You hear all kinds of stories in this city. One of my favorite was told to me by a friend working at another local agency. A little while back, they were contacted by a Russian political party. Let's just say that they're one of the more democratically leaning ones. With Duma elections looming in December, the party wanted to spruce up their campaign with a message the public could easily digest, accept and ultimately be motivated enough by to actually get out and vote. Recently, the party's image has been tarnished, more by irrelevance than scandal.
Up until now, most of this party's campaign and creative work had been an internal exercise, and their planners felt that using an agency with some consumer promotional background, even Western experience, would breathe some life back into their efforts. The brief my friend received was simple: Make the campaign something that the people will consume.
The agency spent about two weeks breaking their multi-message platform into something simple, and developing a strategy to deliver it to the voters. The result was a three-stage campaign. First, they deliver the platform message, followed by a round of negative ads in order to polarize voters for them and against other parties. This was to be followed by a "get out the vote" scare tactic, telling the supporters that if you don't vote, then you ain't gonna be heard. The visuals were clear and simple, using a white background and stark, uncluttered images. Wolff Ollins would have been proud.
Storyboards in hand, they went over to the party's offices for the presentation. As my friend described it, it was an odd setting, with the main contact guy running around getting everyone into their surprisingly sparsely furnished war room. There were two other men who sort of sat in the back pretending to be anonymous, and another guy in a stretch t-shirt and tattoo, who seemed to be in charge. The pitch appeared to go well.
A few weeks later, my friend's agency was called back into the party's offices for the debrief. Looking back at it, by friend concluded that the people charged with running their campaign, or at least some of them, must have had the goal of ensuring a crushing defeat. The first thing that the agency was told is that their advertising approach was far too much of a stray away from the look and feel of what the other parties would be doing, something which my own advertising instincts generally tell me is a good thing. According to their campaign director, they "didn't want to rock the boat with their advertising campaign." While they were ready to invest in a large nationwide campaign, they didn't want it to stand out from what the other parties were doing.
"Look, if we do something radically different, people will think that we've lost our minds," was the feedback.
"Yes, but how do you expect to win votes if you don't differentiate yourself from other parties?" the agency guy replied.
Then the guy with tattoos drew the Russian trump card.
"You just don't understand the nuances of Russian political advertising. Perhaps if this were the West, it would work, but here in Russia, things are different."
He went on to explain that one of the biggest challenges facing the party now is that the Russian people for the most part are content under the Putin government. Polls taken indicate that the population feels he's doing a good job, and anyone that isn't directly in Putin's camp is seen as a detractor from this stability.
My friend explained that "...you should take the executive search/headhunter route. Those guys call up comfortable employees, and let them know how much they 'could' be making in other jobs, effectively killing this comfort. You should focus on an agitation-campaign, one where people are shown what they're missing."
"No, that won't work," tattoo man interjected. "We don't want to agitate the Russian people into discomfort," he replied.