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7 Feb, 2019 21:16

Reebok embraces social justice in Russia with bizarre ‘face-sitting’ feminist ad

Reebok embraces social justice in Russia with bizarre ‘face-sitting’ feminist ad

Embracing a ‘woke’ message of social justice is a novel way corporations can plug products, but Reebok’s latest Russian campaign took the concept to an extreme, featuring a feisty feminist threatening to “sit on” male faces.

The concept itself is nothing new. Nike’s “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” ad made the sportswear company an instant authority on race relations and triggered boycotts and shoe-burnings across America. Ben and Jerry’s ‘Pecan Resist’ flavor of ice-cream cozied the company up with the anti-Trump #resistance, and Gillette’s ‘Toxic Masculinity’ ad saw the razor company preach social justice to its almost exclusively male customers.

Reebok’s latest “Be More Human” campaign, featuring ‘Game of Thrones’ actress Nathalie Emmanuel played it relatively safe in comparison, with Emmanuel encouraging ambition, strength and feelgood girl-power.

Not so in Russia.

The company’s parallel Russian campaign used the hashtag “not fit for frames,” a Russian play on words that translates as both ‘breaking boundaries’ and ‘being outrageous.’ The Instagram campaign took Emmanuel’s message of female empowerment and added military-strength steroids.

One ad, featuring Russian feminist influencer Zalina Marshenkulova, was accompanied with text that, translated to English, read: “Sit not on the needle of men’s approval – sit on men’s face.” Another shot of Marshenkulova read: “When they say ‘carry you in my arms’ I imagine being carried in a coffin.” Her being the co-author of the slogans, Marshenkulova also featured in front of the one, proudly saying “I don’t fit in any frames.”

Another ad, featuring MMA fighter Justyna Graczyk warned her (presumably male) opponents: “I covered my nipples so that you don’t cut yourself,” followed by a stern declaration: “I HAVEN’T finished talking.” The generic “My body – my business” was also added.

The final set of ads in the triptych features Anzhelika Pilyaeva, European champion & World vice-champion in grappling. Taunting challengers to come forward, she says “I take it once a day after meal (myself for what I am).” In the next shot she delivers a straight right jab, with the text “‘Nuff said...NOT!”

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Reebok pulled the ads from Instagram moments after they were posted, but not before Russians registered their outrage and confusion.

“You’ve got the wrong country,” said one. “You’ll make nobody here happy with this. I hope you[r] rivals aren’t such idiots.”

“It’s good that I only wear Nike,” jeered another. “At least no one will sit on my face.”

“If you want to show strong women, engaged in ‘non-female’ sports, than show such women, but don’t invite girls who want to sit on men’s faces” said one commenter. While Marshenkulova posed in sportswear for the campaign, she is not an athlete, and instead runs a feminist Telegram channel in Russia.

Amid the furor, campaign director Alexander Golofast explained that the ads had been approved by Reebok’s higher-ups, but shortly after publication he was asked to take them down.

“The brand took a cool photo shoot, made good video content, did post production for a long time, put logos on it, and as soon as it got some negative comments, they took it down,” he explained. “A brand can do this, but I am just ashamed that I look so ridiculous,” Golofast said, adding that he no longer intends to work in the company.

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The ads reappeared on Instagram shortly afterwards, but with the more contentions slogans removed, including Marshenkulova’s face-sitting motto and Graczyk’s nipple-tape comment.

While the outrage and boycotts that follow every social justice-infused ad campaign in the west have given rise to the phrase “Go woke, go broke,” the ads all succeed on one metric: they generate publicity.

“The ad caused a scandal and provoked a debate,” read one Russian comment. “That means that it’s a success. This is exactly what the guys wanted.”

Meanwhile, Reebok rolled out an explanatory statement blaming the social network’s “age policy” for having to pull the ads, while noting that they could still be found on some of the models’ profiles. The company added that it “continues to support those who choose an active lifestyle, [who] changes through sport and fitness but remains oneself.”

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