As long as I've worked in the Russian advertising world, there's been a barely-concealed understanding that you don't put black people in ads here. I remember a presentation I made with a client a few years back in which we showed TV ad visuals composed from stock photos, which we borrowed from gettyimages.com.
Gettyimages.com offers stock images for almost any purpose, and agencies download free preview composites from Getty to highlight and sell concepts to clients. The images that we had presented showed several couples enjoying a dinner at home. In one photo, the woman was African-American.
The brand manager immediately asked us to change that particular stock photo, because, she explained, Russians "won't understand" photos of black people. Before she could present our ad concept to her boss, the images had to be "Russified."
Now folks, keep in mind that this was a concept board, meaning that we were trying to illustrate a mood and an idea. The actual subjects used in our concept board were essentially irrelevant and did not at all mean that these people would wind up in the ad. But that was enough to set off her alarm bells.
Well, it seems that when it comes to racial attitudes here, the times are a-changin'. In the summer of 2006, Russian advertisers apparently got over their allergy to having blacks in mainstream advertising. Let's look at some examples:
Rodina is a nationalist party that was set up by the Kremlin and spooks in 2003 for the Duma election, with a very strong anti-immigration platform. Some months ago, Rodina released a TV spot that was ultimately banned from broadcast. A blonde girl pushing a stroller walks through a park. CUT TO: a scene of the stroller's wheels making their way over chewed watermelon rinds. She strolls past a group of Caucasian-looking guys squatting on a park bench and eating watermelon. As she walks past, one of them barks at her for invading their turf. For those who live outside of the CIS, Caucasians are the resident dark skinned minority, referred to in Russia as "blacks," constantly hammered by federal organs and local militia for being, well, not from around here.
After the Caucasian men's rude remark, the camera pans to two respectably dressed men who turn to the Caucasian group and demand that they pick up the garbage that they've strewn about the park. After no immediate reaction, one of them comes up to the group and asks contemptuously, "Do you understand Russian?" Dramatic music, and a cut to the slogan: "Let's Clean Moscow of its Trash."
One thing of note about this particular spot is that actors used to play the Caucasians were in fact regular Ivans, wearing stereotypical Caucasian clothes and wigs. Sort of a Russian version of blackface, if you will. For those interested, you can see view this spot at http://www.adme.ru/adnews/2005/11/11/4405.html.
Arbat Prestige is a Russian chain of cosmetics and perfume shops catering to the growing middle class. AP has been airing a whole series of spots recently, playing on all levels of racial humor, the latest of which poked fun at Finns, or chukhontsy. Previous to that, Arbat Prestige aired an African theme ad. The spot started with a young black, walking and breakdancing throughout the store. The camera would cut between him and two young Russian shop attendants, giggling and ooh-ing at his legwork, as he loaded his shopping cart with body care products.
Eventually, the young man danced his way to the cash register, where the two attendants rang him up. At the end of the sale, they asked, "Is that everything?"
The camera panned to the young black man, who with his best Amos 'n Andy expression replied, "No, I forgot the tanning lotion!"
Not really sure how to best describe this outdoor billboard campaign for Doctor-Travel magazine that's just hit Moscow's streets. Perhaps it's better if I let the photo on the left speak for itself.