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Marketing in today’s fast-changing Russia

The magical allure of “Imported” is quickly losing its sparkle in Russia.




Fickle are the ways of the world. In Russia not that very long ago, all you had to do was bring in something “imported” and it was bought almost sight unseen. No marketing needed at all.  It didn’t test the imagination that such eager acceptance of anything foreign-made was understandably in response to years of scarcity and mono-choice products.

When first visiting the then USSR in the late 1970’s, no matter where you went, it seemed to my western eyes there was only one brand of milk for sale, and was intriguingly branded and marketed as “Milk” in shops fetchingly named “Products” or “Groceries”.

The Soviets took generic branding to an entirely new level. In the Soviet era, a much-heard term in shops when looking to purchase just about anything was “it is in deficit”. Countries, culture, politics and times do change, some as in the case of Russia by 180 degrees.

Russian consumers are by nature forgiving, they do not hold grudges as a rule, yet the rules of marketing and production of things are changing. Today you could probably successfully sell “designer” items with brands such as “Boris Johnson Baby Diapers”, “John Bolton’s Moustache Wax”, or even “Theresa May Mouthwash” – as long as they were mostly produced or assembled in Russia. This is a significant, rather recent shift in consumer perception.

The other day I was shopping for shampoo and watched two well turned out ladies examining the cosmetics they were looking to buy, making sure they weren’t imported, but either made under license in Russia, or simply made in Russia. This trend, for those who know Russia, is a significant change in mindset especially as imported goods for decades have been promoted as being better than anything Russia could make.

While on the topic of beauty, personal care and things hygienic – since 2014, when new sanctions were first imposed on Russia, and the mirrored responses to them by Russia, the country’s personal care market has contracted to some degree. Strong undercurrents seem to be driving long-term changes to the sector, notably an increasing preference for locally produced less costly products by sometimes hard-pressed consumers.

The increase in the grocery-basket of prices over the past four years has played a role, as consumers will always prioritize groceries over all but the most basic of toiletries. Within the beauty and personal care industry, this is seen in consumers looking for local price advantages even if it means giving up the ephemeral social prestige seen in some brand associations.

Not very long ago it was seen as “fashionable” for trendy Russians to look like advertising signboards for Moschino, Gucci, D&G and so on – less so today. The “nouveau” has gone out of the “riche”, and price:quality is reasserting primacy. The idea of “foreign” is steadily losing out if the Russian equivalent meets similar basic criteria, and the change has its own cachet.

The devaluation of the Russian ruble has led to high unit price hikes, as many international personal care and beauty brands and their ingredients are still largely imported, therefore far above even the upper middle-income ranges today.

Despite the sanctions, ruble devaluation and the follow-on lukewarm performance of the beauty and personal care market, Russia remains the largest market for cosmetics in Eastern Europe and accounts for 50% of the retail cosmetics market of the CEE. Russia alone is considered Europe’s largest market with a population of over a 143 million, and yet foreign companies historically have had trouble accessing the full purchasing power of Russian consumers.

Cultural sensitivity and understanding of trending realities are one key to effective marketing. The specifics of a nation, its beliefs, and its idiosyncrasies can make or break a business. Marketing in Russia needs a strong cultural adaptation. The basis of the culture and certainly language is different from Western cultures, in daily life as in business.

Russians are a patient but deeply proud people. They are patriotic and strong defenders of the reputation of their country. They accept that their lives are difficult when measured by climate, distances and geography, and take pride on being able to flourish in conditions that others could not.

Today, intra-market competition and the digital world have launched marketing, from basic retail to online e-commerce and social media marketing (SMM) onto undreamed of heights throughout Russia.

As of this writing a tad more than 75% of the Russian population are Internet users. Those remaining outside include the “older” generation (70+ years) as well as those living in very small or remote villages and settlements. As for the young and middle-aged living in cities, Internet use reaches 100%. In terms of marketing to Russian’s it means using the Internet and SMM resources to promote inside Russia is no longer optional, it is a necessity. It is the most efficient promotion channel today in Russia for most goods and services.

