Thursday, June 21, 2012


MMM 2012: It's a fact!

Let's do a little test...

Test of American and post-USSR pop culture

How many of the following do you know?
  • M&M's
  • Eminem
  • MMM
Well, how did you do?

If you could correctly identify the first two as tasty chocolate candies and a hooligan (that's what my Russian textbook claimed in the chapter titled "Professions"), congrats. You are an American pop culture expert! 

Did you have trouble with the third one, MMM? This was the post-Soviet Union question. It's not 3M, the scotch tape company. It was- and is?- a massive Ponzi scheme of sorts, operating first in the USSR, later getting shut down by the Russian government, and then popping up again in 2011 and yet again in 2012.

"Don't miss your chance!" "100% a month" "It's back, everything is like it was in 1994!"

Check out the front page of this Ukrainian newspaper from last fall:

"We got cheated again" "New Mavrodi pyramid has started falling apart; people are complaining that they're not getting their money" "Investors shared how they got involved in the scheme, however Mavrodi stated that 'everyone is getting paid, all accusations are a lie.' "
Since I'm not a professional historian, I'm going to give you the edited-for-excitement, colorful version of the story... which actually isn't that far from the truth.

1. A man named Sergei Mavrodi starts a company called MMM.

2. After the USSR disbands, he turns start airing alluring "get rich!!" tv commercials.

3. These commercials become a MEGA HIT. Everyone is following the protagonist, a folk hero named Golubkov who first buys a pair of boots for his wife before going on to buy a fur coat, furniture, a car, a house... The fourth commercial shows the hero talking with his tattooed, vodka-drinking older brother. They eat pickles and talk about making money honestly. And after that- after that they go to America, see the sights, and share their impressions of 90's America: "The beer is excellent, but our vodka is better!" "They have a nice system, but ours is better." Soon a Mexican telenovela star is hired and starts showing up in the commercials, speaking Spanish and dancing with the now-respectable older brother. Anyways, the plot just gets better and better. You can watch for yourself!

4. Everyone and their grandmother and their second cousin twice-removed starts buying MMM shares. The first people do, of course, make money, which fuels the fire. According to my local sources, MMM starts counting money by rooms: one room of money, two rooms of money, etc.

5. The pyramid starts to collapse, thousands of people begin clamoring for blood. 1994: The government shuts down MMM for tax evasion. 1996: Mavrodi becomes a politician and tries to run for president of Russia. 1997: MMM declares bankruptcy. Mavrodi escapes! Leaves the country. 2003: Mavrodi is arrested. He is given three years to review the charges against him. 2007: Mavrodi is convicted of fraud. Four and a half year sentence. However, he's released almost immediately for time served in custody.

And that brings us up to now. If you were Sergei Mavrodi and found yourself looking for work in the year 2011, what would you do?

That's right.

"MMM-2011 Center open" "What is MMM? It's a global teller's window of mutual aid." "Today you help, tomorrow you will be helped. Everybody has been getting paid for a year." "Find out how and receive $20 for registering." "We are already more than 15 million people strong!!!"

I saw that ad in Simferopol, Crimea, January 2012. Two months later, I'm walking down the street in Odessa and spot this:

"MMM 2011." "Club MMM." "We are changing the world."
"Outrun time!"
 There was even an MMM-themed car parked somewhere around here.
You know the drill- "Tens of millions of followers!" "Those who want to be happy and rich... don't waste your chance!"
And the big green 40%? That's 40% profit a month. Yeah.

Apparently he's done things a little differently this time, plastering special warnings on the website and making people sign I-won't-get-angry forms before he lets them began buying certificates, but things are already falling apart for the new MMM-2011.

Want more?

  • There's a great film- PyraMMMid (ПираМММида), supposedly based on material from Mavrodi's himself. The movie follows a fictional character named Mamontov but the story is pretty much the same, except that the fictional character is portrayed as a good guy standing up against an evil government. A student gave me this movie last fall, before I knew much about MMM, with the suggestion that I watch it right away since Mavrodi was aiming for the spotlight again.
  • Watch a new MMM commercial. It's 45 seconds long and it cashes in on the Euro-2012 football (soccer) craze. Here's another commericial for MMM 2011: cue the dramatic music, pictures of things you can buy (starting with vodka!) and oddly enough a picture of The Office cast. I think you can understand the gist of the commercial even if you don't know any Russian :p
I hope you had an entertaining and informative read! Thanks for taking my pop culture quiz : )

*Dec 2012 update: Mavrodi was back at it again this year with MMM2012. Which, um, also failed.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, another census for financial cheaters and profanes is over.