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Fined For English-Language Advertising in Russia

The Moscow Times reports that three companies are being investigated for the use of English words in their advertising. Federal law in Russia bans the use of foreign words in advertising with a potential fine of 100’000 to 500’000 rubles ($3,250 to $16,250).

The companies targeted include Yaposhka-City, which owns Yaposha, a chain of Japanese fast-food restaurants; Trade Retail, owner of Bogner sportswear store; and Potential, owner of Bar BQ Cafe, the Moscow branch of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service said in a statement Monday.

Yaposha faces punishment over a banner reading “Happy New Menu,” which only had the last word — Menu — in Russian. Trade Retail’s English-language banner read “Bogner New Collection,” and Potential’s October advertisement for Bar BQ Cafe used the English word “Halloween.”

While many modern English words have been phonetically translated into Russian, English words are often selected over their new Russian alternatives. Partly because the English word has already entered the Russian vocabulary (e.g. “Halloween”) but sometimes because the English word is shorter and more concise, e.g. “email” is often used online over the Russian phrase “electronic post” (электронной почты).

As with many Russian laws, this law has been somewhat selectively applied. Many companies use English words in their advertising and the anti-monopoly service have not explained why these firms were singled out or whether this is part of a larger crackdown. Coca-Cola famously fought this law when it was introduced in the 90’s, as authorities wanted them to change their logo into Cyrillic. This law also might have been a consideration when Yandex changed their logo in 2008.

As a marketing agency operating in Russia we’ll be following this case with interest. While it is unlikely that firms outside Russia would need to worry, there is no sense in opening your website or online advertising to possible sanctions. In any case, companies should seek to fully translate and localise their material for the Russian audience and not use English without good reason.

About Anna Wilsdon

Nick Wilsdon works as a Content and Digital Strategy Consultant He manages online campaigns for the UK's leading telecom, finance and FMCG brands.

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