For more information about Royal Holloway, please see this promotional video. To see a promotional video for the MA Consumption, Markets & Culture see here. To see a promotional video for the Royal Holloway School of Management, click here.

For more information about the Royal Holloway MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing and the application process see here.

To get an understanding of the unique values that underly the MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing programme please read these blog posts: Value of Scholarly Values, Importance of Reading and Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

MA Marketing Camp - 2014

Research in a Globalised World: Possibilities for Postcolonial Thought and Practice

Friday November 21, 6:00 in Room 261 in Senate House
All Welcome

This event recognises that the field of marketing plays a significant role in the reproduction of neo-colonial power relations in the current world order. While business scholars have recently become more reflexive and critical of the ways that both theory and practice are implicated in the dissimination and entrenchment of market hegemony globally, postcolonial theory has yet to become a part of that critical assessment. Speakers and participants will reflect on the value of postcolonialism as a body of theory and a mode of political critique in order to enrich the studies into the subjects of interest to marketing scholarship, such as globalisation, modernity, cultural diversity, migration, ethnicity, etc. and also to interrogate some normative frameworks and approaches to research within the discipline. 

Keynote Speakers: Guliz Ger, Bilkent University, Turkey & Nirmal Puwar, Goldsmiths, University of London

Interlude provided by Foivos Dousos / F89, Royal Holloway

Panel Discussion chair: Alan Bradshaw
Discussants: Olga Kravets, William Large, Guliz Ger, Hara Kouki & Nirmal Puwar

Details of previous camps can be found here: 2013, 2012, 2011. 2010 was on the topic of Marketing and Music (speakers were Adam Dorn, aka Mocean Worker, Gretchen Larsen, Robert Cluley) and 2009 was on the topic of Marketing and Advertising (speakers were Chris Hackley, Michael Sayeau and Finola Kerrigan). 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

John Schouten's Lecture on Consumer Ethnography at Aalto University

Focussing on consumer culture entails developing alternative ways of not just understanding consumer behaviour but also ways of approaching questions of accessing consumers and getting to know consumer behaviour. Whilst the mainstream of marketing research fixates on lengthy questionnaires and focus groups, increased attention now attends alternative methods such as ethnography that draw from more diverse fields like anthropology. These alternative methods allow us to develop heightened awareness of how consumers are not just purchase decision-makers who can be influenced by strategic marketing communication, but are people who organise and give meaning to their daily practices, performances and rituals of consumption, be they mundane or extraordinary. These alternative methods can be thought of bringing colour to a subject that typically insists on black and white understandings.

John Schouten, of Aalto University in Finland, recently outlined how consumer ethnography functions in his excellent Inaugural (or as the Finns seem to call it Installation) Lecture. Professor Schouten's lecture helpfully introduces many of the core assumptions behind consumer ethnography but also reminds us that, at the heart of such inquiry, is recognition that consumers are people who are creative and fascinating. As he puts it, "there are no uninteresting people, only those who we haven't got to know" and so consumer ethnography, he explains, can be thought of as opening up "windows on ... really interesting places in people's lives". Schouten concludes "for me ethnography provides some of the elements of romance and discovery that make life interesting". Accordingly he says for him "science is one part fact finding, one part puzzle building, one part crusade and one part telling a good story".

At Royal Holloway we study John Schouten's ideas and encourage our students to develop their own consumer ethnographies for their dissertations and other projects that are conducted over the course of studies. More broadly we encourage students to invest creative energy into their studies and to discover that same spirit of romance and discovery.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

New MA Consumption, Culture and Marketing begins at Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway has welcomed 22 students from 10 different countries onto a new programme focusing on marketing, consumption, culture and society.

This interdisciplinary MA brings together teaching and scholarship in Marketing and Sociology. Students will study core courses in ‘Consumers and Brands’, ‘Sociology of Consumption’ and ‘Consumption Research Methods’. They will also choose from a range of elective courses including ‘Identities, Consumption and Difference’, ‘Children and Consumption’, ‘Marketing Communications’, ‘Marketing, Society and Technology’ and ‘Consumption, Markets and Cultures’.

The programme director, Dr Vicki Harman said: ‘We are delighted to welcome these new MA students to Royal Holloway. We hope they will enjoy taking a critical approach in order to examine the nature of consumption in society’.

