A new year – A new scandal

Zalina Marshenkulova

2018 was mostly about empowering women. We were everywhere, raising our voices to be heard loud and clear. As more and more people joined to fight for feminism, we moved forward to make a change in the way we are treated, whether at home or at work. However, as all good things come with a pinch of salt, 2019 rolled in with its first scandal in the ad-world of Russia.

Reebok US, had launched its female-centric campaign #BeMoreHuman in July 2018. The campaign focused on the ‘women who transformed themselves and the world around them’. The campaign involved a group of empowered women ranging from singers, actors, models, businesswomen, to athletes. The campaign was received very positively and social media was overflowing with #BeMoreHuman, where women shared their personal stories. Reebok has been known to support women athlete and strive to empower women through their well-crafted campaigns. The latest campaign was another step in that direction.

However, Reebok Russia seems to have missed the point.

After the successful launch of the #BeMoreHuman campaign, its Russian version #OutOfLine was rolled out earlier this month. The Russian campaign featured powerful female athletes and influencers. The intention was the same, to empower women. However, the way it was delivered caused some backlash. One of the women involved in this campaign was Russian influencer and co-founder of the feminist Telegram channel Zhenskaya Vlast (Woman Power), Zalina Mashenkulova. She is seen posing suggestively on the campaign’s poster with an evocative slogan which in Russian reads “switch seats from a man’s approval, to a man’s face”.

This slogan caused outrage offending the sensibilities of many. Following major criticism by the consumers, Reebok Russia deleted the posters and the slogan from social media. According to Reebok Russia, the slogan was used to add humor and boldness to the campaign. However, the move backfired and the campaign director Alexander Golofast had to resign. Reebok Russia was also compelled to release statements condemning the campaign. A lot of blame has fallen on the influencer Zalina as it was her choice of words which were used in the campaign. Her inappropriate humor just goes to show that not all of us have understood what feminism is. Even though the words were not of Reebok, the company cannot escape its responsibility for the consequences of using double entendre in its campaigns. As a company that caters to all kinds of consumer, it must ensure that creative freedom does not convey the wrong message and the statements used remain in line with Reebok’s culture and image.

Nonetheless, the campaign did generate a lot of publicity (albeit negative). We don’t know if the poster was used for shock value to generate buzz or was a genuine oversight. However, it’s not the first-time that companies have used shock advertisements to promote brands. This trend has gained momentum in the last few years. Maybe such advertisements do help companies gain popularity, but is it worth the moral cost?


Vedangana Raj