In 2017 Russia’s e-commerce reached the ruble equivalent of US$18 billion, growing at a rate of 13% pa and beating out bricks & mortar retail which grew by low single digits (3-5%).

Today, social networks reach over seventy-five percent of the population, and many users have developed multiple site familiarity. Female audiences form a majority in all six popular Russian social networks: the percent of female users on both Instagram and Odnoklassniki is about 70%; MoiMir 60%; Facebook and Vkontakte there is a small majority of female over male users; and on Twitter, there is no appreciable difference.

The same tools as anywhere are in the Russian Internet: Search Engine Optimization, Contextual Advertising, Banner Advertising, Social Media and Blog Advertising, E-mail Marketing, Cost-Per-Action Mechanisms. That said and this being Russia, it is mostly Russian companies that are the undisputed leaders on the internet of things. One example is Yandex, being the most popular search engine in Russia and not the Google’s of this world. Besides, there are some specific behavior differences in a Russian Internet audience.

Transitioning a business internationally is more than simply costs and procedures. It has more to do with cultural alignment and social linguistics than the skillful arrangement of numbers. It is making your product or service fit the desires and unique markers that characterize the users’ in country.

Domestic marketing of any business is challenging, doing it at a distance and in another culture is the Olympics of marketing. Countries may be becoming a bit more similar thanks to the worldwide web, but each country at its cultural core will rarely budge for anything: their sensitivities, traditions, humor, dialogues, myths and protocols are essentially unchanging and can be most stubbornly unaccommodating.

What keeps non-Russian corporations out can seem a little mysterious, given the new, globalized marketplace. The Russian language for one is incredibly rich with plenty of terms and descriptors that have six or seven synonyms in English, or simply defy translation altogether.

As for Russian consumers, translation is a bottom line necessity, as vast majorities of them do not speak a second European language. Russians will not be able to appreciate and respond to marketing material that has not been completely and carefully translated into their own language.

Despite being a fully globalized country with widespread internet access, infrastructure and one of the highest literacy rates on Earth, Russian consumers are a unique group in how they have resisted certain aspects of the globalizing age.

A common perception is that local Russian companies today, especially small businesses, are more trustworthy and cheaper than foreign equivalents. Any foreign corporation trying to appeal to Russians will have to pro-actively fight such perceptions.  It also makes a real positive difference to fully localize a company or brand web presence in Russia. Getting a “.ru” domain assists in appearing more acceptably native.

A number of American companies have understood this trend and the “hints” and have set up local production inside Russia, becoming “made in Russia”. Here are just a few: Pfizer, Forever 21, Boeing, Crate & Barrel, Ford-Sollers, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris, Mondelez, GM, J&J, GE, Cargill, Alcoa, Archer Daniels Midland, McDonalds, even Starbucks has opened its 100th Russian store, with Krispy Kreme snapping at its heels with five shops.

At the end of the day, it does make a significant difference if the product being marketed can factually be labelled made, compounded, or assembled in Russia. I think it was Joe Chernov who first said “Good marketing makes a company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.” That in a nutshell is the sort of sensitivity and approach which keeps paying dividends for years to come.

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Photos of new Iskander base near Ukrainian border creates media hype

But research into the photos and cross-checking of news reports reveals only the standard anti-Russian narrative that has gone on for years.

Seraphim Hanisch



Fox News obtained satellite photos that claim that Russia has recently installed new Iskander missile batteries, one of them “near” to the Ukrainian border. However, what the Fox article does not say is left for the reader to discover: that in regards to Ukraine, these missiles are probably not that significant, unless the missiles are much longer range than reported:

The intelligence report provided to Fox by Imagesat International showed the new deployment in Krasnodar, 270 miles from the Ukrainian border. In the images is visible what appears to be an Iskander compound, with a few bunkers and another compound of hangars. There is a second new installation that was discovered by satellite photos, but this one is much farther to the east, in the region relatively near to Ulan-Ude, a city relatively close to the Mongolian border.

