Dead dogs and Englishmen

Road kill, vodka and supermodels – there’s no such thing as a typical week in Moscow, but it can be a great market to get into, says Kevin Gill

The trip had an inauspicious start. I landed in Moscow at 4am and quickly found myself in a taxi taking me at breakneck speed from the airport into the city centre. Suddenly, a dog with a death wish ran out into the road and was hit by the car alongside us, which also made rather a gruesome mess of our car. After some time spent watching the drama unfold as the two drivers gestured wildly and insulted each other in Russian, we continued. Upon arrival, my driver engaged me in a heated debate about why it was my responsibility to pay to have the car cleaned, while I tried not to notice the dismembered dog’s leg that was resting on the car bonnet.

What a welcome! Fortunately, it soon developed into a far more enjoyable visit, offering a wealth of interesting experiences. From the obvious benefits of unlimited vodka (the refreshment of choice during certain meetings), bars seemingly populated exclusively with supermodels (GQ Bar, in case you’re in town), and the dramatic beauty of the city itself, working in Moscow has provided us with a number of new challenges.

We design brand environments with our sister company, brand and digital consultancy Start Creative.

UK-based, with offices in Manchester and London, we are lucky enough to work with brands such as Adidas, Hertz, Virgin Media and Fred Perry.

But when we took our design and experiential marketing services over to Russian shores for a retail communications project for MTS, Russia’s largest mobile phone operator, the experience was more than we could have expected, not just for the challenges and rewards it offered, but for the openmindedness of the Russians in encouraging us to be pioneers and create something new.

The main difference in working with Russian brands is the ‘missing connection’. Most heads of Russian brands have gained much of their marketing knowledge via the big international ad agencies, resulting in a very talented tier of senior management. There is also a good level of skill coming through in the junior ranks, but there tends to be a gap between these two levels.

Brand-owners know how to communicate via ads, promotions and products, but we found that most had little prior knowledge in terms of environments, and we therefore had to go much deeper in terms of our explanation of concepts and how they could deliver on a brand promise. We also had to be careful to make sure that all the concepts crossed the language barrier.

I should stress that working with Russian marketers is a very rewarding and positive experience. We really got the feeling that we were breaking new ground with MTS, and our clients embraced all of the new ideas presented to them, resulting in a very fast turnaround and commitment to roll it out to other stores.

There were a number of cultural factors to consider as well. Kids in Russia want to be modern, not Western. We really had to understand and respect modern Russian culture and not try to just lump a Western solution on to them.

A clear understanding of the target audience was also key in our photography – to create a look that was engaging, inspirational and representative of MTS’s 91 million subscribers.

In terms of technology and media consumption, Russia differs greatly from the UK.

The same media and technology channels are on offer, but they tend to be less developed in terms of their adoption levels, usage patterns, and the most popular applications.

However, when developing a new retail communications strategy and retail concept for MTS we found that we could use some common rules that apply everywhere. It is these core strategies we believe will drive businesses forward.

Regardless of geography, a well-designed store environment plays a key role in providing customers with a deeper and more generous brand experience – one that’s both rewarding and stimulating. Clever brands understand how they can use the store to give something back to their customers and build a relationship.

The Russian way of doing business is very different, so gaining an understanding of the process is vital. Build a strong relationship with the chief executive, get contracts signed before starting work, establish clear payment schedules and hold something up your sleeve.

Kevin Gill is managing director of Judge Gill


  • Heed the knowledge gap, and remember that Russians like to do business in different ways
  • Offer to explain the basic principles behind the work you’re doing – don’t assume prior knowledge
  • Respect the culture – don’t assume a Western solution will work
  • Push the boundaries regarding new technologies and solutions
  • Stick to your basic principles, but adapt for your audience
  • Agree clear objectives and budgets at the outset
  • Expect the unexpected


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