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Reklama Review May 4, 2007
 
REKLAMA REVIEW: The Masters of Brandbuilding
By Alex Shifrin Browse author Email
 
 

I really can't get enough of these guys. It's almost like South Park, before this last disappointing season. Just when you thought that it couldn't get any more absurd or funny, they come up with something so grotesque that it leaves you wondering whether it's possible to top it. I'm of course talking about my favorite whipping boys, MTS. After everything that's happened over the past year or so, and all the spectacular cock ups, two weeks ago MTS managed to win the Grand Prix at the fantasy-adventure film sounding Master of Brandbuilding 2007 festival in Russia.

You can read about it here: http://www.admarket.ru/news/news_1136.html.

The funny thing about this piece (one of the funny things, actually) is that the next "related" article, linked on the same page, is about MTS' 15-25% expected profitability loss in 2007. Masters of Brandbuilding, indeed.

Now, many people in The Industry here know that these award ceremonies are for the most part farcical displays of sponsorship money and sycophantic love for network agencies and their high spending clients. They are not exactly showcases of truly innovative work.

The Effies is my favorite annual event in this vein. The Effies, or Brand Goda (Brand of the Year) as they're dubbed in Russia, is an international franchise that celebrates a brand's annual achievement in a local market. Apparently, the enigmatic Russian soul simply wouldn't understand the proper name Effie and a more descriptive name (Brand Goda) had to be adopted so that no citizen is left out of the loop on this one.

Russians do this to Western creations all the time, most notably to film titles. The examples are many, but a few include Vin Diesel's The Pacifier, renamed Bald Nanny, Glengarry Glenross redubbed The Americans, and Apocalypse Now, which was turned into Apocalypse Today.

My explanatory theory is that all of this stems from a former Soviet understanding of nomenclature, and its comforts through familiarity. Back in the old days, if a shop sold milk, it would be called "Milk." Same thing for bread, meats, women's fashions, shoe repairs - you get the idea. There wasn't this notion of branding retail outlets with anything other than its function. So, when these Americans came here with their Hollywood productions and hoity-toity film titles, someone had to pull the reigns in and do some local adaptation for the Russian palette. If Vin Diesel plays the role of a nanny who happens to have a shaved head, then that's exactly what Russians want to know in the film's title. At least according to whomever does these local adaptations. Apocalypse Today, however, escapes my understanding of logic, post-Soviet and otherwise.

Recently, the Effie franchise was licensed out to the people at RBC, Russia's version of Reuters. RBC's approach to this franchise is very simple: postulate legitimacy, and make as much cash out it until the Effie name has no authority or legitimacy in the market. The local Effie process is as follows: First, agencies submit their clients' brands via case studies to the Effie committee for review. The Effie organizers find local and international experts to act as judges. (I think these judges are suckers, used to give legitimacy for what is essentially a purchased award.)

The judges are then put into a room, given the submitted materials, and asked to do independent reviews of each submission. Judges are not supposed to share their reviews with their colleagues. After the judges have completed their work, the results are collected by Effie organizers and tallied. Winners are announced during a black tie ceremony, where about five people in attendance actually bother to wear black tie attire. I made the mistake of donning a tuxedo the first year I went, only to discover that black tie meant a cheap suit or jeans.

Two years ago, GazProm, the Russian natural gas monopoly, won a Brand of the Year award at the Effies. According to the spirit of the event, Gazprom's marketing efforts resulted in greater success over and above their competitors. Gazprom is a state owned monopoly. Its only competitor is no one. They might as well have walked over to each guest at the event and called them a total fucking idiot to their face. Incidentally, Gazprom was one of the key sponsors of the Effies that year. This is how the Effies and most other analogous award franchises work over here. You pay a little cash, you get a happy ending (or happy finish).

One of the biggest cash grabs in Moscow is event production. Conferences, seminars and other professional gatherings have become great ways to make money. The event spam that one gets in Moscow almost rivals Western Cialis/Viagra/OEM software proportions, with many fly-by-night operations regularly offering training seminars or conferences, hoping for delegate and sponsor money. Award ceremonies are sort of like a Greatest Hits compilation for a successful event management company. If an event agency's been around for three to four years, it immediately begins to think of an awards motif to promote to its database of regular delegates. With the events market booming, many new awards have popped up in Russia recently. However, few of them are thinking about long-term, or even medium-term, sustainability. RBC is killing the Effie franchise with dubious award winners like Gazprom. They probably figure that it will be a short ride, so get the cash now, and don't think about what happens later.

So back to MTS, the Masters of Brandbuilding. Whoever organized this awards ceremony clearly has no foresight beyond this year's cash flow. Boasting an international jury panel, meaning a couple of middle managers from Russia-based international firms and perhaps some drunk Brit flown in, the organizers took whosever cash came their way first in a competitive event production market. What's awesome is that this award didn't really garner any respect for either the giver or the receiver. MTS has failed in their branding efforts, full stop. The market has made this clear. Buying recognition like the Masters of Brandbuilding award is nothing but an exercise in denial, making MTS appear even more ridiculous in the face of brutal reality. I wonder whether the marketing stiff who received the award on MTS' behalf has it mounted in his office. I wonder whether the cheap, likely plastic talisman somehow acts as a soothing agent when some editorial columnist or blogger writes yet another critical tirade, poking fun at MTS's failed campaigns. Looking at it this way, perhaps the Master of Brandbuilding awards serve a different purpose, one worth every ruble.

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