Sales is most certainly an international endeavor for the most successful companies. The most difficult aspect is perceiving an intersect between the cultural area-of-origin and that of another culture while maintaining brand identity. Translation is not only reliant upon language but more importantly on an ingrained sense of appropriateness and emotion. STEREOTACTIC Producer Lev Khayznikov is a master of this. Leading a number of commercials in Russia by American companies like Miller beer (from Milwaukee), Uber (San Francisco), and others, Khayznikov appears to have an almost inherent understanding of what will work in both America and Russia, which is not to minimize the skill he’s honed over years as a professional. Impressively, both Miller beer (owned by Molson Coors, with an annual revenue of over 10 billion USD) and Uber (annual revenue of over 20 billion USD) are highly infrequent advertisers in Russia; when they do so, it’s because they feel the reassurance of working with someone like Lev who almost guarantees that the Russian public will embrace it.
Advertisements are about connection: the connection of the client to their brand, the connection of the audience with the brand, and the connection of the professionals who make the commercials which complete this circle of identity. Lev concedes that as one of the very first big commercials by this company in Russia, there was an obvious brand creative direction but it still cannot be overstated that this production set the style for subsequent videos for the product and company. In Khayznikov’s estimation, the payoff of a director and DOP (Matvey Fiks and Denis Firstov in this case) connecting is the achievement of a truly organic aesthetic and tone. Choosing to shoot in Sochi was in parts obvious and unobvious in capturing the ideal footage for the Miller beer spot. Lev explains, “Sochi is much warmer than Moscow, which helped but also the people we cast from the area are naturally more ‘smiley’ which is in line with the general vibe of the campaign. Casting those who will naturally act the way you need them to act makes your life easier and keeps everyone involved happy.” The “Russian Smile” refers to the concept that whereas most Europeans and Americans use smiling as a social tool, Russians reserve it for a true and sincere sign of affection towards someone and reserve it for authentic connection. Utilizing a setting and people who appear to just have likely been from Milwaukee as south of Moscow manifested a scenario on-camera that was natural for Miller beer and for young adults in Russia.
Uber has been one of the game changing companies of recent times. It’s a very rare occurrence for the company to film an ad in Russia. The goal for this ad was to create something very creative with a great deal of humor to appeal to Russian consumers. Lev describes, “A lot of people commute on the subway to work in the bigger cities in Russia. These are the people who will also use Uber when they need a service like this. We wanted to create the kind of short ad that would make them laugh while on their commute during rush hour, the kind they would remember and smile about later rather than cursing about it wasting their time. Of course, it also needed to be unique to be so memorable. The commercial which Khayznikov produced for Uber starred the director Meateye himself taking a photo where he pretends to be asleep to allow him to slip out of the apartment and use Uber, likely in search of a good time out on the town. One of the most transfixing parts of this ad is that it leaves so many unanswered questions that one tends to create a story about the possible motivations and actions that led up to Meateye’s deceptive actions. The holes in the story add to the comedy of it as well as the drama.
A prime example of a Russian iteration of services that exist in other countries is Yandex Market which delivers everything from meals to electronics, medicine and nearly everything imaginable. Think of it as a hyper-version of Amazon and Uber Eats and you begin to perceive what Yandex Market is capable of. (The company has an estimated annual revenue around six Billion in USD). Once again, Lev points to the importance of knowing your target audience and creating a connection which allows them to see themselves in the characters of a commercial. Casting for this series of sevearl short ads was paramount for the Yandex Market campaign. Lev informs, “The demands were substantial in terms of casting because the age group who uses this app ranges from fifteen years-old to seventy. Slava [director] and I were looking for strong types with specific appeals and this was done in a very calculated way. For example, in the ad which shows the delivery of headphones, the task was to find a bright student who seemed a little insecure, a big guy who would look unusual in elegant/fancy headphones. This is a very unusual type for the Russian market. This type of man breaks some foundational rules of what is expected but it resonated with the audience and was recognized for its orinality. In the spot about cat food, we chose instead to stick to a very standard type; a woman who works in the office and is very strict but at home they adore their pet and shower them with love and attention.”
Rarely are there borders in the modern business world. This seems to be increasing by every year and as it does, professionals like Lev Khayznikov who are as adept at understanding people of different cultures as they are at excelling in their own skill set, are the ones who will lead their industry.
Writer: Arlen Gann