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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Ads Find Inspiration Away From West

A group of Kyrgyz television film producers won the hearts of judges at Moscow's Sixth International Advertising Festival over the weekend, gaining the grand prize in the television division for their one-minute public-service spot titled "Let's Work Together."

The choice may have surprised some -- the ad wasn't even commissioned for a specific product -- but experts said it demonstrated how fledgling advertisers in Russia and other former Soviet states are forging ahead with their own ideas and not hewing to Western concepts.

While Western ads tend to focus on promoting specific products, the winners at this year's three-day festival at the Mezhdunarodnaya Trade Center were more likely to use broad cultural messages to draw forth consumer emotions.

The winning spot, by a Kyrgyzstan advertising company named Beshkempir, depicts a group of young Kyrgyz boys who, after fighting over who should carry a bucket of water, finally unite and hold hands.

"I think it was very shocking to come from outside Russia, and it was very much the underdog. But the Russians were very adamant to support it, and I'm glad the crowd accepted it," said Alejandro Lopez, regional director for the Western advertising company Leo Burnett, who was among the judges. "I'm very, very pleased they got the award [because] it sends a message."

Very few Western companies participated in this year's event because many believed the Russians were too biased last year, said Laurence Tanon, a communications consultant and the publisher of Mir, a monthly newsletter on the Russian advertising industry.

But Western ad agency representatives who helped judge the competition said they were impressed with what they saw this year. With the notable exception of the Kyrgyz Beshkempir spot, Russian advertising agencies and production companies dominated the competition for the best television, radio, poster, billboard and city image ads.

"It was a delight to see originality, craftsmanship [and] technical believability" in ads produced in Russia, said John Crankshaw, creative director for the McCann Erickson advertising agency and a judge in the print advertising division of the festival.

McCann Erickson, which has engineered a number of high-profile campaigns for products including Nescafe and Kit-Kat, submitted several entries but came away without prizes.

Crankshaw noted that Russians place much greater emphasis on cultural references in their advertising than do their Western counterparts, making them unusual among the world's advertisers.

"There's a love of the game, a great deal of symbiology, which many people can relate to, whereas Western advertising is more direct," he said. "It is these qualities that will make Russian advertising talked about in the coming years."

In the poster and billboard category, the Russian ad agency Linea Graphic captured the top award with its big picture, "Cheese," depicting a smile capped with one gold tooth. The spot was not linked to a particular project, but will help promote Moscow's 850th anniversary celebrations next summer.

Another highly acclaimed effort that hawked goodwill, rather than a product, was the infamous "Ya Tebya Lublyu" campaign. For this feel-good campaign, which pairs the image of a woman with the Russian words for "I Love You," the advertising firm Begemot captured first place in the video division for the female model of the year and third place in the outdoor advertising category.

Many observers thought Begemot's ads would eventually be tied to a specific product, much like a Western-style "teaser" ad that attracts attention with an initial anonymous campaign and later reveals a link to a product. But the ad's sponsors had no such ulterior motives, and let the sentiment stand on its own.

In the radio division, judges were unanimous in deciding the winners among 189 clips in the categories of music, public announcement, information and "playfulness."

In the radio public announcement category, the Prosto Radio production company from Odessa captured the top prize with its message on AIDS. A man in Prosto Radio's ad listens to messages on his answering machine and hears greetings and humorous come-ons from several female callers. The caller in the final message -- which is followed by a warning about the dangers of AIDS -- cautions him, "Don't call back, I'll find you."

"We're always on the lookout for new talent," said Dmitry Chukseyev, public relations director for Coca-Cola and one of the judges in the radio competition. He said Coca-Cola, which currently has its advertising produced in the West, will soon change to local producers.

The festival generated the most excitement during its awards for the best television commercials, judged by a team of Western and Russian experts. Russian television advertising has been dominated by Western agencies, which account for 75 percent of the television ads on the Russian market, but this year's picks underscored the Russian industry's progress in the business.

"Their best could really compete in Europe, the U.S. or anywhere around the world," said judge Arnaud Lemaitre, director of international operations for the French ad firm Euro RSCG.

Western television advertisers are superior in the food and beverage department, while Russian advertising for banks and corporate image are in a class of their own, said Bruce Macdonald, who recently switched from heading BBDO Advertising in Moscow to a post as executive director of international services for the Russian TV production company Premier SV.

Premier SV captured the most commercial awards, including a top prize for White Eagle vodka, a television spot that depicts an American Indian collapsing in a drunken stupor as he gleefully shouts "White Eagle!"

Some White Eagle ads have run afoul of the authorities, who say they violate prohibitions on televised advertising on alcoholic beverages, even though the spots don't show alcoholic drinks.

Euro RSCG's Lemaitre said he and his colleagues on the jury debated the controversial White Eagle ad for a long time before they voted in favor of it.

"The purpose of the jury is not to assess the ethics of advertising, but the creativity. Does it enhance ideas, and is it effective?" Lemaitre said.