Interviewer: Ksenya Komar
The Best Examples of Modern Advertising Reach the Level of High Art
Russian Mind welcomes Alexei Kovylov, the President of the Russian Association of Communication Agencies.
– Alexei Ivanovich, what is your own definition of advertising?
– I am an adherent of the classical definition of advertising: this means the use of creative methods in order to communicate information to society, and to certain groups within society, about the goods, services, and ideas which are being promoted on the market in order to motivate people to buy them. In the early 2000s, because of a full new range of possibilities in communications, the definition of ‘advertising’ narrowed. Business responded with a new professional term: ‘marketing communications’. However, the term: ‘advertising’ still prevails in everyday life, in business and in law practice.
– Do you have a ‘guru of advertising’ who inspires you?
– I would like to mention Claude Clarins Hopkins. He is a great person, whose talent is highly rated by the ‘stars’ of advertising. David Ogilvy, who was hailed as ‘the father of advertising’, said of Hopkins’ book: ‘Nobody at any level should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read Scientific Advertising seven times… When I see bad advertising, I tell myself: ‘the person who made this never read Claude C. Hopkins’.
Now Claude’s works are more important than ever. Advertising, which must be attractive in form, is considering how it effects people more. Major advertisers have certain targets: they are seeking an increase in sales. This is exactly what Claude was writing about when he prioritised the affect, and the cost effectiveness, of ads, as well as the client’s profit. Lessons learned from Bernd Michael were also very valuable. He led Grey, the largest German agency, for several decades. He was a man with outstanding talents, energy and knowledge. He initiated the promotion of the Grey network in Eastern Europe and Russia. Mostly due to his efforts, Russia took a professional approach to advertising: establishing a galaxy of specialists and experts who now take the highest positions in marketing and advertising.
– Tell me, please, why you chose such a theoretical industry as communications and marketing in the 1990s. Why not production, let’s say?
– I was always interested in new trends. Notwithstanding that my previous experience was related to international relations, including public relations, advertising opened opportunities to start a business which was involved with the creative process, and which was attractive on its own. And I have to mention the style of advertising in literature and cinema which existed in the 1990s.
– Could you, please, describe your job interview? I suppose it was not easy to get such a job.
– The first meeting with my employers was nerve-racking enough. In the moment of the interview, the main questions were related to my knowledge and capabilities in the field of management rather than to my advertising competence. They were opening a Moscow office and the negotiations with the chain of clients addressed logistic issues rather than marketing tasks. I was lucky to meet people with great insight who were ready to take risks and seek effective solutions in terms of creativity. A good knowledge of the English language was also helpful because, at first, we needed to adapt foreign ads to correspond with the Russian language. (At that time in Russia almost all advertising was foreign). Of course, we needed to consider the way Russians were thinking: their new spirit during that shift in epoch, and also their more than modest existence.
It was not hard for me to start managing a team of five, because before I had managed over one hundred people. At the same, I was able to understand the new business inside-out as I had to combine functions of a manager, copywriter and media planning specialist. The business grew fast, which led to the establishment of a complete and efficient organizational structure within a year. Practical study and training which was organized for us in the London and Dusseldorf headquarters also helped a lot.
International practice and communication skills, which were obtained through the United Nations and UNESCO, stood me in good stead because I learned to listen to my partners, try to understand them and plan our business respectively. The Soviet époque granted me such qualities as committedness, responsiveness to orders and even pushiness.
– Who was your first client at the agency?
– In the early 1990s tobacco brands actively promoted themselves on the Russian market. I worked with British American Tobacco which promoted the German brands HB and Кim, and the Russian brand Yava Zolotaya. We started working with Russian designers, but later, upon receiving orders from global brands – Kent, Pall Mall, – a creative director from the UK joined our team.
– How would you describe differences between Western and Russian marketing? Which tools do you use in order to affect the Russians?
– Unfortunately – or, maybe fortunately, – people are generally very similar. As in any other country, Russians may be effected by local traditions or local news, local stars, the historical community and so on. But there is nothing truly unique to them. Everywhere, modern advertising rejects a social demographic approach because this is too insensitive. Today the target-audience is formed on the basis of common interests, habits, etc. It allows us to define groups of customers more precisely: to overcome their barriers more effectively: and to recognise their needs. From this point of view, to make generalisations across the whole country is almost useless.
– How would you describe the differences between Soviet and Russian marketing?
– If we mean that marketing is an edifice of knowledge on rational (reasonable) business management: on the methodology and the organizational methods for such management, then we see that marketing is a strange feature for a state-planned economy. In it everything happened according to plan. However, of course, there was some kind of advertising, but it was considered something backward, and done just ‘as must’. Although, we have to pay proper respect to those advertisers because they did make creative and expressive ads.
Nowadays marketing is an integral part of state, city and enterprise economies. Of course, advertising takes a remarkable place among other means of communication – public relations, sponsorship, personal sale, etc. Some of them did not exist during the Soviet époque.
