It all started last year, with a heavier than usual smattering of non-profit and socially minded advertising appearing in the capital. The smattering soon became a deluge. The amount of public service announcement advertising has now increased to such a point that, last week, while driving on the embankment near the White House, it hit me: PSAs now outweigh regular product and service advertising. There was no launch or big bang to announce this shift, which is probably why I never took note (us ad guys are used to having campaign launches). No, this campaign is different, engineered not to be immediately noticed, but to become accepted as the norm - an eerily ubiquitous norm. The ads were introduced slowly but steadily, until Blammo! Here they are. Everywhere.
The state billboards of 2007 like to show non-glamorous looking Russians of varying ages, demonstrating a range of professions and walks of life, including war veterans, ambulance drivers, students, teachers, professors, and academics (oh, how Russians love their academics). Some ads cheer Moscow's bid for the next Olympics Games; others simply declare, "Moscow, city of Heroes", "Glorious Moscow" or "Moscow, a Great City to Live In." If there is one predominant message or theme, it is hyping the importance of everyday professions, and hence everyday Muscovites.
The thing that strikes me most about this campaign is how much it resembles the old communist propaganda in both visual stylistics and message. Similar to what's out on the streets now, old propaganda posters were focused on promoting a line of work, either through highlighting the profession itself or by showcasing regular proles who embodied the Soviet ideal of the strong and selfless worker. It was always strange that this message should come from a country that truly never cared for an individual's worth, and still doesn't. Russians have the almost unique trait of loving Russia but hating Russians.
The other type of old school propaganda poster recently taken out of mothballs is the social etiquette guide, such as the ones urging Russians to drive safely and "Have More Kids." But August and September's flavor of PSA seems to focus more on the individual/profession, and depicts a series of photos, against a Soviet retro background, highlighting the many lines of work that often go unheralded but make the city tick. It's sort of a "For All You Do, This Bud's For You", campaign without the "...This Bud's For You" bit. Only thing is, the feds really haven't diverged much from the old school USSR-era posters so popular with British tourists at Izmailovo.
Does this have an effect on how things are run in Russia? Well, yes. These things have surpassed the point of traditional social advertising, in the passive suggestive sense. The new PSA's have become official road signs for social behavior, complete with lists of traffic fines. The mood it reflects is also effecting more traditional forms of advertising. Recently, a local beer brand called PIT produced a series of cheeky TV spots that claimed, "89% of all men don't feel themselves at fault for anything at all." The ads highlighted some of the guiltless crimes of men, such as dirty footprints on the carpet, near empty refrigerators, and a flower vase knocked over by a soccer ball. This was too much for the powers that be, and the spots were recently pulled from rotation by the Anti-Monopoly Ministry, which reviews and censors broadcast content. The reason? According to the Ministry, the advertising "...by demonstrating and reinforcing a type of behavior in men which encourages blatant disregard for family values, the ad encourages behavior which is offensive to family ideals, as well as society's accepted understanding of family values as a whole."
This Bud's for you, Russia. Now go have some kids.