Markets Versus the State

States throughout the world try to restrict markets. These attempts never succeed because the handful of individuals that comprise the state are up against the creativity of very person living under it. This is what so-called “black” markets exist.

Russia decided to place an embargo on foods from the European Union and United States in response to sanctions created against it by those regions. The embargo hasn’t stopped the importation of food from either region. But the embargo makes it risky for importers of these now illicit goods to openly advertise. In the past “black” market actors have relied on limited forms of advertising such as word of mouth. One advertisement agency has come up with a solution that allows “black” market providers to advertise their goods more widely and protects them from state agents:

Last summer, Russia imposed a full embargo on food imports from the European Union (as well as the U.S.) in retaliation for sanctions over Ukraine. This left authentic European food merchants in Moscow in a bit of a bind.

But one Italian grocery store there, Don Giulio Salumeria, kept selling its real Italian food—and came up with a bizarre out-of-home stunt to advertise to consumers without tipping off the police.

With help from agency The 23, the store developed a unique outdoor ad that could recognize police uniforms. Whenever the cops would appear, the ad would cycle out of its rotating display—in essence, physically hiding from the authorities.

Here’s a video showing the sign in action:

Obviously this solution isn’t perfect. Since it relies on recognizing police uniforms it won’t hide the advertisement from off-duty officers walking around in their regular clothes. However it is a demonstration of market innovation and could easily be expanded. In the next iteration they should have the sign store a facial picture of anybody recognized as an officer. Then have it compare faces of anybody passing by with known police officers and hide the advertisement if there’s a match. That way the sign would be able to hide its advertisement from off-duty and on-duty officers.

Innovative ideas such as this one are why the state will always fail when it attempts to restrict markets.