Russian Federation: Ethics In Russian Advertising: New Challenges Of Last Feministic Ad Campaigns

During recent months in Russia, there have been several public debates on the ethics in provocative feministic advertising campaigns and how companies have to deal with this issue.

Russian advertising law contributes to feminism, gender equality and prohibits obscene and offensive advertising, which contradicts with ethics, in particular: misogynistic slogans and images. There are many cases when the competent Russian authority and courts have recognised violations in an advertisement, that somehow discriminate against women. For instance, on 29 March, a Russian brewing company was fined for using the image of woman's mouth, in which was a rag, in the labels of their products and in online advertising. Other illustrative examples of banned advertisements are those with slogans like "Undress your wife! Warm the house!", "They should be big", accompanied by sexually-suggestive women's images. 

Some companies choose feminism and gender equality as the themes of their marketing campaigns to attract more customers to a brand. However, provocative, female-empowerment advertising campaigns can also sail close to breaking legal, or at least ethical rules.

Recently in Russia, several companies decided to create advertising that expresses feminists' ideas in a very provocative way. A striking example of this is a Reebok's advertising campaign, focused on "strong women". This advertising campaign was designed as a global character and was originally intended to "dispel myths about traditional male and female professions". However, the Russian branch of Reebok engaged Russian feminists and made the advertising slogans provocative and bizarre. As a result, the original ad "Never apologize for being strong" became in Russia "Sit not on the needle of men's approval – sit on men's faces". 

Reebok posted the advisements, with this slogan, on the company's Instagram. Instantly it sparked outrage and became a subject of a heated debate among Instagram users. In the wake of the controversy, Reebok decided to delete this ad a few hours later, despite that, from a legal perspective, there were very low risks of violation of Instagram's terms of use or applicable Russian laws. Thus, it is obvious that the main reasons for removal were the public disapproval and ethical controversy of this advertisement. 

In this light, it is worth mentioning another recently-erupted debate on feminism and advertising. In March 2019, Lush, the cosmetic retailer, has just rejected the proposal of Russian feminist Bella Rapoport to review Lush's products on her Instagram, in exchange for free products. Rapoport posted the refusal on her Instagram and said that "big brands support feminism, but only if it has thousands of subscribers". 

As a result, another serious debate about feminism, advertising, and ethics was fueled. Although representatives of Lush's Russia office said that it was a standard answer and there was nothing out of the ordinary with it, the global headquarters of Lush apologized for the post and wrote "It doesn't matter if we cooperate with this person or not, we're definitely taking her side because Lush stands for peace, love, and tolerance. We can have different points of view and respect each other at the same time".

Finally, we believe these debates show that the advertising campaigns that address gender equality are encouraged in Russia, but only if they do not conflict with the ethical standards. Moreover, businesses should take into account that, even if the advertising campaign remains within legal boundaries, there is a risk that the public can consider some advertisement as unethical and inappropriate. In this way, the brand's reputation can suffer serious and long-lasting damage. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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