Advertising + Communism = Strange Things On the Internet

Making commercials in the Soviet Union.


This wonderfully weird video has been floating around the Internet for a few years now:

Though it's identified as an old Soviet commercial, I suspected when I first saw it that it was actually some sort of found-footage film put together by a radical vegetarian. It feels like an avant-garde short, not an attempt to get people to buy something, and certainly not an attempt to get people to eat chicken. And why the hell would they need commercials in the Soviet Union anyway? But apparently it's legit: Dangerous Minds has just interviewed the man who made the spot, an Estonian named Harry Egipt. Here's how the conversation starts:

Jason Toon: What was the purpose of Soviet commercials, since the USSR did not have a consumer-oriented market with different brands competing for sales?

Harry Egipt: During Soviet times advertising had an entirely different purpose than it would have today. For example, it shows the absurdity of Soviet planned economy that the commercials produced by a state-funded agency were sometimes prevented from even being screened. The primary purpose of advertising was not to encourage people to consume, it was not to market a product or service, but rather to inform and educate people and shape their views on society in general as opposed to finding a market for a particular product. Advertisements were targeted at a wider audience, not at a specific group of consumers.

Soviet ads were absurdly twisted in the context of contemporary advertising compared to their capitalist counterparts. Selling a product was not as important as the entertainment value, thus making the ads themselves the product to be consumed. Products often vanished from the shelves without need for any advertising but ads were produced nonetheless. At other times an ad would be produced in hopes that, at the time of airing, a product would be available for sale.

According to Egipt, even this distorted sort of consumerism opened a space for personal expression: "Quite often adverts provided a financial basis to make television programs—with less bureaucracy and more creative freedom." If nothing else, it looks like he found some of that creative freedom for himself.

Read the rest of the interview here. Read more about ads as art here. Order a DVD of Soviet commercials compiled by Egipt's son here.