Gone Global is a Collabary series that aims to study the role of influencer marketing in regions outside of Europe and the West. By exploring influencers, campaigns, and trends in markets such as China, the Middle East, Russia, Latin America, and India, we can not only find inspiration from the exciting ideas coming out of some of the most lively and expanding economies in the world, but celebrate their cultures and the diversity of human creativity.
As the largest country in the world, Russia remains to be one of the most influential, powerful and misunderstood nations in the modern world. Despite the tumultuous political events in the country that unfolded over the 20th century, Russia has slowly shaken off its outdated foreign image and has continued to rapidly develop as a new cultural and economic superpower.
With 70% of Russia’s population now using the internet and 49% of those users using social media, various social media platforms both local and international are being explored by Russian marketers in discovering what platforms will work best in the burgeoning influencer marketing sector. Between 2018 and 2019, 2 million Russian users joined social media, a staggering development that has earned our interest in covering Russia in the next Gone Global series on influencer marketing around the world.
After covering content creators in China, Latin America, the Middle East, and India, we have again chosen four Russian influencers that we feel represent the interesting and educational facets of marketing trends in the region and why they are worth paying close attention to.
Yury Dud is a journalist and influencer that has accumulated a large following from a variety of platforms, including Instagram, YouTube and Russian native social media platform VKontakte (VK). Yury first rose to prominence as a sports journalist and host of a Russian television show before accumulating a large following on his vDud YouTube channel, where he has now accumulated almost 6 million subscribers.
Photo credit: Yury Dud
While he mostly uses his Instagram account for sharing his travels, political opinions and the occasional advertisement for his own merchandise, it’s through his video content that he continues to make the most impact. As his videos often contain him traveling long distances around the country to interview famous Russian figures, it has made him the perfect collaborator for brands like Hyundai and Sony. Recently, he organized a Hyundai test-drive experience giveaway through his Instagram account and he frequently mentions Sony as a sponsor in his videos.
NOTE: VKontakte is a social media network similar to Facebook that allows users to send public and private messages, create groups and public pages, share photos and share large files. With over 500 million accounts, it is the most popular website in Russia after Google.
YouTube, the third most popular website in Russia, is the perfect avenue for content creators to connect with their audiences in an honest way. Because of the limited free discussions allowed on state-sponsored Russian television, YouTube has been embraced by many people as a platform for interview videos, a trend that can be traced back to vDud. His open conversations about a whole range of topics have made him hugely popular with a young Russian population seeking open and critical discourse they can’t find elsewhere and therefore attractive to brands wanting to align with a modern, authentic and fearless image.
Influencer, blogger, model, and TV show host Nastya Ivleeva may be the first person in Russia to have built a following with Instagram that later resulted in wider entrepreneurial opportunities. She initially began posting sports commentary photo content and was later convinced to create a YouTube channel to share sketches. She has since grown to amass over 12 million followers on Instagram and 3 million subscribers on YouTube respectively.
Photo credit: Nastya Ivleeva
While she has been criticized by some for her more sexually suggestive posts, her youthful, edgy image is valued by many younger Russian users who appreciate her individuality in what tends to be a more conservative society. Local brands to realize the value of her image and collaborate with her includes women’s health products company Kotex and tech company Honor, while her most recent ambassador work can be seen in a series of posts with Pepsi.
It is characteristic of Russian companies to seek collaborations with ambassadors with high follower counts. According to Thierry Cellerin, the CEO and Founder of a local marketing analytics firm BuzzFactory, brands in Russia tend to focus on the top social media personalities in the country whilst overlooking the potential of the 300,000 or so with over 100,000 followers. Now that Instagram usage is rapidly on the rise in the country, with Facebook sharing that over 37 million Russians can be reached through paid advertising, it is expected that companies will begin to target collaborations with micro-influencers.
NOTE: Check out Nastya’s YouTube interview with the aforementioned Yury Dud here for greater insight into her work and personality.
Valentin Petukhov is a tech-focused influencer that found fame on YouTube through his honest and humorous product reviews and discussions. Starting his Wylsacom channel in 2011, his following has since then grown to over 7 million subscribers on Youtube and over 1.8 million followers on Instagram.
Photo credit: Valentin Petukhov
It seems as though every tech company in the world looking to influence the market in Russia has approached Petukhov. From Apple to Samsung, Sony to Microsoft, Petukhov has worked with the biggest and best in offering his testimonials and sponsorship of their products. In 2017, Petekhov even collaborated with two other popular bloggers in hosting a giveaway of a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado for a local cashback service LetyShops.
While it may sound strange that one influencer would act as an ambassador for two competing companies in a short time, this is not uncommon in Russia, where influencer marketing is still relatively misunderstood by European standards. For now, advertisers are still focused on traditional advertising campaigns. While the national digital advertising budget ($3.12 billion) just surpassed the television budget ($2.88 billion), only $70-80 million of the digital budget was used for influencer marketing. It is widely believed that the industry lags between 3-5 years behind Europe and the United States.
Of the four influencers we have chosen on this list, Zalina Marshenkulova is perhaps the most unconventional, and represents the gradual shifts in cultural and political attitudes in the nation. A gender rights activist, journalist and political commentator, Marshenkulova has amassed a loyal following through her Telegram account “Women Power.”
Photo credit: Zalina Marshenkulova
Marshenkulova was thrust into the international spotlight after her collaboration with Reebok went awry and was rejected en masse by the Russian nation. The campaign was a rework of a US Reebok campaign #BeMoreHuman that featured Gigi Hadid and Gal Godot alongside messages of female empowerment. The Russian version had the same intention, but it was Marshenkulova’s sexually suggestive copy that eventuated in the prompt closure of the campaign.
The failure of the campaign spotlit the need for cultural sensitivity in translating different campaigns between countries. As a notably conservative and patriarchal society, the brazen messages were perceived to be crass by both men and women. Perhaps, it is this reason that Zalina Marshenkulova has found so much popularity in a private group like Telegram, an important distinction that may have been overlooked.
Telegram has proved to be popular amongst Russia’s city-dwellers despite continuous effort by the State to block it due to its encryption capabilities. This has made it a highly sought after platform for businesses looking to collaborate with Influencers targeted at the progressive tech and IT sectors, and the perfect platform to reach niche audiences with fringe content.
By taking note of influencer marketing trends in Russia, brands can ensure that their methods of marketing in the region are culturally relevant and effective. To summarize:
• 70% of Russia’s population is now using the internet, with 49% of those users using social media. This number is growing rapidly, with 2 million Russian users joining social media between 2018 and 2019.
• YouTube has been embraced by many people as a platform for interview and conversation videos due to the openness of the content as opposed to the highly controlled messages on state-sponsored television.
• Russian companies to seek collaborations with ambassadors with high follower counts. This is expected to change in the following years, as companies are sure to realise the importance of the 300,000+ local accounts with over 100,000 followers.
• Influencer marketing only made up $70-$80 million of the $3.12 billion digital marketing budget in Russia in 2018. It is widely believed that the industry lags between 3-5 years behind Europe and the United States.
• Remaining culturally authentic is of the utmost importance in Russia, still a widely conservative nation. Private platforms like Telegram may be the best method to share more fringe content with niche audiences.