Monday, June 27, 2011


A couple of days ago, while taking a stroll in downtown Yerevan, I came across this...

Others seemed to see nothing "out of place" with this picture, but I found it extremely amusing. After all, "Putinka" has achieved wide recognition in the global spirits scene since it was launched about a decade ago (including the U.S.). And now... "Medvedevka"?

After a quick research, I found out that this is - apparently - nothing new. The "Medvedevka" brand was registered back in 2005, much earlier than Dmitry Medvedev's election as President (in March 2008), and even before then-President Putin endorsed him as his successor (in December 2007). Obviously, certain business leaders felt comfortably safe about their future sales as well as political bets as soon as Medvedev was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister. (Image courtesy of Name Wire)

Even more amusing are the other brand names, which the spirits' producers rushed to register in the very late 2007: "Volodya I Medvedi" (Volodya and the bears) or "Tsar Medved" (Czar Bear -- verbatim). Here's Russia Today's coverage of the story from four years ago:

Hilarious. RIA Novosti featured an article on it, too, quoting marketing specialists:

"Yevgeny Boichenko, head of the MBA marketing program at the Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS, told the newspaper that any reference to well-known politicians promises greater revenues for a range of products, but especially alcohol.
'Putinka' vodka was launched in late 2003, three years after Putin came to power, and gained 2.7% of the market within a year. In 2006, the product accounted for 4.4% of the Russian alcohol market, which was estimated at $15 billion, Vedomosti reported.
"As long as Russia toys with the idea of a good tsar, using presidents' names [for product names] will be an advantage," BrandLab managing director, Alexander Yeryomenko, told the paper."

And apparently, not just Russia. Earlier this year, the "Volodya I Medvedi" brand had an issue with Russia's patent agency, which claimed that the former "undermines the state's image". Nonetheless, a local company registered the patent in Ukraine, saving the brand from its collapse and continuing the product's presence in the Russian market, as well as in the "near abroad". (Ukrainians love Putin and Medvedev as much as vodka? Interesting message...)

Perhaps not surprising at all. Russia still remains the regional hegemon, not just militarily or politically, but also economically and culturally. This is especially true in Armenia. So, no, there's nothing surprising about the fact that the brand has started an "aggressive" marketing campaign in this country, too: after all, many still look up to Russia and the Russian leaders as symbols of will and power [i.e. whatever Mr. Yeryomenko was suggesting about Russians, might very well be true of the other former Soviet bloc nations, as well].

This is the "Medvedevka Limited Edition" commercial posted by Armenia Wine on YouTube last month (I presume, they are the local distributor). I find it very telling...

It is in Russian - which, of course, is not a problem for the local audience. More notable, however, is the message: claiming "impeccable quality" and "superbly soft taste", the vodka also claims to represent the "spiritual heritage of a great nation", concluding (memorably) with "Taste of Power".

Hmm... These lines can fly around here, I guess. Would really be curious to see a commercial targeting the Western publics, though, in case the company starts exporting there, too.

Most importantly, however, it reminded me (yet again) that public diplomacy, and especially "soft power" (although I'm being very cautious to be using this term here), are sometimes inextricably linked and often interdependent with business. The latter relies on the pre-existing national image to expand and succeed abroad (especially when it comes to such "nationally-linked" products), while further reinforcing and/or extending the nation's "soft power".

Thus, whether Putin runs for President in 2012 might have no actual significance for Russia's long-term image and public diplomacy in the region. As long as Putinka and Medvedevka enjoy widespread demand, Russia can rest assured that its message will sell, too.

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