MOSCOW -- Soviet citizens who thought they had seen just about everything on their disorienting journey from communism to capitalism saw something else yesterday: Moscow's first advertising gimmick.
A Soviet computer company called MMM gave Muscovites a free day on the subway, paying the fare for the Metro's 6 million or more riders and effortlessly reeling in what the high priests of capitalism on Madison Avenue routinely bend over backward for -- a golden supply of free advertising.
Enamored radio and television programs broadcast all the details, telling everyone who counts about MMM's largess. The firm also broadcast its message all day long on the loudspeakers at subway stations.
"Give us a chance to save you money and time," a woman's soothing voice told harried commuters. "Don't look for 15 kopecks in your pockets. Go right in. MMM has paid your fare. . . . Doing charity is the only priority of rich people in a rich country."
This foray into the fine art of what only yesterday would have been prosecuted as capitalistic exploitation came at a price. Sergei Brech, an MMM manager, said he paid a fare for the entire city of nearly 1 million rubles -- about $32,000 in what many here call real money.
Did riders think it worthwhile? "It's not the money," said an elderly woman, Imia Konstantinovna. "What's important is the kind affection and tenderness they are showing us."