The Vessel Drowned, the Passengers Survived.

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by: Marina Natanova

What could a  33 year old Moscow businessman with 3 languages, a Nissan Almera, and a holiday in Spain have in common with a  47 year old Chelyabinsk housewife with 3 kids, a  Lada 9 and a dacha?. Except for living in the same country they were, like all of us (say, 30+ Russians*) born and brought-up in the Soviet Union.

It means almost none of us could have possibly escaped red ties, demonstrations, politinformation, portraits of leaders (dead and alive) in every room, ugly school uniform, summer camps and the Zarnitsa military game… the list is endless. In the conditions of restricted cultural unity we all watched the same cartoons, movies and TV programmes, read the same books and played the same games. And if to think marketing-wise, you might want to have a different look at this background, rich in insights, because the 30-55 social strata generates and accumulates the main money volume in the country.

Of course nothing is so simple. Some of us remain pretty nostalgic, delivering the main audience to Retro FM (#4 daily reach in Moscow), others seem to have accepted western values or got dedicated to some great Slavonic idea. But facts are facts – we all carry this deep-set "Soviet grain" inside. Are we the surviving passengers of a wrecked boat, who still rememeber how it sailed?

It looks like we are. 67% of Russians 25+ can not recite even the beginning of the Russian anthem** (new words set to old music). My own little survey shows that they start to utter USSR anthem words instead. We still celebrate New Year with traditional Soviet dishes***, though nowadays the variety of foodstuffs exceeds all dreams of Homo Sovieticus. And in the last 5 minutes of every year ~80% of Russians stubbornly switch their TV-sets to the 2 biggest channels****, though the President’s New Year speech is broadcasted by all channels (as if the inherited format takes them back to only-2-stations period). With the same stubbornness Russians call sportsmen from the former USSR republics "ours" and support them (especially when real "ours" get out of the group).

Getting closer to marketing, we have a lot of Soviet brands (yes, there were brands in USSR!) which not only survived the Perestroika hammer – they blossom and fruit. Big International Confectionaries wisely bought local ones and carefully invest into well-known local trademarks. At the same time the unsold ones manage to keep their market-share with much less investment. Coke and Pepsi have to battle not only with each other, but also with a quickly growing segment of 100% Soviet soda tastes. In non-FMCG markets: oligarch Oleg Deripaska has bought from the state the right to produce two USSR car brands: Chaika and Pobeda. Well, if he sees some perspective in it…

But if you think there’s a lot of "Soviet grain" in brands’ communications here, I am afraid it’s not true. Internationally "fed" local brands appeal more to "traditional" or "simple Russian" values. Well, I see their reasons – Soviet insights aren’t always inspiring. Together with "good ol’times when vodka was at 3.62 RUR" come "long queues and party meetings".

Locals seem to follow internationals, as usual. But even when they try appealing to Soviet values, they do not always succeed. Cheburashka, our olympic team symbol for Torino, is one of the worst examples of good insight badly used. The little lad, adored by both kids and adults, unfortunately has nothing to do with "Citius, Altius, Fortius", as he is timid and clumsy, and his very name means "Someone who always falls". Worse case was only with the local meats producer who used the official "Politbureau announcement voice" in sausage commercials trying to explain that they are the Kremlin leaders’ suppliers.

What insights can be used then (if they should be used at all)? The blogosphere can give a pretty good idea of that. One of the most popular communities – 76_82 with simple header "About us" brings together ~8000 readers who discuss and store best reminiscences of their Soviet past – movies, songs, artists, games, toys, clothes, anecdotes, funny cases… everything we all love to recall. How could this be applicable? An example of a very successful usage: Crispy Potato chips, package design in Soviet style, commercials (one, two, three, translation in comments) referring to times when students and even brain workers were obliged to go potato harvesting. Sounds awful? Not a bit. Touch of nostalgie, lots of humour – and with a not-so-big ad budget sales tripled, making the brand’s market share comparable to huge investors like FritoLay, Kraft and P&G. The brand brought to the consumers their youth – and they paid it back with their money.

* 30+ approximately, as this is the age border for children who weren’t just born in pre-perestroyka times, but also had time to absorb the culture).
** VCIOM survey
*** Romir survey
****Pervy and Rossia, TNS Russia, TV-Index