Both Ukraine and Mongolia are nations that have good relations with the West, but Mongolia has good relations with both its immediate neighbors, Russia and China, and in fact participated with both countries in the massive Vostok-2018 military war-games earlier this year.

Fox News provided these photos of the Iskander emplacement near Krasnodar:

Imagesat International

Fox annotated this photo in this way:

Near the launcher, there is a transloader vehicle which enables quick reloading of the missiles into the launcher. One of the bunker’s door is open, and another reloading vehicle is seen exiting from it.

[Fox:] The Iskander ballistic missile has a range up to 310 miles, and can carry both unconventional as well as nuclear warheads, putting most of America’s NATO allies at risk. The second deployment is near the border with Mongolia, in Ulan-Ude in Sothern Russia, where there are four launchers and another reloading vehicle.

[Fox:] Earlier this week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said authorities of the former Soviet republic are being “controlled” by the West, warning it stands to lose its independence and identity as a consequence. “The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood,” Mr Patrushev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to Russian news agency TASS.

This situation was placed by Fox in context with the Kerch Strait incident, in which three Ukrainian vessels and twenty-four crew and soldiers were fired upon by Russian coast guard ships as they manuevered in the Kerch Strait without permission from Russian authorities based in Crimea. There are many indications that this incident was a deliberate attempt on the part of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, to create a sensational incident, possibly to bolster his flagging re-election campaign. After the incident, the President blustered and set ten provinces in Ukraine under martial law for 30 days, insisting to the world, and especially to the United States, that Russia was “preparing to invade” his country.

Russia expressed no such sentiment in any way, but they are holding the soldiers until the end of January. However, on January 17th, a Moscow court extended the detention of eight of these captured Ukrainian sailors despite protests from Kyiv and Washington.

In addition to the tensions in Ukraine, the other significant point of disagreement between the Russian Federation and the US is the US’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia sees this treaty as extremely important, but the US point of view expressed by John Bolton, National Security Adviser, is that the treaty is useless because it does not include any other parties that have intermediate range nukes or the capability for them, such as Iran, North Korea, and China. This is an unsolved problem, and it is possible that the moves of the Iskander batteries is a subtle warning from the Russians that they really would rather the US stay in the treaty.

Discussions on this matter at public levels between the Russian government and the US have been very difficult because of the fierce anti-Russia and anti-Trump campaigns in the media and political establishments of the United States. President Putin and President Trump have both expressed the desire to meet, but complications like the Kerch Strait Incident conveniently arise, and have repeatedly disrupted the attempts for these two leaders to meet.

Where Fox News appears to get it wrong shows in a few places:

First, the known range for Iskander missiles maxes at about 310 miles. The placement of the battery near Krasnodar is 270 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border, but the eastern part of Ukraine is Russian-friendly and two provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, are breakaway provinces acting as independent republics. The battery appears to be no threat to Kyiv or to that part of Ukraine which is aligned with the West. Although the missiles could reach into US ally Georgia, Krasnodar is 376 miles from Tbilisi, and so again it seems that there is no significant target for these missiles. (This is assuming the location given is accurate.)

Second, the location shown in the photo is (44,47,29.440N at 39,13,04.754E). The date on the “Krasnodar” photo is January 17, 2019. However, a photo of the region taken July 24, 2018 reveals a different layout. It takes a moment or two to study this, but there is not much of an exact match here:

Third, Fox News reported of “further Russian troops deployment and S-400 Surface to air missile days after the escalation started, hinting Russia might have orchestrated the naval incident.”

It may be true that Russia deployed weapons to this base area in Crimea, but this is now Russian territory. S-400s can be used offensively, but their primary purpose is defensive. Troops on the Crimean Peninsula, especially at this location far to the north of the area, are not in a position strategically to invade Kherson Oblast (a pushback would probably corner such forces on the Crimean peninsula with nowhere to go except the Black Sea). However, this does look like a possible defense installation should Ukraine’s forces try to invade or bomb Crimea.

