A few weeks ago, I met with some friends for dinner at Aist, a Novikov joint. For those who've never been, it's a one of his latest upscale dining additions, and offers gawkers the opportunity to gaze at Moscow's aspiring and elite crowd. As we sat picking at our $200-a-head dinner, a group of six giggly cigarette promoters sat next to our table, loudly chatting and targeting patrons with their promotional laser pointers.
Girls like this are a familiar presence in Moscow. Because of media placement restrictions, one of the ways that tobacco and alcohol brands can get their message out is through promotional teams who visit various sales points, offering to interact with the buying public. Typically, this is done by groups of cute, young girls in uniforms who flirt and offer free product samples to potential punters. It's formulaic, and reached a point where even the agencies themselves don't have any real level of interest or innovation. Really, this has become nothing more than a way to spend budget money, sort of like congressional pork. After all, if PR divisions stop spending the money, it might dry up.
This particular group had the basic formula down. They were young, dressed in outfits which revealed a few choice curves, and were accompanied by a mini-pimp, in case of any trouble. It's hard to imagine trouble at Aist, with its high ratio of body guards to diners, but you never know, I suppose.
What I was wondering was, who the fuck let them in at all? Imagine the scenario: you're paying way more than you should for a modest plate of Italian-inspired local fare, trying to impress a date or colleague. Suddenly a group of post-teens nearly blinds you with a laser keychain and then runs up to the table, offering a complimentary lighter if you'll sample their smokes. How does that make marketing sense?
Years of regulatory restrictions in the West have led to some pretty innovative and adaptive ways of marketing cigarettes and alcohol. Tomes have been written on the subject, so there's no excuse for misguided and half hearted efforts such as this. I'm not really sure who fucked up more. Was it the brand owner who signed off on this cookie-cutter promotion? Perhaps it was the promotion agency that, thanks to a lack of imagination, used the same mechanic for an upscale restaurant as they would have for a sweaty, drunken dive like the Boar House. Hey, as long as they're making money, right? Maybe it was Novikov himself, who after successfully panning his Nth elite restaurant to the gullible public finally stopped giving a damn and is now openly mocking his patrons?
The only bother at adapting this promotion to the specific location was that the promoters were all dressed in sequence spotted night gowns. That pitiful attempt to make the promo seem high class made its flaws all the more glaring. You don't change high end buyers' consumption patterns by unleashing intrusive laser wielding post-teens on people enjoying an expensive dinner. Strike that, you can change people's consumption patterns using intrusive post-teens. But not in the way the client wants.