Why Nations Sell: Reproduction of Everyday Nationhood through Advertising in Russia and Belarus
Most research on the use of national identity in marketing focuses on their anticipated and actual effects, while relatively little is known about their prerequisites. Under what conditions do businesses decide when and how to play the national identity card? How do they find and verify information about the population’s national identity attitudes and translate these notions into believable manifestations of everyday nationhood? These questions are particularly hard to answer for post-Soviet countries, with their winding paths of transition prompting frequent changes of mind both on nation-building and the free market economy. In the present study, the author combines her field observation data and insider knowledge of the business environment to reveal the background of national identity-themed advertising in Russia and Belarus. The results show that in both the ex-core and ex-periphery of the former empire businesses implicitly rely on state-transmitted version of nationality as a primary source of information about the population’s attitudes. Businesses see conventional sources of marketing research, such as opinion polls, as much less trustworthy – paradoxically, because pollster organizations supposedly suffer from either censorship or control from the same government. By drawing upon a number of cases from the early 1990s to the present, the study reveals that businesses increasingly rely upon the official representations of national identity when governments become not more but less friendly to the private sector. This dynamics is due to the business owners’ view of themselves as a struggling elite minority contrary to the government following the well established notions of the post-Soviet masses. As a result, vivid images used in advertisements translate the abstract language of nationalist propaganda into specific role models and patterns of everyday nationhood. Thus, the practices of consumption of advertisements and products themselves play a crucial role in creating a post-Soviet version of banal nationalism alongside the open indoctrination.