Welcome events include a trip to the Museum of Brands in London.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Tony Pecotich Doctoral Consortium (39th Annual Macromarketing Conference, 2014) 
Chair: Olga Kravets, Alan Bradshaw, and Alexander Reppel 

This year's Doctoral Consortium presents a great line up of scholars, coming from diverse research and disciplinary backgrounds and at different stages in their academic careers, to discuss with doctoral candidates what has been, is now and is to be their macromarketing research. We aim to make this consortium open and participatory; each session will include short talks by the invited speakers as well as the participants' discussion (Q&A, reflections on own research, critical interventions, and such). We also introduce a roundtable session to give all participants an opportunity to debate if/how macromarketing can contribute to our understanding of the political-economic present and ponder over the value of & challenges to the macromarketing scholarship within the contemporary world. 

Macromarketing: the state-of-the-art
Terry Witkowski, Cliff Shultz, and Gene Laczniak

Markets, Societies, and Inequalities
Norah Campbell, Ali Jafari, and Eleftheria Lekakis
The intellectual and political stir around Thomas Piketty's book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" with its 'groundbreaking' assertion that "capitalism produces inequality," has pushed "inequality" to the front pages of major publications and made it a matter of public debate. This session picks on this heightened public concern with the inequalities and reflects on the macromarketing inquiry in relation to the critically engaged research on inequalities, particularly the intersection of economic inequality and other systemic injustices, disadvantages, and marginalizations, produced, reinforced, and perpetuated in/by markets & marketing.

Tea/coffee break

Roundtable: Markets-in-Everything and Implications for the Commons
Track A: Marketisation of water, nature, spaces, etc. (led by Georgios Patsiaouras) 
Track B: Marketisation of information, knowledge, heritage, arts, etc. (led by Chloe Preece) 
The idea behind this session is to collectively bring to 'the table' (the marcromarketing agenda) and make discussable issues around current cases of marketisation & marketing, from the appropriation and trade in users’ personal data and indigenous know-how by social media & pharmaceutical companies to the struggles over sales of and access to water, shorelines, public infrastructure, & national heritage sites by communities around the world. This session is an opportunity to break out of our academic comfort zones and use popular debates as an opening to "provoke" critical thought and (future) research. 

17:40 - 19:00 
Macromarketing: ‘What is to be done?’ and other Critical Questions
Alan Bradshaw, James Fitchett, Sukhdev Johal, and Olga Kravets.  

19:00 -- Dinner (optional and at your own expense)

This workshop is FREE to attend. In order to apply, please contact Olga Kravets at

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bringing With Us the Plague

Faculti Media asked me to summarise a recent research paper, "Bringing with us the plague: Consumer Research as a Machinery of Zoomorphicism", published in the Journal of Marketing Management. Click through the Faculti Media logo below see:

Friday, 7 March 2014

Workshop on Politics of Consumption

Biennial Workshop on Politics of Consumption

Affiliated with the European Consumer Culture Theory School

11 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London City Centre, August 25-29 2014

This workshop, primarily intended for doctoral students in any subject area but also open to early career researchers or other interested parties, is FREE to attend.

"The important thing" Daniel Bensaïd wrote in his recently translated memoirs, "is always to clearly indicate one's colour instead of pretending to the objectivity and impartiality of self-evidence". For Bensaïd, it was easy to discern his own colour; "The colour is red, since the very air is red, as if screaming". Further he claimed that "partisan writing" is not an act of sectarianism, but "a token of basic honesty towards the reader". The purpose of this workshop is to probe the colour of research and ask participants to account for the political implications of their research, research that is often conducted in business schools in private colleges, or in public colleges transforming according to a privatising logic. We seek to ties such analyses into broader spectrums of thinking, be they conservative, leftist, liberal, etc. Simply put, have you thought about the politicality of your own research? If not, why not? If not, perhaps we can help. To echo Bensaïd, we are not seeking to generate sectarian divisions but rather to think through the political implications of theoretical positions.

