The vodka ads tiling the walls of the Moscow metro station's lengthy
escalators abound with hypermasculine imagery. One poster for the Olymp
brand in the central Tverskaya metro station shows a boxer with Cro-Magnon
features wearing armor and chain mail, and carries the slogan: "The time for
the strong has come."
Recently, a new billboard has appeared here, displaying a lavender-tinged
bottle with a distinctive feminine shape, adorned in a white skirt billowing
upward, a la Marilyn Monroe, to reveal the label, Damskaya.
"Between us girls," is the catchphrase for this vodka intended for women, a
marketing campaign as jarring as, say, a Super Bowl commercial for women's
As the economy continues its skyward race, marketers are taking note of
Russian women and the discretionary income they represent. Scores of
seemingly unisex products, from cigarettes to juice, breakfast cereals and
even mobile phone plans have adopted a feminine flare. A fleet of pink taxis
with female drivers spares the women here the callous flirtation of male
And now there is vodka for women.
"In Russia, vodka is definitely a masculine product," said Natalya
Shumilina, the marketing director at Deyros, the distillery that produces
Damskaya. A woman also likes "to relax with her girlfriends" and drop a few
shots when the children go to bed, Shumilina said, but desires a vodka with
a bit more femininity that retains a traditional kick.
In truth, vodka is vodka, and much of what makes this particular brand
feminine is marketing. Damskaya, which is about $12 a bottle, comes in five
flavors, but otherwise tastes about the same as similar, midprice brands. It
is still 40 percent alcohol, as required by Russian law to carry the vodka
label, and is meant to be consumed neat rather than in cocktails.
Still, the trend is indicative of a changing dynamic in relations between
men and women here.
With an infusion of new wealth, women have gained financial independence
unheard of during Soviet times and the economic chaos that followed. The
English word "shopping" has entered the Russian lexicon to mean a
recreational activity often associated with women, many of whom are
increasingly seeking products tailored specifically to suit feminine tastes.
"We are leaving - but not quickly - the idea of men supporting women and the
idea of women seeking men who will support them," said Lena Vasilyeva, the
editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Unlike in the Soviet era, when husbands and wives traditionally kept their
money in a single account, women are increasingly creating bank accounts
separate from their husbands' and saving a portion of their salaries to
spend on themselves without input from their families, Vasilyeva said.
In large cities, Russian women have indeed grown more active in business and
politics - there are two female cabinet ministers on the federal level - but
are as disinterested in breaking from traditional roles as wives and mothers
as shedding their patent-leather spike heals and miniskirts.
"Society is dictating new goals like making a career, et cetera, but the
core still remains," Vasilyeva said. "For a Russian woman the family will
always come first, I am certain, but this won't interfere with her building
These are the women that Deyros covets. The distillery says it has aimed its
marketing at women age 25 to 45 with average incomes and surplus cash, and
focused on their families rather than wealthy, upper-class careerists who
have been cultivating a taste for dry wine.
"This is not some super businesswoman, simply a girl who wants to visit her
friend and relax a little because her husband is home with the children,"
The concept is a radical one for Russia and violates a golden rule of
alcohol marketing: never advertise solely to women.
"You alienate the men, and women think it's too girly and feminine," said
Adrian Goldthorpe of FutureBrand, a global branding consultancy that counts
Russian vodka distributors among its clients.
Yet Goldthorpe violated the rule with Damskaya, helping to lead the team
that developed the bottle design and label.
"It felt like it was a golden taboo in alcohol that we could actually
break," he said by telephone from his London office. "When we look at
Russia, we look at a very machismo society on the surface, but there is also
a very, very strong matriarchal undercurrent that runs through it."