The World: Insider's View - Russia

International brands are using more and more local flavour in their attempts to communicate with Russian consumers.

Russia is the fastest-growing market in the global ad industry; in 2003, the Russian economy grew 7.3 per cent overall. But this young economy is still very vulnerable, and the short-term ups and downs are extreme ups and downs.

This doesn't seem to be putting off an increasing number of international brands from trying to break into the market. And with these global brands, international advertising networks have followed.

In the past, this meant a large influx of expats dominating the Russian ad industry: the local know-how a decade ago did not meet the requirements needed to deal with global brand strategies. But local talent has reacted quickly and many agencies are now run with very successful Russian teams; teams both familiar with Russian culture and business practices, and able to maneouvre diplomatically in the global network. Ad agencies such as TBWA\Russia and Leo Burnett, Moscow have strong local teams, both creative and client facing, and strong local work is now starting to come through from native shops such as Moscow's Rodnaja Rech.

Admittedly, we haven't seen Russian advertising on the winners' lists at the international advertising festivals yet. Russian ad breaks are still dominated by excellent adapted foreign advertising and badly produced local spots. But international brands are starting to change the way they talk to Russian consumers and locally produced creative work is on the increase.

Ten years ago, consumers had no choice - whatever was available was sold and no creative was tested, or effectiveness measured. Ten years on, brands are using more local flavour and trying not to copy Western ads. Take Ikea: on the way to Moscow airport you pass the new Ikea store.

On a bridge over the highway, a huge sign says: "Returning is great. Ikea." Russia is a hugely superstitious country and "returning" to your house for forgotten keys or a phone is considered bad luck. As it has done elsewhere, Ikea is challenging national stereotypes and preconceptions, but doing it with a distinctly local flavour. Our work for Pedigree Chum dry dog food - a pet food Russians distrusted because it's not home-cooked - has turned the product around.

Yes, Russia is growing fast. Yes, Russia is challenging. But Russia and its maturing local talent will lead to a market that will compete with Western Europe. And, yes, not too long from now, we might even see the first Russian winner at Cannes.

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