The workshop builds upon various research strands including the 2013 special issue of Ephemera entitled The Politics of Consumption (available as open access here: and will include speakers from a broad range of subject areas including sociology, culture studies, art history, philosophy, economics, organisational studies, psychosocial studies and marketing. The workshop does not aim to assist in the professionalisation of doctoral students nor socialise/discipline them into the protocols of particular peer-review publishing processes, nor is the seminar committed to producing incremental theory development, but rather seeks to provide a high quality analysis that introduces scholars to various critical aspects of the Politics of Consumption. Therefore students hoping for more hands-on practical guidance such as receiving direct feedback from faculty regarding their dissertations might opt for other parts of the Consumer Culture Theory European School. The purpose of this workshop is to engage with questions of the Politics of Consumption. 

The workshop will be co-ordinated by Detlev Zwick, Stephen Dunne and Alan Bradshaw and shall be held in the centre of London.

Attendance is free however we ask all applicants to write a 5 page outline, in addition to a short abstract, of their particular research programme and to clearly express the political dimensions, the "colour", of their research - all orientations are welcome. We are particularly concerned that those who do become enrolled for the programme commit to attending all events for the five days so please do not apply unless you intend to commit to the event completely. Send applications to

A full list of speakers, bios and topics of presentation will be posted in time. For now confirmed speakers include Jo Littler, Kate Soper, James Fitchett, Will Large, Warren Carter, Greg Elmer and Sukhdev Johal. Keep an eye for further updates.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Subvertising and the Uncanny

Subvertisers, like Adbusters, appropriate advertising's forms and tropes and parodise advertising, revealing the concealed obscenities that lurk beneath polished brand surfaces. But inasmuch as the subvertisers themselves have often worked as advertising professionals, we can also see subvertising as a dialogue conducted within advertising practice. Advertising too has its own subversive element with many agencies defined by a productive tension that exists between creative and account planning divisions. Moreover, often the most effective ads directly engage with subversive symbolism.

An example of Adbusters

An example of advertising that engages with subversion is the ill-fated Levis 2011 ad that drew from Bukowski’s Laughing Heart and depicted wild sexuality and urban rioting. This ad reproduces three aspects of subversive advertising. First, it beckons the consumer to imagine himself/herself as a ‘free spirit’ by advocating authentic and bohemian ways of being. Second, such ads are post-political; they channel the consumer’s radicality away from direct political action towards lifestyle solutions by consuming products, like denim jeans. Third, advertising negates itself, or renders itself invisible, by adopting the voice of its antagonist. Often marketing techniques, like advertising or the corporate formation of so-called ‘online communities’ re-organise consumer behaviour so to encourage participants to identify their behaviour as organic manifestations of self-organising autonomy. Here we witness marketing’s desire to conceal itself and hide behind its own shadow.

Such techniques are not new. The Austrian pioneer of PR and modern marketing, Edward Bernays (nephew of Freud) conflated advertising and proto-feminist movements by convincing women marchers to smoke Lucky Strike as ‘Torches of Freedom’ that would materialise their commitment to challenging the patriarchy in 1929. Again, we see the product imagined as a technology for radical subjectivisation –they promise that women will radically achieve autonomy by smoking cigarettes. Second we see the post-political implication as female empowerment is re-routed into consumer decision-making. Third, we note the concealment of advertising as the branding was kept subtle during the march. As authors like Thomas Frank (in his book Conquest of Cool) or Douglas Holt (in How Brands Become Icons) further demonstrate, in seminal advertising campaigns like Bill Bernbach’s Lemon ads for Volkswagen or Coca-Cola’s I’d Like To Buy theWorld a Coke, we see advertising inscribe itself subtly as interventions in solidarity with radical positions.

Torches of Freedom

As such we can talk about subversive advertising as riding a line between the symbolic universe and the real. Such advertising can only be parasitic of subversion, it must never valorise actual subversion, only flirt with symbolic aspects. Yet as advertising rides this line, risk is produced. The cancellation of the Levis ad in 2011 is an example; before the ad was launched, the London riots erupted and suddenly the depiction of rioting appeared too close to the bone. In hindsight, it is bizarre that Levis ever thought it should celebrate rioting, yet according to subvertising’s post-political logic, we speculate that they believed that there could not be a riot, that politics was over and all that was left was the symbolic imagery of rioting that they could casually harvest. In short, they depicted rioting because they could not imagine that a riot might actually take place.