Fox has this wrong, but it is no great surprise, because the American stance about Ukraine and Russia is similar – Russia can do no right, and Ukraine can do no wrong. Fox News is not monolithic on this point of view, of course, with anchors and journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who seem willing to acknowledge the US propaganda about the region. However, there are a lot of hawks as well. While photos in the articles about the S-400s and the Russian troops are accurately located, it does appear that the one about Iskanders is not, and that the folks behind this original article are guessing that the photos will not be questioned. After all, no one in the US knows where anything is in Russia and Ukraine, anyway, right?

That there is an issue here is likely. But is it appears that there is strong evidence that it is opposite what Fox reported here, it leaves much to be questioned.

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Vladimir Putin calls new Ukrainian church ‘dangerous politicking’

President Putin said creation of the “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” is against Church canon and that the West drove Constantinople to do it.

Seraphim Hanisch



In an interview with the Serbian newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti ahead of his visit to Serbia, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the creation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, a schismatic agglomeration headed by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists was “dangerous politicking.” He further noted that:

The establishment of the new religious entity in Ukraine is nothing but an attempt “to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.”

“Yet, hardly anyone in the U.S. or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this,” Putin said.

“Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking,” he said.

President Putin had more things to say in the interview, and we present what he said in full here (emphasis ours), as reported on the website:

Question: The Serbian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of countries are exerting pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew and seek to ensure recognition of Ukrainian ”schismatics“ by Local Orthodox Churches. How do you think the situation will evolve?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind your readers, who are greatly concerned about the information regarding the split in the Orthodox community but are probably not fully aware of the situation in Ukraine, what it is all about.

On December 15, 2018, the Ukrainian leaders, actively supported by the USA and the Constantinople Patriarchate, held a so-called “unifying synod”. This synod declared the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with Patriarch Bartholomew signing the tomos (decree) granting it autocephaly on January 6, 2019. Thus, it was attempted to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.

Yet, hardly anyone in the US or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this, as the new church entity is an entirely political, secular project. Its main aim is to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, sowing seeds of ethnic as well as religious discord. No wonder Kiev has already declared ”obtaining complete independence from Moscow.”

Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking. Likewise, we do not speak about the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is de-facto fully controlled by Istanbul. Whereas Ukraine’s largest canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never requested autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew, is absolutely independent in its actions. Its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church is purely canonical – but even this causes undisguised irritation of the current Kiev regime.

Because of this, clergymen and laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being persecuted and deprived of churches and monasteries, and attempts are made to deny the Church its legitimate name, which raises tensions and only leads to further discord in Ukrainian society.

Evidently, Ukraine’s leaders have to understand that any attempts to force the faithful into a different church are fraught with grave consequences. Yet, they are eager to put interconfessional concord in the country at stake in order to conduct the election campaign of the current Ukrainian President based on a search for enemies, and to retain power by all means.

All of this does not go unnoticed by Orthodox Christians.

Naturally, Russia does not intend to interfere in ecclesiastical processes, especially those happening on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state. However, we are aware of the danger posed by such experiments and blatant interference of the state in religious affairs.

The situation continues to degrade in Ukraine, and though the Orthodox faithful of the Autonomous but Moscow-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church are the hardest hit, worry over Ukrainian lawlessless-made-law has the Jewish community in that country nervous as well. This is perhaps to be expected as the Azov Brigade, a neo-Nazi aligned group that is hypernationalist, is a good representation of the character of the “hate Russia at all costs” Ukrainian nationalists. A parallel piece in Interfax made note of this in a piece dated January 17th 2019:

[A] bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada introducing a procedure by which parishes can join the new Ukrainian church makes it easier to seize places of worship, and supporters of autocephaly have already started doing this across the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said.

“They need this law to seize our churches. You can’t just come with a crowbar to someone else’s barn, but now the law allows you to do so. They aren’t creating something of their own, but are trying to steal what’s ours,” Ukrainian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vasyl Anisimov told Interfax on Thursday.

