Fifteen years ago, commercial advertising barely existed in Kazakhstan. Cliched taglines such as "Fly with Aeroflot" or "Save your money with Sberbank" were about as good as it got. But then again, there was no other airline to fly with, nor bank to bank with, so consumers didn't have much choice. That was then, this is now. Thanks to its oil resources, improved fiscal policies and a programme of privatisation, Kazakhstan is now enjoying a period of unparalleled economic development - one in which foreign direct investment is playing a significant role.
Today, Kazakhstan is a focal point for a host of different cultures - the Caucasus, Central Asia and Mongolia region covers six million square kilometres and has a population of 75 million people across nine countries.
What's particularly interesting for the advertising industry is that, with the literacy rate at 99.5 per cent and almost 80 per cent of the Kazakhstani population having some form of secondary or higher education, Kazakhstan might very soon become a regional hub for advertising in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Several multinational manufacturers have already shifted development and production to Kazakhstan, and are focusing on localising their advertising, instead of simply adapting Russian- or Turkish-made ads. Smaller clients - such as Seymar, a local egg producer - are also keen to advertise. Couple this with a low average adspend per capita, an almost 10 per cent annual GDP growth rate and an average growth in adspend of 30 per cent per year for the past three years, and the outlook for the ad industry here looks promising.
But as well as huge opportunities, there are significant challenges for agencies and clients that want to create a climate that truly supports brand-building. Given the short history of the ad world here, the biggest stumbling block is finding the right people - more than half of our creatives are self-educated enthusiasts. Here, there's a clear role for foreign investment in the industry.
Locally, some of our agencies have started bringing certified trainers from overseas, while network agencies are sending Kazakhstani employees to workshops abroad, and at the same time looking for talented employees who are ready to leave their home countries to explore new creative frontiers in Central Asia.
And they will. This is, after all, pioneer country.