The term that we give to this unpleasant sensation of a collision between the real and the supposedly divested symbolic realm is the uncanny. For Freud, the uncanny is what occurs when that which we believed had been surmounted and dispelled returns unexpectedly, like the dead coming back to life. Inasmuch as subvertising must draw from the cutting edge of consumer culture, it looks to our future, an emissary who tells us what we will soon have dispelled. At such moments, advertising is at its greatest risk of exposing itself in the act of organising our symbolic universe and the affect is uncanny.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Creativity and Innovation Workshop

Royal Marketing is running a workshop on Tuesday 28th January in partnership with TeachFirst.

Creativity and Innovation

What is creativity? How can you be creative? Can you define creativity? How can you innovate? The aim of this skills session is to discuss creativity and the development of ideas. With a range of activities and tasks its an hour of thinking of unlearning, wondering, discussing and thinking outside the box.

Tuesday 28th January
3pm - 4pm

To register, please send an email to

This event is run in association with TeachFirst.

About Royal Marketing

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Friday, 10 January 2014

My Dissertation: Alenka - An Interpretive Study of a Russian Cultural Icon (and the journey of Yelena in a Soviet Wonderland)

by Yelena Sherbakov

“Artists from around the world are invited to send drawings, paintings and collages, inspired by the image of a little Russian girl Alenka” reads the invitation from Russian artist Ivan Zemtsov calling anyone and everyone creative to participate in his international mail art project. The first “Alenka Show”, was exhibited in October 2006 at the Yoshkar-Ola Museum of Fine Arts, featuring the works of 24 artists, each one representing a different country, yet this was only a small portion of the collection Zemtsov had come to gather from individuals across the globe. Not to be mistaken for a national celebrity or royal heiress, Alenka is perhaps much more than that, for her immortal ability and eternal youth has come to both precede and outlive the Socialist experiment, and skip out still smiling. Indeed, Alenka was always present with me at any celebration, never failing to make a grand entrance at any special event or occasion: She came accompanied by other presents not as a surprise but as an eagerly anticipated guest, though nonetheless acting as the embodiment of every child’s yearning for that “something sweet”.  She brought with her love and laughter, as my parents or grandparents bestowed upon me this eagerly awaited prize; at this stage the anticipation builds, but unlike with other presents this is not a wrapper which is hastily torn off and tossed to the side – this is a cherished friend’s smiling face, perhaps even more so to me as an only child, she is the symbol of a missing sibling. Even walking past the “Red October” factory in the heart of Russia, Moscow, is a part of her enchantment: the smell of chocolate proliferating the suburban air is incentive enough to surrender to Alenka’s tempting allure. “So, who is she?” I hear you ask.
The chubby-cheeked little girl in a kerchief is perhaps the most famous product of the Socialist era, and her face continues to adorn the banners of the famous red-brick building of the Red October factory on the banks of river Moscow today (Compton, 2011). And it is this image of the girl from a chocolate wrapper, which since 1966 has become the nation’s favourite brand for satisfying a sweet tooth (Atanasov, 1997), that has come to occupy the hearts and minds of Zemtsov and his multitude of following artists as their muse. Red October’s chocolate occupies eight of the ten top spots in the national brand-recognition rankings, and it comes as no surprise Alenka triumphs as number one above them all. A now post-Soviet state, Russia appears to be fostering a brand based nostalgia for its bygone Soviet goods, or so Alenka’s story leads us to believe. The question of my dissertation was to discover how “Alyonka” has not only become an iconic symbol of national pride, but a dearly beloved (rodnaya) integral member of Russian families. To this date, there has been no study of this iconic legend, despite her unrivalled (though often challenged by her multiple imitators and competitors) status.

