Today I’m writing from Tallinn, Estonia during my trip to Russia and the Baltic states. One of the many interesting things I noticed was which American brands are being reclaimed as “cool” by St. Petersburg millennials after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Some, like McDonald’s and Levis, I expected to see. But these three brands took me by surprise.
Founded in Malden MA in 1908, this star-studded shoe company has been in America for over a century. Converse is so American, it is even having a Declaration of Independence sale for their Americana collection. In addition to some of the cutest Russian shoes I`ve ever seen, imagine my surprise when I counted 1 out of every 10 teen and twentysomethings in St. Petersburg wearing Converse tennis shoes. And like every truly popular brand, Converse had shelves of knock-offs, not only in Russia but in Lativa as well. (funny picture coming once I get back to the states).
I know that there are lots of non-American car brands in the United States, but I almost never think of American cars in other countries. That stereotype was put to the test when I saw many St. Petersburg citizens driving Fords. While the majority of Fords I saw during my visit were older models rather than brand-new cars, it was still surprising to see the adoption of such a quintessentially American brand.
However, Ford clearly resonates with locals as Russian sales are up 30% this year with reports of sell-outs with the Focus model leading the way. Even though these cars may be branded as American, Autoevolution emphasizes that Ford is doing well in emerging markets, with Russian demand being ”one of their most reliable sources of sales growth”.
Amongst all the Russian designer brands and clothing came one name I recognized: GUESS?. From jeans to branded t-shirts, many of the women my age in St. Petersburg were sporting this American brand. When I noticed this phenomena, my tour guide explained that, even before GUESS? stores were in Russia, many women paid big bucks to have them shipped in directly from the US. Although I could not find sales numbers for the brand in Russia, this anecdote confirmed my impression that Guess? is a big deal over here.
While GUESS? may not seem traditionally American due to its founders’ French upbringing and European style, the jean company is iconic to the United States in its own way. The company was one of the most popular jean brands in the 1980s and helped pioneer the stonewash denim trend. Marty McFly even wore a clearly-branded GUESS? outfit in the movie Back to the Future.
As a traveler and marketer, I am fascinated by the reflection of history and international relations through something as everyday as marketing. Although I’m no Cold War expert, the prevalence of these American brands with Russian millennials says something about how the times have changed.
This post has made me curious: what other commercial brand popularities (or boycotts) echo larger political/international implications? Anyone have any examples? Also, to my Russian and Baltic readers, were these impressions accurate or way off base? Did I miss any of your favorite American brands?
Thanks for reading (and traveling!) with me. Lindsey Kirchoff