Madison Avenue inspires new Russian entrepreneurs

February 19, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- With communism on the outs and capitalism on the rise, Fyodor decided to switch careers last year.

He quit the KGB and abandoned his aspirations to be a spy in the United States. Now he runs an advertising agency from a room in a dank, dark apartment building in Moscow.

Advertising is the new career attracting ambitious Russians, luring college journalism graduates and former government workers with promises of easy money.

But in a country that has the largest McDonald's restaurant in the world, you won't hear the strains of "You Deserve a Break Today."

Pepsi is here, but no Pepsi challenge, and although you can see an occasional Taurus careering madly down Leninsky Prospekt, you won't see a single commercial on television asking whether you've driven a Ford lately.

Russia has embraced U.S. products, but advertising in the republic follows a style all its own.

"There aren't a lot of consumer goods that need advertising. If consumer goods appear, they will disappear without advertising," said Andrey Afanasyev, a former military translator who founded the ADMA advertising agency two years ago.

On the five standard television channels seen in Moscow, viewers can wait half an hour or longer to even spot a commercial. When one comes on, it's apt to be a simple shot without actors or fancy sets.

One commercial for a store selling Xerox machines shows a copier spitting out copies of a document. The phone number and RTC location of the store flash on the screen.

Another shows two champagne glasses clicking and the Russian toast, "Bud zdorov" ("To your health"). Then follows the name of a health insurance company.

The major advertisers are insurance companies, stock exchanges and banks, which can afford the million rubles (about $9,100) a minute that commercials can cost/

Newspaper advertisements aren't much more creative. Usually, they are simply boxes with information in black letters inside. And billboards, so common in the United States that they are often thought of as a nuisance, are a novelty in Moscow.

The Russian advertising business is too new to have much sophistication yet, Mr. Afanasyev said. "Most people in advertising have a low professional level because they haven't been involved in it," he said.

Mr. Afanasyev got into the advertising business after he was laid off from his job as an Arabic translator in the Soviet army two years ago. He joined a friend in creating a competition to find talented workers with experience in video production, graphics and advertising. They offered jobs to the winners. A number of Western advertising agencies gave them advice, and they landed an account with Computerland and several large Russian companies.

From a suite of offices in the Orlionok Hotel near Moscow State University, they offer clients market research, develop advertising strategies, produce television commercials and design advertisements for newspapers.

Most of their clients spend money on what Mr. Afanasyev calls "prestige advertising." Instead of trying to entice buyers, these clients usually have money and simply want to let everyone know they exist. Other companies, with shady beginnings, are trying to improve their images through advertising, he said.

Vladimir Toulpa, the creative director for television and video commercials at ADMA, said the most difficult part of his job is finding clients who are willing to advertise consistently rather than once or twice. But he is optimistic about the prospects of the advertising business. "I think it will be a boom," he said.

Fyodor, the former KGB agent who asked that his last name not be used, said he chose the advertising business after it became clear that the KGB was not going to send him to the United States, as he wanted.

His agency primarily coordinates advertising for regional newspapers, and his usual clients are stock exchanges and trading companies.

He makes five to 10 times the salary he made as a KGB agent, allowing him to shop at the farmers' markets rather than stand in line at a state store.

At 34, he has big plans for his advertising agency and for a magazine, which he says will feature profiles on sports, entertainment and political celebrities: "I want to be a star. I want to get a lot of money and a nice car and buy a nice big flat."

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