Lekutov gave no specific figures.

The program's commercial spots are still being produced. In the meantime, Delfin, a former member of the Malchishnik rap group, and DJ Groove have written a number of patriotic songs that will accompany similar works from other famous artists on a special compact disc to be released soon, Lekutov said.

The Moscow Trade and Industry Chamber has also gotten into the act. Last year, the organization co-sponsored with the Zashchita-Expo company the countrywide Buy Russian food exposition at the All-Russia Exhibition Center. About 90 companies, including 30 large domestic producers, participated.

"Most of all, this was an image exhibition. Our goal was to promote domestic producers," said Yelena Kudryavtseva, Zashchita-Expo's public relations director.

Russian businesses trying to focus consumer attention on the fact that their goods are Russian-made report that they have already begun to feel a consumer switch from foreign-made goods. However, any talk of a large-scale change in consumer awareness would be premature.

"We have sensed that especially in St. Petersburg people know about the [Made in Petersburg] movement and its participants. They like it, and we are doing what they want," said Vladimir Mitrofanov, head of advertising for the Baltika beer breweries.

"There is no doubt that the company participants are getting more than their money's worth," he said.