Now advertising is so important for the country that it is governed by a specific federal law (not all industries have this!). However, just as in the Soviet époque, the best examples of modern advertising reach the level of high art and win prizes at major international contests and festivals.
– What can you classify as advertising in the Soviet Union?
Contrary to popular belief, there was advertising in the Soviet Union in every form. And examples of social advertising, according to modern terminology, which were created in the 1920s, were excellent in their artistic level and graphic design. When TV and cinema advertising became more widely practiced, even the most popular actors, including those from the Moscow Arts Theatre School, did not avoid participating in their production. Moreover, the logos of such incredible organizations as Promgossel′khozles and Traktormashpromeksport and other similar state companies were fantastically designed trademarks which are now found in famous design course manuals.
– Do you have your favourite product? Why?
– Being an advertiser, I think in terms of my favourite brand rather than a favourite product. I can say that historically the brands owned by one of our clients, Procter & Gamble, became a starting point for me. Head & Shoulders and Gillette are among them. I continuously use them in my everyday life and work gladly with our experts over their advertising campaigns. Moreover, their corporate social responsibility program ‘P&G care for each home’ is very special to me because it draws attention to actual social problems and strives to improve the lives of children left without parental care.
At the same, there are Russian major brands which we can be proud of: Sberbank, Aeroflot, Bosco group brands.
– There is an opinion that Russia’s image of the West is effected by negative marketing. Could you, please, provide your comments on this?
– I suggest that it results from tension on the international scene but not from the work of marketing specialists. Notwithstanding that advertising often touches social issues, it is far from politics and complicated international problems, as first of all it is led by business and commercial interests. We cannot exclude that certain state authorities involve professional advertisers when it comes to, let’s say, the creation of an attractive image of the country abroad – for example, for the purposes of tourism, and domestic travel.
– What do you think about the president’s marketing campaign, and his skyrocketing position in global ratings of leadership?
– I think, Russian President Vladimir Putin is represented by his words and actions. This is the reason for his consistently high positions in ratings which are a result of the efforts of his PR specialists, and his continuous direct contact with various audiences: large and small businesses, foreign investors, different economists and, of course, mass media.
– As a product, how would you promote Russian culture and history to the world community: to a conventional consumer who is not enthusiastic about history?
– In the last two decades we have opened up previously unknown layers of Russian cultural heritage. Here I see good potential for attracting interest from abroad. There are timeless Russian cultural symbols which have become a part of the global heritage – gems of literature, paintings, music and ballet.
Let me give just one example of the continuing interest in Russian culture: the new book: The Noise of Time, by Julian Barnes which is devoted to the great Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich and his life (during Stalinism and the years of the Thaw) which has been gripping Great Britain for the last three months.
Ethically, and in just in terms of common sense, I do not think that treasures of art can be packaged in advertising. It is better we talk about attracting interest in visiting the locations in Russia which relate to the names of great creative figures.
– How would you formulate trends in modern advertising?
– I can say that the Russian Association of Communication Agencies, which I was entrusted to lead as President over two years ago, is closely related to the practice of advertising agencies and the development of the business of advertising in Russia. It must be confessed that in recent years the advertising industry has faced a series of extremely restrictive initiatives in the field of publicity. Efforts taken by the Association, which were supported by mass media, led to a ban of the limitations which were put on advertisements for over-the-counter medications, non-alcoholic beverages and fast food. For these purposes the Association managed to establish permanent communications with the state authorities which gave good results.
As for modern practices in the development of the advertising industry: I can mention multi-channelling as one of its main tendencies. The term ‘360-degree ads’ is one of the main approaches applied to the planning of advertising campaigns. Sharing ads on the Internet: in the digital sphere and in social media is growing. It makes the involvement of an increasing number of young people possible. At the same time, another trend in Russia includes the increasing interest in watching TV, especially among 45-55-year-olds. This pushes us to reconsider the conventional approaches which are usually applied by marketing specialists which are basically oriented towards young people. Shopper marketing, which includes promotional marketing at the points of sale and purchase, is shown to be highly effective. The ideal advertising involves contact during the whole day. The successful brand catches you as you go about your day: when you listening to the radio: turning on your notebook or gadget or, finally: watching ads in the supermarket. You are in the brand-zone – this is a passport for success in advertising.
As for the general state of the advertising industry, we can see that after the fall in the market by 10%, which happened last year, there was progressive trend. Hopefully, at the end of the year we will see a 5-6% increase on the market.
– What brand do you associate yourself with?
– I associate myself with Nike: to run without stopping: — to enjoy this process and the communication with the people going with you.
Alexei Kovylov graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University. He took senior positions in domestic and international youth organizations. In 1989–1992 he was a Chairman of the Committee of Youth Organizations of the USSR. In 1992–1993 he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations of Russia. Since 1993 he worked in advertising as General Manager in the Grey, and Geometry Global agencies. Cand. Sc. (History), Academician of Russian Academy of Advertising (2013). Since April 2014 he has been the President of the Russian Association of Communication Agencies.