Every now and then you see a local brand that experiments with celebrity endorsement. Celebrity endorsements are when some smug local attention jockey hoists product X and tells the Russian world that he/she is also a consumer, and if you want to be like him/her, you should do the same. I always chuckle when I see this. Do Russian marketers believe that endorsements build brand affinity in the same way they do out West? The problem 'round here is that most celebrity figures neither incite respect nor act as true role models. It's a different world, and for the most part the famous evoke nothing but cynicism and jealousy from the target audience.
The celebrity idea carries a very different understanding in Russia. In America, celebrity spotting is something to behold. In a country of over 300 million, the celebs are distributed all over the place: L.A., New York, Seattle, wherever. Spotting someone of note is a hunt, the payoff rewarding. In Russia, a country with a population of 150 million and falling, almost every celebrity is found in within Moscow's Boulevard Ring. At any given moment, they are probably all in one of ten clubs or restaurants. If you want to do some celebrity spotting, you just go out and grab some dinner. Furthermore, if you have ever attended or organized any sort of corporate function, you know that every mug that you find on ORT can be rented for between $5000 and $25,000. I have a theory that Russian national television is nothing more than a glammed-up PR engine for a really expensive prostitution ring. This accessibility sucks most of the allure out of the celebrity figure.
Not that you can blame local performers. Russia is one of the world's biggest pirate markets, meaning that live performances and guest appearances are the only way to make money. Video rentals, CD sales, iTunes stores, etc. simply don't make local artists an income.
There are five categories of celebrity used for endorsements. In no particular order, these are sports figures, actors, musicians, business leaders and the "famous-because-they're-famous" types. Each type is so marred with negative stigma that it simply isn't possible for those celebs to help you out when you're trying to plug your wares.
Sports: This is arguably the only area where celebrity endorsements might make any sort of impact, and this is largely thanks to Putin's eerily nationalist push for sport culture. BeeLine has tried to tap into the ever-increasing popularity of Russian tennis stars to plug their mobile telephone service. But I think Russian tennis stars are more popular outside Russia, where Internet pedophiles and perverts take great delight in sharing Dementyeva's upskirt video clips on YouTube.
The recent national rise in sport is largely the result of a federal effort to make a new cult of sports. I can't help but think of Triumph of the Will every time I flip past RTR-Sport on the television. Some will recall how federally pimped RTR-Sport replaced TVS in 2003 as a way to assert the fed's idea of friendly content for the populace.
Sport in Russia just doesn't carry the same "hometown wholesome" theme as it does in other countries. Here, sports and athletes are more associated with organized crime and the whims of oligarchs. The most popular sporting clubs are nothing but toys for the elite. It's no secret that CSKA Basketball is a money-losing venture, carted about like a lap dog by its keepers. I always get a kick out of watching Chelsea football matches. Abramovich's purely Russian approach of making the club nothing more than a badge for his pornographic wealth is probably the best way to describe Russian professional sports culture. As Pink Floyd put it, "...think I'll buy me a football team."
Actors/Musicians/Famous-Because-They're-Famous: I've lumped these into one category. I don't know many people who can honestly say that they aspire to be Nikolai Baskov, or Oleg Menshikov, or Ksenia Sobchak. The music/film crown for most Russians is like a highway accident. It's absolutely horrible, and as a result people are compelled look. The fact that Russia's broadcasting industry is cabal owned-and-operated ensures that the same faces will make their way onto the TV, stage and screen every time. I dare you to name one film that doesn't star Gosha Kutsenko. Nothing to see here folks; move along.