Flying lessons

If you’re visiting any country and are looking for clues as to what kind of people, place and culture await you, you could do worse than flick through the national airline’s inflight brochure on your journey there. Better still (and yes, here’s a publisher talking) go straight to the adverts, and you’ll get a pretty good insight into what is making the consumers of your destination tick.

That’s exactly what I did on my way to Moscow this week with Aeroflot – and boy, was it revealing. I’m here until Friday to cover Russia’s vibrant and fast-paced duty free market, for next month’s Digital Print Edition of The Moodie Report. And even before I touched the ground at Sheremetyevo, there were keen insights to be had via Aeroflot’s inflight magazine.

I say magazine, but really the August issue is a catalogue. It’s 364 pages thick, with advertising facing almost every page of editorial – a publisher’s dream, in other words. (And that’s not even including the separate duty free brochure published by Moscow Duty Free, which does a classy job of celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary this year.)

The size of the book underlines just what a booming consumer culture we’re about to enter. Not only that, it also delivers solid evidence of the credit boom that is happening in Russia. Once a country where hard currency was the only currency, with credit freely available today the Russians are cashing in, and a new culture of borrowing and credit card use is emerging fast. That’s clear from the huge number of ads for apartment purchases in Moscow, Sochi, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria to name just a few locations – and from the vast number of ads for cars.

Also striking is the number of ads for fashion and liquor brands, but almost all were Russian, and very few – in this issue probably only Absolut and Sauza from the liquor sector – are names that would register with most non-Russian consumers. Here is an audience hungry for brands, but not necessarily the brands that populate the shelves of the world’s duty free stores. Russian brands are making their presence felt at home – and as the examples of fast-growing names such as Russian Standard Vodka show, it may not be long before that presence is felt abroad too.

Aeroflot’s own in-house ads for its new web services struck a chord as well. Book online, check-in online, it urges – and it has an increasingly web-literate audience in Russia to market to – something for travel retailers to bear in mind.

The airline had some more marketing messages of its own to broadcast. It’s a new era for the company, as the new Terminal 3 at Sheremetyevo Airport will show when it opens next year, and as its role as part of the Skyteam alliance underlines. The company, which this year celebrates 85 years of operations, continues to phase out its (much maligned) Tupelov aircraft fleet, replacing them with Airbus and Boeing models as a new era dawns.

I don’t recall the advertising that Aeroflot ran 20 years ago, but I can imagine that much of it catered to the needs of visitors who had previous hard currency. Today, it’s all changed. About 90% of the advertising in Aeroflot’s August issue was targeted at Russians – with a few half or quarter page ads towards the back listing restaurants or services on offer to foreigners.

The message then is clear: the real value for Aeroflot’s magazine advertisers lies in the purchasing power of the Russian consumer. I expect to see that message repeated with vigour as I visit Moscow’s airports in the days ahead.