On first seeing Russia

2nd April 2014

One of the most beloved novels in the English language was originally entitled ‘First Impressions’. Its author knew the power of intuition when it comes to the mating game, and the journey one needs to embark upon to roll back our view of people, once the attitude is formed.

The flight path into Moscow sweeps over a bleak and tired landscape. Both trees and soil, at the end of March, seem weary of winter. The colour has drifted from their cheekbones. They emit a deadened, grey-brown pallor, as if in permanent shadow.

Yes, I thought. Here is a land with its very life on a drip; a people whose government is on the rampage; a city with its face in a permanent scowl.

Cliches, those things we vaguely know about groups of others, rarely serve us well. They allow us to judge without thinking; to decide without understanding. I had arrived to Russia on red alert, heightened by a nation defined in my mind by the politics of war – be that against Napoleon, Hitler, the West, LGBT people or Ukraine.

And then I spent three days listening to, working with and observing Russians.

It is true, they do not beam smiles as they walk in the world. There is little skipping and not many giggles on the streets of Moscow.

But I found them to be beautiful people. Russian women are smart, strong, glamorous and generous in the way they work together. The men are respectful, often humorous and animated in their engagement with ideas (we were working on the principles of marketing).

Throughout those days, I was moved by a stoic quality which lies within these people. Little complaints; few dramas.

As we took a few stops on the Metro into Red Square one evening, I stared in silence at the rows of commuters dressed in blacks, greys and browns – myself in gun metal green. I was struck by how similar we all looked. Indeed, I was a little disappointed to be so damned unremarkable – a random stranger in their midst, signifying nothing.

In building brands, I often talk about the importance of layers, depths and mystery in how brands tell their stories. Brands engage people most by the act of not revealing; by holding some things close.

We journeyed back to the airport accompanied by heavy flurries of snow. It had been -7c the previous night. Yet the Russians assured us that the seasons were turning; that, despite appearances, Spring was already here.

Brian McIntyre. 2014



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