Russians use U.S.-style marketing

Distribs tweak strategies culled from West

Russian-made movies notched up two record-breaking releases in the first month of 2008 when “Irony of Fate — The Sequel,” a remake of a phenomenally popular Soviet film, took $50 million during its first four weeks and spoof comedy “The Very Best Film” raked in $19.5 million in its first week and went on to top $27 million.

Although “Irony” was produced by Russia’s powerful state broadcaster the First Channel — whose head, Konstantin Ernst, had pioneered the domestic blockbuster concept, paving the way with fantasy thrillers “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” — the spoof was the work of independent channel TNT’s popular “Comedy Club” TV show and Monumental Pictures, a new outfit jointly owned by Sony and Western investors who include American Paul Heth and German Michael Schlicht, both with many years’ experience in Russia.

They took a leaf out of Ernst’s book, spending as much on the advertising campaign — $5 million — as on making the film, a pastiche of recent Russian movies designed to appeal to core 14-25 moviegoing audiences.

The inane, grinning faces of the film’s stars — and an eye-catching glimpse up the billowing skirts of a pretty, leggy bride dressed in white — were ubiquitous on outdoor signage, bus shelters, metro stations and TV spots.

The blanket marketing strategy was something First Channel had already perfected, to the point that critics had accused it of using “administrative resources” to get its blockbusters mentioned free of charge on news and shows it aired.

The marketing formula obviously worked — plenty of kids were sucked into the multiplexes that have mushroomed at new shopping malls in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other big cities in recent years, and viral word of mouth advertising dubbed it a “must see.”

But in a booming, dynamic movie market like Russia, where box office is continuing to grow by 25%-30% a year, marketing strategies cannot afford to become formulaic, says Monumental’s Schlicht, who was heavily involved in promoting First Channel movies when he was at the helm of distributor 20th Century Fox CIS.

“You have to remember that of the hundreds of Russian films that are made each year, onlyfive or six of them are responsible for three-quarters of all domestic share of the box office gross,” Schlicht says. “It gets harder and more expensive if you continue to use the same set of marketing tools in the same way to get your message out.”

With the cost of television advertising rising as demand market grows, promotional campaigns are being forced to be more imaginative.

Another approach is to use television stealthily: When Hollywood comedy “Hancock” opened in Russia last June, its star Will Smith was roped in to do the sports commentary on a televised boxing match.

A similar concept was used recently to promote the new James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace,” when star Daniel Craig and the new “Bond girl,” Ukrainian-born model Olga Kurylenko, took part in top-ranking Saturday primetime ice-skating show “Lednikovy Period” (Ice Age), enabling the movie to be advertised without a direct pitch.

Internet advertising also is a growing area, although perhaps the most challenging issue in Russia is how to increase audiences by attracting the over-25s — once a major component of Soviet audiences — back to the cinema.

Armen Dishdishian, executive VP, international, at independent distribution and production shingle Central Partnership, believes more sophisticated and targeted marketing is the answer.

The company already has a dedicated arthouse division, CP Classics, which works with cinema chains Cinema Park and Formula Kino to target movies aimed at audiences beyond the 14-25 demographic.

Now it is changing its company policy to put marketing at the forefront of everything it does.

“Film producers have to understand that before they make a movie they have to begin marketing it,” Dishdishian says. “They have to know who their audience is and how they will reach it.”