Images from Zemstov’s project  
 (Zemtsov, 2012)
And so I embarked on my own version of the journey of Alice in Wonderland: a quest into the depths of Russia’s boreal forest (Taiga) – well known from the surface of the bird’s eye view to the hovering media aircraft that reported on its prominence, mass and greatness, but with so many of its hidden treasures yet to be discovered, to which only those who had touched, lived and breathed the forest, the old forest keepers knew the secrets that held the gemstones of their homeland – the people of the nation, those who had truly kept it alive. I took a deep breath, and dared to be the first to ask, “Alenka, why you”?                                                                   

Chasing a Wild Rabbit

I’m sure you have heard about the importance of picking a dissertation topic that interests you: valuable advice! However the temptation with this is to simultaneously answer a question you have not yet asked, thereby formulating your “question” and safely securing your comfortable seat in the ride towards destination degree. But, who would read a book or watch a film if they already knew the plot and exactly what happens? So my cherry to the advice cake you’ve no doubt been served would be this: inspiration. Pick a topic that makes you excited, gets your blood racing and your heart pumping, and don’t expect that you already have all the answers! As the King in Carroll’s famous novel said: “begin at the beginning, and go on until you come to the end. Then stop”. In research, one thing often leads to another, and as you grow “curiouser and curiouser” you might just discover answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Go on and chase a wild rabbit, and don’t be afraid that you will fall down a hole, you may find great treasures! It is the journey that will bring your dissertation to life, keep you interested and you might even add something new to the field that even scholars have yet to discover.

Perspectives: Growing Big, Shrinking Small and a Mad Tea Party

I had always been fascinated by brands. I loved the study of how brands acquired their value and meanings, and so Alenka was the muse to my canvas. Being Russian, I had grown up with this brand playing a major role in my life as a national identity and treasured gift. So, the central question of my dissertation was to answer how this Soviet brand had both preceded and out-lived the Socialist experiment to become a cultural icon and symbol not only of national pride, but an integral member of every Russian family?

I followed a combined approach: to use the metaphor of the great Russian forest (Taiga), I flew across the treetops to obtain the bird’s eye view, examining Alenka’s iconicity by analysing the brand and her creator, the famous Red October Factory in a historical context through media and literature, to determine how it has become integrated into society and culture to become an “iconic brand” (Holt, 2004). I then used this historical trajectory analysis to determine whether Alenka has become loaded with utopian and modernist values, as advocated by the Constructivists (Kiaer, 2005; Margolin, 1997) and later Socialist movements, using Holt’s (2004) theories of resolving cultural contradictions and Rodchenko’s vision of objects as comrades (Kiaer, 2005) as contextual frames.

I analysed the collectively constructed character of Alenka as a persona in her own right to determine the role the brand has come to play in the lives of ordinary consumers and her status as a dearly beloved (rodnaya) family member, using Miller’s (2010) theories to understand this through a dialectical relationship between people and their objects. As the brand’s values are deeply entrenched in its history, McCracken’s (2005) theories were employed to determine whether this object has become an instrument which operates through channelling nostalgia, thereby contributing to its status as a cultural icon (Holt, 2004).

I then plunged the depths of the forest, parachuting my way into the homes and hearts of its occupants, evoking their memories, capturing their thoughts and channelling their feelings, and thereby bringing Alenka to life for those who had never met her. I challenged the literature using qualitative research in the form of semi-structured, in depth interviews with current and former Russian citizens, young and old, who had experienced the brand. I had created my own mad tea party gathering of willing respondents in an attempt to gain a more objective view. This part really fascinated me, as I was able to not only communicate the experiences of others into my study and give it objectivity, but also came to understand why and how the brand had resonated so deeply in my own sub consciousness.

Brandtopia: A Soviet Never-never land

My historical trajectory analysis suggested that Alenka could be viewed as a Constructivist object or even persona of everyday consumption in her own right, aimed at promoting social change and instilling socialist values. It could have been argued that at the time of her birth and through the Soviet era, she propagandised the communist ideal of making luxury goods, like chocolate, available for all as opposed to just the bourgeoisie (Kravets and Orge, 2010), thereby endorsing collective and utopian values as upheld by the constructivists (Margolin, 1997). But, due to a lack of production capacity, this was not reality and such goods failed in their mission to become stable consumption items of everyday life, falling instead as unfulfilled promises. However, the Soviet government’s efforts to make these luxuries available during holidays and celebrations had the effect of making them associated with good times. And despite the fact that obtaining them, even on special occasions was a challenge in itself, such hardships paved the way to the creation of certain rituals and humorous spectacles which would turn into stories that produced a “folklore of the Soviet times” (Kravets and Orge, 2010).

