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Russian food producers have shown as much political awareness as politicians
Russian food producers have shown as much political awareness as politicians lately: they are seriously concerned about the next president who could be a useful advertising tool.

The moment Vladimir Putin named Dmitry Medvedev his chosen successor, the Federal Service for Intellectual Property, Patents and Trademarks (Rospatent) received numerous bids to register "presidential" brands, [all of them having to do with bears since "medved" is Russian for "bear"].

It probably won't be long before grocery store shelves become specked with vodka Volodya i Medvedi (Vladimir and Bears), Medvedevka, or chocolates Tsar Medved (The Bear King).

Russians are known for their unfailing trust in a good and fair tsar. Russian market experts cite this belief as the key reason why playing with the name of the current head of state always gives a brand some competitive advantage.

The day after Medvedev was nominated as a presidential candidate, Rospatent had its hands full with applications from producers to register a host of trademarks like Medvedevka, Tsar Medved and Medvedka. The applicant registering these trademarks, Inso-Energo, plans to use the bear-related brand names for alcohol, soft drinks, and candy. Kaufman Production consulting with Vinexim has applied to register Volodya i Medvedi brand, while Postnoff & Co, vodka Russky Medved (Russian Bear).

They have probably been inspired by the success of Putinka vodka, bottled by Moscow's Kristall distillery since 2003 on the orders of Vinexim, the Moscow-based company that owns the Putinka trademark. Within a year, the "presidential" vodka gained 2.7% of the Russian market in money terms and came in second after Zelenaya Marka with 4.2% by the end of 2006.

Despite the multiple assurances from Vinexim spokesmen that their brand had nothing to do with the president, but was derived from the Russia word "putina" which means "fishing season," everybody knows that its skyrocketing sales had everything to do with the current president's charisma.

Vinexim's rivals must have learned that lesson. Marsia-Torg was the first company who rushed to register a "bear" trademark, MEDVEDEVka, two years ago, when Medvedev was only just appointed first deputy prime minister. A year later the company sold the brand to Esperanto Vin, a partner of the Kristall-Lefortovo distillery, which later resold it to La Termo gifts firm.

As far as Vinexim is concerned, market players had warned it even six months earlier about the inevitable "2008 problem." It's unclear how the brand will fare after its namesake leaves office in March. Experts predict an inevitable drop in sales, and recommend that Vinexim and Kristall choose a "successor brand."

Vinexim's top managers assured them there was no such thing as a "2008 problem," and general brand manager Stanislav Kaufman said Putinka's future was as bright as ever. He said that people would be nostalgic for Putin's time and would remain loyal to the brand, even though the new president also has charisma.

Still, the company took the advice and began searching for new marketing solutions.

Some market experts are convinced that direct or indirect associations with a well-known politician can almost guarantee a brand commercial success if several simple rules are observed.

Alexander Yeremenko, BrandLab managing director, believes that the association should be clear and the package design should correspond to the consumers' image of the politician. The Putinka label, for example, is austere and minimalistic.

Practice shows that popular politicians-linked brand names do not always guarantee high sales. Flamboyant LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky found himself on a commercial label at the peak of his popularity. The Zhirinovsky trademark registered in 1994 has been used since then to sell vodka, cigarettes, cologne and even mayonnaise and chocolate bars, but has never had much success.

The same happened to the Mayor men's cologne brand, which popular Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov helped create and promote. Incidentally, Vinexim's commercial rivals who talk about Putinka's vague prospects are very careful about proposing new "presidential" hits. "An Ivanovka or Medvedevka will hardly sell as well as Putinka did, because its success was ensured by Vinexim's clever marketing policy, in addition to the national leader's charisma," said an industry analyst.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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