A press kit from Omega has just landed on my desk in which the brand announces a special collection to coincide with the release of the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. For the second time, Daniel Craig takes on the role of 007 in a portrayal that couldn’t be further from the secret agent as played by Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan. Ultimately, the only thing that never changes about Mr Bond is the Omega Seamaster on his wrist… and prominently featured on the posters.
Thinking about it, I wonder if this really is the best strategy for Omega in today’s Russia, which sees itself as a fortress surrounded by enemies. Throughout my youth, under the Soviet regime, the James Bond movies were, one can imagine, banned. And even though they are now authorised viewing, the British spy is no less persona non grata in the eyes of our Russian politicians.
Almost every major brand today has its ambassador, from movie stars to opera singers to polo players. As worthy representatives of the human race, they invite us to share their passion for this or that brand. And of course we trust them, particularly as they have been hand-picked for the job. Yet it soon becomes clear that foreign brands’ ambassadors are not always “compatible” with the Russian public. Even when they are Russian themselves.
When it comes to my fellow countrymen, brands tend to pick world-class athletes or actors who have a more or less “western” face, can speak several languages and have starred in international box-office hits. A CEO in Geneva or Paris can, for example, be made to understand who is Oleg Menshikov, the lead actor in Burnt by the Sun (Grand Prix du Jury at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1995). And yet this 48-year-old thespian, who remains one of the emblematic figures of the Russian scene, has barely shot a film in years, and his recent stage performances have left critics somewhat disenchanted. In a word, his best roles are now in the past.
So is it time to change? And who to choose? Were we to pick one of today’s headline actors, it would surely be Piotr Mamonov, a rock singer who played a mad holy man in director Pavel Lounguine’s The Island. But which brand would want to show off its watches on the wrist of this 57-year-old, almost an old man with his dishevelled hair and gap-toothed grin? The singer Zemfira might also spring to mind. Except that this black-leather-jacketed friend of the glamorous actress Renata Litvinova makes no secret of her profound distaste for luxury in general. And what about Sergei Shnurov – or Shnur (rope) as he is better known – whose songs are full of obscenities that the Russians adore.
Between beauty and the beast
It seems these “stars” just don’t have the image a watch brand looks for in its representatives. What about the respect they inspire? Can that compensate? If truth were told, we take a highly cynical attitude towards stars. We are convinced they will wear anything, provided there are enough zeros on the cheque. Not that I would dare insinuate that here in Russia we have no one to look up to. If the opinion polls can be believed, we have an icon who commands the respect of the entire population. Our president. For one, he has impeccable taste. Tennis, for example, enjoyed national sport status under Boris Yeltsin, who was a great fan. Good players were very much in vogue then. But as soon as Putin came to power, judo took over as the ultimate patriotic sport. Yet one must admit that watching grown men grappling on the floor is not the most fundamentally attractive sight.
And so our omnipotent president remains the only example to follow. As if by chance, his enemies disappear one after the other while his friends prosper. He makes a single speech and the financial markets collapse. Clearly he is more powerful than James Bond, Spiderman and Batman rolled into one. Should he wear a watch, it is of course the only one to be approved, authorised and even highly recommended.
Each time our new president Dmitry Medvedev, flanked by his predecessor and new prime minister Vladimir Putin, appears in public (morning, noon and night, on TV), the Russians scrutinise their sleeves. At one time Mr Putin wore Patek Philippe. Now we see him with Blancpain, IWC and Breguet. Mr Medvedev has changed too, swapping Jaeger-LeCoultre for Breguet. What a great advertisement that would be, to one day have them side by side on a hoarding, their watch conspicuous on their wrist. Granted, they don’t have movie-star good looks but so much the better, after all. In Russia, we love beauty but only listen to the beast.