The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010: IQ Marketing

Brands should be focused less on selling and more on their passions, Natalia Stepanuk says.

The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010 is a Campaign advertising supplement published for thenetworkone.

So you're from Russia? What do you do there?"

"I run a creative agency."

"What does that mean?"

"We sell ideas to people and companies, to make them more successful."

"That's good work. What do you want?"

"I want to do good, to make people happy."

"You know, 2010 will be very important for you. It is your first step to 2012. And in 2012 humankind will become much happier."

This is the blessing I received a few weeks ago in India, from the 19th Siddhar in human history. A Siddhar is a saintly being who has transcended the ego, subdued the mind to Awareness and transformed the body.

Seven years ago, Sri Mahananda Siddhar was one of the richest men in India, the owner of one of its largest IT companies and several other businesses. But one day, a divine herald appeared and told him to dedicate his life to holy service. Since then, he has lived on a mountain, in a cave with a lake, neither eating nor drinking, rarely sleeping, spending his days and nights in meditation. The source of his strength is fire, in which he occasionally immerses himself, because of his direct connection to Shiva, God of Fire.

Siddhar summed up the ideas that came to me during the blue moon on New Year's Eve. This natural phenomenon is believed to bring a huge surge of energy, heralding wonderful changes ahead.

What will the next year bring? What moods will my fellow Russians be in? After all, our work is about capturing those moods - and sometimes creating them. And what will happen with humankind as a whole? Whether we like it or not, we're all stewing in the same pot. What will become of us Homo sapiens (not yet Homo luminous) in 2010? Will we be able to take a decisive step toward the "significantly more happy 2012"?

Humanism is an unstoppable trend

We picked an interesting time to live, one of great turbulence and uncertainty, of yet another large-scale reassessment of values, social models and systems. In hard times, it's impossible to overestimate the role of people who know how to interpret events and define them in images and words.

These days, each of our slogans, stories, positionings and new brands must be put through a serious humanism audit. Inertia causes business to spend a long time reproducing the values and approaches of old that are irrelevant to the present. So agencies have to do the humanism job for them.

Good thing it's not hard. Light is a force in itself. A little lit match is enough to engulf darkness in the big room. Any humanist campaign is guaranteed to succeed - in hard times, people intuitively go towards the light. A wonderful ancient Taoist proverb can help us all: concentrate on what is good and right.

Incidentally, the role of independent agencies has grown manifold, because they don't have to prove anything to anyone

People are only interested in what touches them

A handsome, well-dressed man is taking the elevator in a fancy business centre. He is probably a businessman, late for a meeting...

Suddenly, the doors slide open, and in walks a strikingly beautiful brunette, wearing a blindingly bright, red dress. The man feels...

well, he seems to feel something, but he is too busy for that...

"Do you like my dress?" she suddenly asks.

"You know...

it doesn't fit you... " he replies, with a candour that surprises himself. She pauses for a second, then decisively presses the emergency stop button and takes off the dress. ALFABANK. HONESTY PAYS.

In the recession of 2009, our client used this series of ads to compete with a hundred other banks that vied to entice reeling consumers with multi-stepped discounts, tricky rates and other elaborate offers.

"HONESTY PAYS" defined the position of Alfabank - Russia's largest private bank: the truth is not always palatable but we will always provide it and know that it will benefit our clients and us.

"Yes, we don't have the highest interest rates on deposits, and that's because we're not taking risks with your money." ALFABANK. HONESTY PAYS. A dozen messages like that in outdoor. The result? The campaign became a hit.

Dear brands: stop repeating the mantra that you're trying to sell. Talk about what concerns you. About your passions, and who you really are...

There is nothing more beautiful than a person (brand) when he or she talks about a passion! This is a time for pure, poignant, candid messages. Everyone is tired of beautiful, well-groomed lies.

Start with yourself

Throughout 2009, I spoke with many independent agencies. All over the planet, the same thing: twice the work for half the money. 2010 will be tougher and it will require much strength.

At our agency, we intuitively started to spend more time together. We chipped in to buy a Ping-Pong table, and expanded our game collection (in addition to our massage room, cafeteria, magic kitchen, colourful creative rooms, menagerie etc). We stuffed the fridge with Champagne. We started to play more loud music and invite guests over. We laughed more and played jokes on each other. And, to tell the truth, we've been swearing more often, too...

Instead of gifts to clients for New Year, we invited everyone to a big, homestyle party with a budget of $5,000, and made everything ourselves - from decorations to homemade culinary masterpieces and drinks. I hope that in 2010 we'll be able to move ahead in other relevant interests: yoga, qigong, raw food.

Listen to the times

We've been working with youth-oriented brands for ten years. Each time, we looked for young people's role models but became convinced that Russia doesn't have any.

But then 2009 brought a whole crop of phenomenally talented kids, poised to carry their generation with them. We call this phenomenon "guys picked up guitars". A constellation of brilliant and successful designers, photographers, directors, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs became our inspiration as we developed a concept for a progressive youth-oriented brand.

I think that there will be more of these phenomenal turnarounds. We just need to be more attentive.

Change your attitude towards money

The problems began when money stopped serving people and people started serving money. My experience shows that money follows those who refuse to worship it. And last year proved that you can do a lot without it. So, before refusing a low-budget project, think: maybe it will be your calling card or ticket to the future.

A few words...about love

Never have I seen so many teary-eyed creatives in one place as I did at the 2009 Cannes Lions. Not because it was full of drama, but because of the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

There's a touching moment in the film This Is It, when he tells his troupe: "We bring LOVE back to this world. Remind the World that LOVE is important. We all love each other. We are all ONE. And we need to take care of the planet. It is four years to get it right. Or else it will be too late. This is an important message to give."

Love seems to be the only road left for us. Now everything we do needs to be done on the frequency of love. We don't have any time to be angry or offended, no time to be right or wrong. All that we can do is to love and heal with love those with whom we live, work and interact. That way, one person at a time, one soul at a time, we'll make our way to a happier future.

Natalia Stepanuk is the general director of IQ marketing




Natalia Stepanuk, general director; Olga Belobrovtseva, strategic marketing director; Dmitry Levteev, marketing communications director; Veronika Belousova, business development director


Based in Moscow, working in Russia

What would you like to see more of in 2010?
Humanism. This is a rare moment in history when our profession can determine which way the pendulum swings. Humanity multiplied by the realisation of that responsibility can help heal the world

Which country's creativity (other than your own) do you most admire?
India, as a new phenomenon unlike any other, for its depth, acuity and intensity. Belgium was the discovery of the last ad festivals, for its original sense of humour, freshness and taste