Sports brand Reebok has been forced to pull part of its latest online ad campaign after an oral sex-themed slogan sparked a fierce online backlash.
The Russian promotion was part of the brand’s global “Be More Human” campaign, which aims to tear down gender stereotypes in sport and beyond. Slogans in the West included “Never Apologise for Being Strong” and “We Change the World When We Lead By Example.”
The Russian-language campaign decided to add to these sentiments with a more tongue-in-cheek approach. “Don’t sit around waiting for a man’s approval,” read one ad featuring feminist media personality Zalina Marshenkulova. “Sit on a man’s face.”
The brand soon found itself accused of offending delicate Russian sensibilities, with some promising a Reebok boycott in a frenzied online Twitter storm.
The campaign has since been re-launched today across social media, but no longer features the cunnilingus quote. In a caption, Reebok claimed that the content “violated Instagram’s adult content guidelines.” The remaining posters see Marshenkulova alongside the lines of European wrestling champion Anzhelika Pilyaeva, with slogans such as “My Body Is My Business.”
Reebok marketing specialist Alexander Golofast later took responsibility for the campaign, announcing his resignation from the company. He maintained that all of the slogans had been approved by Reebok Russia’s senior management, who had backed the advertisements until they began to receive negative attention online.
“I came up with this campaign at the end of December. We discussed everything, including Zalina’s quotes with management — not just with my immediate supervisor, but with the general director of Reebok in Russia,” Golofas told Russia’s TV Rain. “We did a great photo shoot, made some good video content, and stayed in post production for a long time with the logos added. As soon as the campaign got some negative comments, it was pulled and [Reebok] denies responsibility. Yes, a brand can do this, but I’m just ashamed that I look so ridiculous.”