The second surprise of my trip to Moscow came almost as soon as I disembarked from the plane and was on the train en route to Paveletskaya station: the billboards lining the track were either empty or advertising the advertising space. It was the same on the underground – the Metro to us Russians ‒ all the posters had gone.
When I came to the UK for the first time, I remember being aghast by the number of adverts: everywhere you looked, something was being sold to you. As I am a big fan of architecture and once was even thinking of a career of an architect, I remember being particularly upset about all these ads covering the beautiful London buildings. It is difficult to imagine this now, but in the Soviet Union advertising did not exist. There were “brands” but they did not compete against each other. There was usually only one brand for something; for example, the “Moskovsky Kartofel” for crisps; “Moloko” for milk, which used to come in blue or red – depending on the fat content – pyramid-shaped cartons; “Maslo” for butter, etc. Some foodstuffs would have a special sign of approval – Znak Kachestva. There were several types of toothpaste, or washing powder, and of course, a great many Soviet perfumes. But in general life was a lot easier, as you did not have to constantly make decisions on what exactly you wanted to buy.
As capitalism moved in, adverts started appearing everywhere. Moreover, many adverts were advertising Western goods, because western companies had the money and the marketing acumen to spend it on advertising their products. I have to admit, that when I first saw those adverts on my beloved clean pure white spacious ceilings above escalators of the Moscow underground, I did not like it. It felt like travesty.
It is incredible to think now how we used to live without adverts. All communist newspapers were plain black on white, with an occasional photograph of a labour peredovick (champion). Although overall the papers were full of communist propaganda, the content was stronger and more diverse compared to Western papers I read now: there was more information, in particular, on world affairs and science. All buildings in Moscow were clear of advertising and there were no billboards advertising products, only billboards with placards of drawings of Soviet workers, farmers and general communist calls for devoting one’s life to serving society or citations from Lenin, like “The Party is the brain, honour and conscience of our epoch”.
I, similarly to Tonia Voronina in “Ghost Love”, witnessed all this change. In the second half of the 1990s billboards adorned with photos of beautiful models grew along all major routes into and out of Moscow. On one of my previous trips to Moscow I happened to pass a huge shopping centre near the Kievskaya railway and underground station. In the Moscow twilight it looked weirdly like a piece from Las Vegas. I am sure, it is serving its purpose, but I am not so convinced that the architectural ensemble of the Kievskaya Railway Station, built in 1914-1918, is entirely in accord with this modernity.
Now, once again the beautiful white domes above the Metro’s escalators are poster-free, all the adverts dismantled. As I say, I was never a fan of those, and neither, apparently, was Mr Putin, but one wonders if his dislike is the only reason behind their disappearance. Rod is of the opinion that during hard times a company’s advertising budget is the first to suffer … TO BE CONTINUED