Although the election was regarded as a slam-dunk for the independence movement, the goal was to amass as big a vote as possible and carry every region, including the Crimean Peninsula and six Eastern oblasts-- or provinces--where ethnic Russians were in the majority. "It was important for the Ukraine to demonstrate that it was united, regardless of whether the people were Ukranians or ethnic Russians, in order to discourage any border dispute with (the Republic of) Russia," Russo noted.
As it turned out, every region voted for independence.
Unlike how they would have operated in America, Russo and Marsh developed their commercials without the benefit of a public opinion poll. They devised strategy the old-fashioned way--by talking to a lot of people and asking about their concerns.
Basically, the commercials targeted the ethnic Russians, old people who were afraid of losing their pensions in a new nation, collective farmers fearful of being kicked off the land under privatization and women leery of war in a forced annexation by Russia.
They did this, in part, by filming "man on the street" interviews with real people--retired military officers casting doubts about any Russian invasion of the Ukraine, mixed couples (Ukranian and ethnic Russian) talking about the real issue being self-determination, and farmers attacking the failure of communism.
They also hired actors to play Ukranian citizens carrying sacks of bread, cartons of eggs and TV sets produced in the Ukraine to far-off Moscow. The message: Ukraine First. And they pulled together opinion molders--members of the Establishment, some of them reluctantly--to argue for independence.
"One of the most difficult things was to edit (film) in Ukranian. We couldn't pick up the nuances," Russo said.
Once, when a "man on the street" interviewer asked a farmer how he felt about independence, the farmer replied into the camera, "For 73 years we've lived under communism and we have nothing . . . Independence now!" Between the two sentences, however, the farmer made a vulgar, colloquial reference to the interviewer's mother. Only later, when Ukranians laughed at the comment, were the words understood and edited out of the film.
Marsh said the Ukranians also "cracked up" over an old Reagan commercial the Americans showed them as a sample of their past work. It was the 1984 "Bear in the Woods" commercial, with the bear representing the Soviet Union and the message being that Reagan was wise to prepare the United States for possible attack. "They got a big kick out of it," he said.
In all, Russo and Marsh produced five Ukranian TV commercials, ranging from 90 seconds to six minutes in length. Air time was free because the commercials ran on state-owned television--for 10 minutes of a 30-minute news broadcast, three times a day for two weeks. "That would have cost well over $10 million in California," Russo calculated.
Only as an American political consultant, he mused, "can you do a 2,000-vote irrigation district in Placer County, then turn around and do a new nation across the globe for 52 million people."
Added the consultant, who worked in the Ukraine only for expenses, "actually, we made more money electing the apple grower to the irrigation board."