12th Jan 2015
When, in 1991, Mikhail Kudashkin, a translator with no advertising experience, was hired as CD at D’Arcy’s Russia office, the role took in car washing and unloading trucks. Now ECD at Leo Burnett Moscow, he tells Emily Ansell how the Russian scene has come a long way since them.
MUCKING IN AT MOSCOW HQ
“Unless I am mistaken, it was Chateaubriand [Francios-Rene, the French writer, not the steak… obvs], who once said that the choice of profession is one of the most important choices one makes – and most of the times chance decides it all”. There are the words that Leo Burnett Moscow’s executive creative director Mikhail Kudashkin offers when asked why he choose a career in advertising. This is apt, as Kudashkin studied linguistic at university, then spent seven years as a translator for RIA Novosti, the press agency abolished by Putin in 2013.
A phonecall changed everything
Kudashkin was born Moscow but grew up in Senegal where his father worked as a diplomat. At the age of 10, he returned to the Soviet Union and pursued his love of languages, French in particular. But maybe there were already signs that he would become a creative, as he points out there’s a link between advertising and translation – both are about transposing a message into a language best understood by the recipient. In the portrait he sent into shots, see above, the words written on his face are samples of advertising jargon in three languages – Russian, English and French.
Of his move into into ad land, Kudashkin says: “One Sunday morning, a friend called to ask how I felt about trying my hand at advertising. 1991 was the time when lots of things changed in Russia and in my personal life, I was just going through a divorce with my first wife, so I thought – why not?” This friend was in charge of media planning at D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (later abridged to D’Arcy) and Kudashkin was invited in for an interview and test assignment. Despite having no advertising experience, he was hired as creative director two days later. “In spite of being worse than a rookie, my advertising career began with the title of CD. But for quite a while I would be creative director and creative department in one. The agency had just nine people, so everybody helped everyone, no matter what their position – I helped wash the office car once and when there was a pet food truck to unload (Mars and P&G were our two biggest clients), all hands were made available”, Kudashkin recalls. “At that time, we were mainly adapting international campaigns. But soon we felt we could do more to reach the hearts of our fellow countrymen, and started developing and shooting our own ads – with the likes of Timur Bekmambetov who, long before [2008 US thriller] “Wanted” helmed one of our first ads for Mars – “Shopfitter”.
Unlike some creatives, who often hop from one agency to another, Kudashkin has pretty much stayed in one place throughout his advertising career. When D’Arcy’s Russian arm was swallowed by Leo Burnett in 2002, he was offered the role of CD at Leo Burnett Moscow, and took it – being promoted to ECD in 2005. “There are only two agencies on my CV, one and a half even, if we keep in mind how many people from D’Arcy went to Leo. Agencies are all about people, right? I was lucky to meet and to still work with some of the best people to grace Russian advertising and they are one of the reasons, if not the reason, why I’ve never seriously thought moving to another agency. I must be irredeemably loyal – but don’t tell my boss!” he jokes.
Looking back at some of his career highlights, Kudashkin picks out a campaign for Alyonka chocolate that took the form of a cartoon centring on the little girl, called Alyonka, whose image appears on the chocolate bar’s wrapper. Kudashkin explains: “This campaign resulted in a sales increase of more that 30 per cent. But a year or so later, it was put to a halt because… one of the shareholders suddenly decided that he hated cartoons. We made a few desperate attempts to save the campaign, one was to turn this fantasy world into a movie, in the fashion of The Flintstones, but this turned out to be too expensive, and we lost the Alyonka account. After a couple of years’ hiatus, the animation was un-vetoed (don’t ask me the reason), so we pitched Alyonka again and won it back! Happy ends don’t come better than this, if you ask me”.
Russian advertising seek identity
Thinking about Russian advertising in general, Kudashkin says the country has became a strong player in the international arena and the number of award being picked up at Cannes is increasing every year, but it has yet to find its own identity. “Of course, if you compare what it was like when it all began in the 90s, with the current state of affairs, the progress that’s been made is enormous. But what we’ve learned is mostly how to imitate, even though the examples we imitate are among the best”, he admits. “For me, print – a visual, plus a caption or brand logo – remains the the soul of advertising. That’s why I’d love this soul to find a Russian face one day”.
Shots Magazine, February 2015