Interestingly, as my respondents described their idealistic associations with the brand however, I researched this and found that it bore a strong resemblance to a different utopia, More’s concept of a literary utopia (Maclaran et al., 1999), an imaginary world where everything is harmonious (Murtola, 2011). I found that on a micro level, the brand appears to act as a tool for individuals to construct their own personal concepts of utopia based on the context of their environment (Maclaran and Brown, 2001) in the sense of literary fantasy (Maclaran et al., 1999) and Holt’s (2004) mythical worlds. Through the accounts of people I spoke to and literary evidence, I realised that Alenka appears to take on the role of a Soviet version of Peter Pan, allowing any Russian child to construct their own “Never-never land”, and further still that the essence of utopia lies not in being satisfied, but in its function as an element of dreams and desire (Maclaran et al., 1999).

Surprisingly therefore, I found that Alenka’s utopian meanings appeared to be divided: The historical trajectory showed her to emerge as an object loaded with Constructivist hopes and acting as an “object as comrade” (Kiaer, 2005), personifying the values of a collective Soviet utopia. On the other hand, the interviews suggested that the brand had become saturated with literary ideals of utopia (Maclaran et al., 1999), conjuring fantasy realms and fairy-tale worlds of childhood magic which individuals had come to associate with the brand. Indeed, although the nature of this utopia appears to have appropriated a different meaning throughout time, Alenka’s ability to reincarnate and transcend past the time trap many brands fall prey to suggests that her power lies in being a universal tool through which anyone can construct their own personal meanings of utopia (Brown and Maclaran, 2001), and it is this unique ability which makes her timeless, ageless and immortal.

Materiality: Family Member and Friend

At the beginning of this entry, I described Alenka’s presence at celebrations and the tradition of being given as a gift from parents and grandparents (and often as a long-awaited gift under the Yolka (Christmas Tree) from Ded Moroz, the Russian version of Santa Claus known as Grandfather Frost, another aspect reinforcing its utopian and fantasy associations). When observed from an objective standpoint, it becomes evident how this ritual encapsulates Miller’s theory of family bonds forming through material objects: the parents show their love and care for the child through provision of a product which holds not only nutritional value but sentimental significance; the child in turn relishes and cherishes their affection. This practice also correlates with Miller’s idea of “handing down” the generations a family favourite, a product which serves as a link in the chain between the generations.

It was often traditional back when I was growing up for children to collect sweet wrappers, and in this department Alenka was the cream of the crop, a queen presiding over what were pawns in comparison. If there was ever a way to have your cake and eat it, here it was – although the chocolate was gone, Alenka’s smiling face remained to keep you company, whether the respondents’ I spoke to described her as a friend or family member. This bears strong likelihood to Miller’s idea of using external objects as grounding to ascertain one’s own existence, and by doing so quench the thirst for identity by constructing it through commodities (Elliot and Wattanasuwan, 1998).

My analysis showed that  that Alenka is regarded as a persona in her own right, described with the qualities of an individual, leading to the conclusion that she is regarded as a beloved family member or cherished friend, suggesting that she acts as a mediator of familial relationships (Miller, 2008). There also emerged a consensus of Alenka being a traditional family gift, handed down through the generations (Miller, 2008) and thus appropriating the role of a link between the past present. 

Madeleine Object: A Time Travel Machine

For me, this is a brand that does not just bring back childhood memories, but takes me back to a place that evokes deep emotions, creating a sense of nostalgia and acting as a symbol of the relationships with my closest family members. Evidently this is exactly what happens to Nina with Yantar in Kravets and Orge’s article – like Nina, I can almost taste the past, but for me this is the taste of my childhood. Like Druzhba cheese, Alenka hasn’t changed throughout the decades, she is a symbol of the times. As eluded by Kravetz and Orge this is another brand which challenges Holt’s theory that brands live on due to their ability to change, and supports their theory that in the case of the Soviet Brands they changed due to remaining unchanged. Thus the brand acts as society’s foundational compass point, on a macro level an anchor capturing societal erudition and shared sacraments (Holt, 2004), and on a micro level memories of childhood, an essence of innocence and purity which cannot be brought back, but a sense of which nonetheless becomes transcended through this brand (Miller, 2010).

