Many claim Russia is becoming the black sheep among fast-growing economies. While countries such as Brazil and India continue their economic surge, there's been a snag in Russia - the result of global economic crisis. But nothing keeps Russia down for long. We know that the long-term-looking, short-term-acting, digital-thinking and insight-seeking marketers will be rewarded. Clearly the crisis has taken its toll. First quarter adspend was down 30 per cent. Russia was fast on its way to becoming the world's sixth-largest ad market. For now, it hovers between 12th and 13th.
GDP is down, industrial production is down, foreign investment is down, unemployment is up. Crude prices continue to wreak havoc on the delicate, oil-dependent economy and Russia is still trying to swallow a serious currency devaluation from the beginning of the year.
It's hard to argue with the numbers. Or is it? The mega-malls are swarming with people. And expanding. Winston Churchill's classic observation about Russia as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" is timeless. And therein lies the charm - and the challenge.
In Russia, 142 million people wake up every day and need to brush their teeth. They have headaches, wash their clothes, drink beer and eat sweets. Compared with most Western countries, it also has relatively high levels of disposable income, which means shopping and consumption are high on the agenda.
One way Russians "guard" against the losses seen in previous financial calamities is by spending all they earn. This ensures some immediate value is derived from their earnings. It's good news for marketers. And chilling for banks.
Consumers know how to deal with troubles. They know that uncertainty is the only thing you can count on. Crisis is considered almost normal. It's not met with fear or scorn. It's simply something to accept and get on with. At the same time, there's an eagerness and openness to change and push ahead.
This natural state of tension creates a great platform for creativity. A prime example is the leapfrog in telecoms technology that continues to provide an opportunity in all things digital. There's an everyday need to innovate and keep pace with an accelerating and increasingly sophisticated man on the street. For agencies, it's a great time to work closely with clients to really get inside the consumer mindset.
The obvious potential for the majority of brands is matched by inherent volatility. This is what makes Russia so demanding and so potentially rewarding. There is a sense of inevitability of growth and opportunity, however hard-fought. It's for the brave and the committed.
Russian roulette, you say? It's a surprisingly safe bet - and one that is destined to pay out.
- Derek Shorkey is the chief executive of Publicis Russia.