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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summer's Campaign Ads Tug at Heart

MTUnited Russia's ad with Stolypin's "You need great shocks, we need a great Russia."
With a looming cap on the amount of money that can be spent on election campaigning, political parties are pumping tens of millions of dollars into billboards and television spots with images as diverse as tanks fighting against television violence and a squirrel running in a cage.

"This year, you have a lot of newcomers in the political arena, and they're doing their best to catch people's attention," said Anvar Amirov, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank, referring to three pro-Kremlin parties, the People's Party, the Party of Life and United Russia.

As a result, crowded between billboards offering dacha supplies and booze is a promise from United Russia to lend a sympathetic ear to everyday woes ("Have Any Problems? Call United Russia. 211-08-22"). The People's Party's orange billboard features a tank with a turret shaped like a television set ("Against Violence on TV"). On television, sandwiched between commercials for gum and mayonnaise is an ad with children running toward the camera and disappearing -- the Union of Right Forces' way of saying the population is shrinking.

The advertising began in earnest in July, right after the State Duma let out for the summer and five months before elections on Dec. 7. Campaigning officially begins when the Duma reconvenes in September, and parties from that point cannot spend more than 250,000 minimum wages, or a little more than $3 million. The campaign-spending limit was set in a law passed in 2001.

"This is of course a meager sum," said Nikkolo M head Igor Mintusov, whose public relations agency worked on President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 re-election, Our Home Is Russia's 1995 Duma campaign and nine gubernatorial elections.

Igor Tabakov / MT

Another United Russia advertisement with a quote from poet Alexander Pushkin.


Mintusov said a typical campaign costs from $20 million to $40 million according to industry insiders and local news reports, costs can include: a political consultant ($20,000 to $30,000); a consulting agency ($100,000 to $300,000); and billboards (about $1,000 each per month).

A one-minute ad on Channel One television ranges from $3,600 in the early morning to $110,000 right before the evening news, according to the Video International ad agency's price list. Prices are slightly less on weekends.

In July and August, political parties are getting a 20 percent discount on ads on most of the main television channels due to a summer slump in sales.

Many of the ads themselves carry social messages that experts said appeared so similar to one another that they suspected the parties may have used the same polling agency to conduct their pre-campaign surveys.

For example, the Party of Life, headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, has one billboard with a woman in a field ("For Labor") and another with two children kissing each other ("For Childhood"). A Union of Right Forces' billboard depicts three pregnant women and the invitation "Love, so that we remain on the planet."

A television ad for the left-leaning Agrarian Party shows a child and an old woman with fields in the background. Soft music plays and the words "Country Portrait" appear on the screen.

"Judging from what all the parties are saying, I'm sure they have all used the same research center," said Vladimir Yevstafyev, head of the Russian Association of Advertising Agencies.

He added, however, that the similarities in the campaigns might confuse voters.

"If you take a slogan and change the name of the party, people are unlikely to notice it because they all use the same rhetoric," he said.

Alexandra Kocho-schellenberg / MT

An SPS ad reads, "Freedom for small businesses. Small business -- millions of jobs!"

"The aim of the billboards and commercials is not to explain parties' platforms," said Yury Korgunyuk, editor of the Partinform political weekly bulletin. "The parties just want voters to remember a certain word sequence, so they are aware of the existence of the People's Party, the Party of Life or the Union of Right Forces."

However, Nikkolo M, which is organizing one party's election campaign, said the parties were taking the right tack. "Social topics give good results. They are very close to people's hearts," Mintusov said. "Children are our future, and the parties want to get the votes of those who think about this future. This is why in their campaign they are paying attention to it."

He refused to say which party Nikkolo M was working with.

One of the few ads that fully reflects a party's platform is a pro-small business billboard sponsored by the Union of Right Forces. The ad reads "Freedom for small businesses" and pictures a squirrel in a cage, representing small businesses caught in bureaucracy.

During the last Duma election campaign in 1999, parties plastered the faces of their leaders over ads. In one instance, Fatherland All-Russia used a picture of its three leaders -- Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and then-St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. The party lost big time to pro-Kremlin Unity, which was created just three months before the vote, and later merged with it to form United Russia.

United Russia's leaders, however, are so far conspicuously absent from its ads. Instead, United Russia is using historic portraits of figures such as poet Alexander Pushkin and Pyotr Stolypin, who served as imperial prime minister from 1906 until his death in 1911. The Stolypin billboard carries a remark he once made in parliament: "You need great shocks, we need a great Russia."

Amirov, the political analyst, said United Russia was targeting voters who are proud of their country. He said the party could not reach out to that group with photographs of its co-leaders, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev.

Alexandra Kocho-schellenberg / MT

A second SPS billboard declares, "So that bureaucrats do not constrain work!"

"If United Russia were to use the portraits of Gryzlov or Luzhkov, they would probably lose the elections," he said. "They are quite unpopular among voters, so from a logical point of view, the choice is right."

United Russia, however, would easily pull in the votes if President Vladimir Putin allowed it to use his likeness, Korgunyuk said.

"But he does not want to," Korgunyuk said. "He is pretending that he is distancing himself from the party."

Mintusov predicted that images of leaders from United Russia and other parties would pop up in their ads later this year.

"Many of them will not be able to resist the temptation," he said.

Two major parties have yet to join the advertising frenzy, Yabloko and the Communist Party.

"It is too early," said Sergei Mitrokhin, Yabloko's deputy chairman.

Communist Party secretary Oleg Kulikov said his party will begin its campaign "when people are sick of all this" current advertising.