Although there is no such thing as a time machine, the objects we hold dear come close, a concept known as Madeleine Objects (McCracken, 2005); they have the power to throw one back in time and teleport them to another place, seizing the senses and making the present melt away, they act as a chasm through which one can be transported to another place, to another era. Almost a magical experience, these forces can awaken nostalgia or rumination, thus they are not fully understood by scholars (Hackley, 2009). However, their trick is that these are not the hidden secrets of civilisation, but everyday objects just like Alenka. Further still, what an object means to one may not be the same thing it means to another. Indeed, what my study showed is that there is no one way to capture what Alenka represents for everyone, as this is something different for each person, which appears to be the essence of her magic: the ability to not only appeal to everyone in their own way, but to come loaded with deeply entrenched meanings that each individual forms as unique to them, that can only be constructed throughout time, and yet to be entirely untouched by time herself.

Cultural Icon: A National Identity

I used Holt’s theory of iconic brands, that have accumulated their status through a range of cultural, moral and political values, underpinned by the work of Kravets and Orge on Soviet brands in a post-Socialist Russia to determined how such brands become representations of cherished values and social relations within a particular community, acting as the sources of cultural ideals, myths, history, aspirations and achievements to reinforce feelings of unity, belonging and stability, particularly during periods when traditional cultural symbols fail (Holt, 2004).

Alenka’s history serves as her “identity myth” (Holt, 2004): born in 1966, Alenka is one variation of a traditional girl’s name, and is one of a small handful of brands to survive through the pandemonium of the fall of the USSR and yet emerge not as a ghost of her former self like the majority of such goods, but as an unaltered symbol goodwill. The story of her birth adds a further “buttressing” the brand’s identity, when a competition launched to find the face of the child on the now iconic packaging; unable to decide on a winner, the company featured several entries in rotation, until the star with the same name but of a different variation “Elena” was found. In this sense, the company took on the role of the “author” creating a storyline (Holt, 2004). Subsequently after the asceticism of the post-war period and the Brezhnev years (1964-1982) she was welcomed during the beginning of stability and opulence, thus is remembered as a sign of the good times by former generations. Despite often being hard to obtain and remaining a wishful promise, she was worth fighting for. Her immortal ability to not only precede but outlive the Leninist experiment addressed an acute contradiction within society during the Communist era.

Alenka brings back the stories of my grandparents and parents epoch, of how hard she was to obtain back in the days of the Soviet regime; thus she stands as a symbol of the achievement of my predecessors, of the victory of breaking free from the communist regime, a prize which they would have fought for, which was so easy to take for granted yet held so much more meaning than a token of affection; this is a sign of blood, sweat and tears, and gave Alenka every right to the well deserved title of what Holt would proclaim a “cultural icon”.

The Classic Alenka Chocolate
An Image of Lena, the Original Alenka

The Fifth Element: Immortality

I concluded that Alenka works on both a macro and micro level in representing cultural and personal significance. Consequently, although Alenka appears to be a cultural icon (Holt, 2004), each individual attaches their own story to her history, thereby planting her roots within the hearts of the nation’s families for generations, who attach their own traditions and rituals to this persona.

I determined that in unison the four elements discussed give rise to a fifth element: Alenka’s unique ability to embody the desires of those she touches, which guarantees her success. Indeed, this study suggests that the key to a successful national brand lies in creating something which enables people to create their own ideals and memories, thereby acting as a vehicle which individuals can permeate with their own meanings, through which she has acquired her ageless quality and ability to transcend the times.

The analysis showed that although the brand may represent something different for each individual on a micro level, it also works on a macro societal level to encompass national ideals, beliefs and values, through a history of being renowned for addressing the country’s deepest desires and anxieties. Further still, the brand bears the powers of a “Madeleine object” which have enabled it to sustain its power living on throughout the generations, as each individual permeates it with their own interpretation of an ideal “utopia” (Murtola, 2010; Heilbrunn, 2006; Maclaran et al., 1999).  Thus the brand acts as society’s foundational compass point, an anchor capturing societal erudition and shared sacraments (Holt, 2004), and on a micro level memories of childhood, an essence of innocence and purity which cannot be brought back, but a sense of which nonetheless becomes transcended through this brand (Miller, 2010). And so Alenka prevails not only as a token of affection and an ignition of the utopian flame, but as a symbol of the achievements of the country’s predecessors and the Russian state, untarnished by the times.