Two-thousand and seven has been officially declared the Year of the Child in Russia. Faced with negative population growth, the feds have decided to crank up the social engineering machine and employ ubiquitous public service announcements in an effort to halt and reverse the country's demographic downslide.
It's seems strange now, but just two years ago, the vogue thing for the glitzy class was to travel Moscow toting a purse dog. Those rat-like creatures made their way to the finest restaurants, into socialite scenes and even onto national television. Subbotniy Vecher ("Saturday Evening") is a popular Russian program on Channel Rossiya. It's sort of a throwback to 1970s American variety hours, where the schmaltziest pop stars get to lip synch their latest hits for the nation. The hosts are the sexually ambiguous operatic singer Nikolai Baskov and Julia Nachalova, a sort of pop singer-socialite hybrid. Two years ago, Julia's big thing was to host the show along with her miniature dog a la Sheri Lewis and Lambchop. About a year ago Julia began to put on weight. Very soon afterwards the little dog disappeared and Julia hosted the show donning a proud maternal bulge almost until the third trimester. She returned to the air shortly after the birth.
Driving down Moscow's Garden Ring, I decided to take note of the "Year of the Child" PSAs on display. Only a few kilometers of driving yielded a goldmine. There are two clear messages: (a) make more children, and (b) try not to damage the ones you already have.
The first and obvious bits of info out there are the unnamed banners and canvass posters pronouncing "Children Are Our Future. 2007 Is The Year Of The Child." These are hung from fences and atop kiosks.
The Moscow Department of Health, which owns this drive, has a series of billboards, some announcing that "Their Future is in Your Hands," while others have taken a more personality-driven approach, using children's finger paintings as key visuals with the slogan "Our Children Draw" as a way to endear locals to the idea of birth.
Delphiyskiye Igri and the Moscow Florist Society have made a showing on the outdoor scene, with the latter proclaiming "Children's World" as the theme for this year's botanical exhibition.
MChS, Russia's Emergency Response Services has a series of public safety billboards out in the field, raising children's safety awareness with slogans such as "Do You Know Where Your Children Are?" and "Don't Leave Children Unattended".
The Federal Sports Committee has also gotten involved, with a series of lightboxes across the city, showing a child in boxing gloves, with the byline reading, "I Grow With Sports."
The GAI, Russia's traffic police, have a series of road safety adverts. In one, a child sits on a big wheel bike next to a Corvette and reminds people, "Other People's Lives Are In Your Hands."
Not to be outdone by the public sector, it seems that the biznis segment has also followed suit, with many consumer goods and service companies switching their message to focus on the child and family.
Russian Insurance, a top insurer has a series of billboards using cartoon bears, with a caption reading "Be Sure To Help The Little Ones At The Crosswalk." Sony's latest campaign demonstrates what a great tool the new Handycam is to videotape your children. ImpexBank has chosen children playing in sandboxes as their key visual in their latest personal credit product campaign. Rostelekom, Russia's fixed line incumbent operator has chosen to push their telephony services as the best way to reach out to your family and kids when you're away.
Has this had any positive effects on the population? Well, yes. Last week I was at Playboy's "Playmate of the Year" party. (Sometimes it really does pay to be in advertising.) For those who aren't up to speed with this annual tradition, this is one of Moscow's most sought after events, frequented by the country's top artists, models, politicians and the famous-for-being-famous types. We were seated next to a mix of TV celebs and professional event goers, the kind who last year you would see tripping out of toilet stalls in Dyaghilev, fighting an out-of-season case of the sniffles. Well, this year, our neighbors had an infant on their laps. The child could not have been more than a year old. But there it was, sitting and glaring at Playboy's playmates, performers, and dancers right along with mom and dad. I turned to my right, where two Russian mini-garchs sat perched with their dates, dismissively looking around at the party's action. Normally, their dates would also be working the room with their glare, sizing up any upgrade opportunities. This time, however, they were fixated on the child to my left, smiling, waving, making mom noises, eagerly awaiting their turn.