The religious entity set up in December with Constantinople’s involvement and called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine “in fact doesn’t yet exist in nature. It’s fake. It doesn’t have any parishes of its own or government registration,” he said.

However, “the supporters of autocephaly don’t have plans to create anything of their own at all, so they have chosen the path of takeover, and the authorities are helping them in that,” Anisimov said.

“Hence, the legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada today is in fact absolute lawlessness,” he said.

“If you pass legislation affecting an industry, you should talk to industrialists, and if it’s legislation on the agricultural sector, talk to farmers. And here legislation on a church is passed, and moreover, this legislation is aimed against this church, it is protesting, and Jews are protesting, too, because this legislation may affect them as well – but nobody is listening, and they change the law for the sake of an absolutely absurd and unconstitutional gimmick. But, of course, it’s the people who will ultimately suffer,” Anisimov said.


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According to Ukraine, the Crimean Bridge doesn’t exist (VIDEO)

Ukraine tries to deny the reality of the completion and soundness of the Crimean Bridge, though Ukraine was unable to build it, itself.

Seraphim Hanisch



Russia’s VESTI News is truly an entertaining channel at times. This news service is strongly supported by the Russian government, and one of the criticisms it receives from Russian people is that it is an “extreme” propaganda house, telling all manner of crazy stories to distract its watchers’ attention away from the real problems that Russian people face at home.

No doubt there is truth to this, as this is a technique certainly duplicated in the US, Great Britain and elsewhere. Every nation has the right to its own propaganda. However, Vesti also seems to have a lot of fun making fun of other nations’ propaganda, and here they found a great one. Apparently, Ukraine’s propaganda ministry is trying to make the assertion that the Crimean Bridge collapsed and its debris is floating around in the Kerch Strait, “with the tectonic plates.”

See for yourself.

According to Ukrainian scientists and even “psychics”, this bridge is doomed to fall into the Kerch Strait once a sufficient earthquake hits it. Some claims appear even to say that the bridge already is not there, or at least, is not there in the way the Russian news sources have described it.

Of course, the VESTI team erupts into its famous snark, talking about how the bridge is very much alive and well and that it is the new “pride of Russia,” and so on.

This bridge is indeed quite an engineering feat, being completed only about three years after the rejoining / annexation / invasion / hostile takeover / or was it a voluntary referendum? of Crimea to the Russian Federation. This is a rapid speed for such a major project, but it is not very unusual for such projects to progress rather quickly when they are done with a will.

Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) is presently by far the tallest building in the world, reaching skyward 828 meters, over half a mile into the sky. It took a little over four years to construct this landmark building, and it was done steadily and with a will to completion. Its would-be successor is not having as smooth an experience, for the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has hit problems, and even though this tower is projected to go only about 130 meter higher (reaching a significant milestone of one kilometer tall), its construction started in 2013, and as of the latest update, only 63 floors are completed.

The Crimean Bridge was built with a will to make a point, presumably to Ukraine, the rest of Russia and the world:

This is the New Russia. Look what we can do!

And, they did a marvelous feat of engineering in a very short time.

VESTI indeed does try to make some people feel better by pointing out the problems of other countries. Sometimes that is a distraction. But sometimes it is worth a serious bit of consideration.

Ukraine has a leader most of its people apparently cannot stand, who is a warmonger and a crybaby at the same time, begging the West for help while breathing threats against Russia.

While there are no doubt many, many wonderful people there trying to do wonderful things, it does seem to be that the country is suffering because of its willingness to be a pawn of the West. Russia is feeling the Western squeeze and it is not pleasant, but the Russians also seem to know that they can get themselves through this, and so they have reason to be glad when the country makes a good accomplishment such as the Crimean Bridge. The political and geopolitical importance of this project is such that it is very likely that all sorts of great engineering went into the bridge. It is prudent, and Russians seem to understand prudence very, very well.

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